The Promised Land

These passed few days, I knew they would indeed be the hardest on us so far. And I certainly called that one.

Wednesday night was calling hours. That was a whole ordeal in of itself. My mom proved she’s way stronger than I am. Almost 3 hours of being on our feet and greeting people. I don’t think I knew a quarter of the people there, but I said ‘Oh of course I remember you!’, not wanting to offend anyone. And hoping no one called my bluff. I’m just awful with putting names to faces, with remembering names. I had to take multiple little breaks and sit down for a few minutes in another room and mebbe get some water. And by the end of it, both me and my mom’s feet just ached. Ugh. And seeing my dad there for the first time in the casket.. it really smacked me in the face. I did my best to seem courteous to everyone, to keep a smile on. But really.. I mean I didn’t wanna be there. I so didn’t. So I apologize if I was rude to you there.
My dad, I think, didn’t think he had many friends in life. But I think the sheer amount of people that showed up that night would be evidence to the contrary. They had to open up one of the outer doors of the funeral home to accommodate more people. Then the Canton Police had to come to block off traffic to the near road, due to the amount of people there. It was really something to see.

But today, Thursday, was the actual funeral. And I knew this would be the tough one for me personally. Mom asked me to wake her up at 7AM, so I set my alarm and all. 7AM got here very fast, and I gave her a call. I had planned on sleeping for another hour or so.. but that wasn’t happening. So I got my lazy ass out of bed, and I decided to check my e-mail. Now I had started to write a eulogy on Monday.. but sitting here at my desk this morning.. I felt the need to totally redo it. I don’t know why. I just felt the need. So I deleted the old one, and I did it over. I set ‘End of the end’ on repeat play on my WinAmp, and I just typed. I took some of what I wrote on my previous blog post for it. Because.. well I said it well enough there. I headed to mom’s around 9AM or so and got dressed.. didn’t look as nice as I would have liked, but I went with what I had. Got my speech, my dad’s ring on, my jacket (knew it’d be awfully cold today), and we headed to the funeral parlor once more. Ugh. We get there, and now I’m feeling the nerves in my stomach starting up.

This whole time, I’ve been pretty much keeping the tears at bay when I’m around my mom or any of our friends. Not always on purpose, mind you. It’s like there’s a switch in my head. When I see someone I love crying.. the switch is thrown and my own emotions and needs are set aside so I can be stronger for them. It’s just the way I’m wired, I guess. But also, I don’t want to be the guy who didn’t cry at his father’s funeral. When I hear a guy say ‘I didn’t even cry at my dad’s funeral’, I immediately think they have something going on inside. It’s just not right. So for the funeral today, I told myself that it was okay to let myself go this once. No one will think less of me for tears. That’s the 2 months of therapy I had last summer talking.

The reverend arrived, Rev. Dodson, who I just love. He’s really one of the kindest and most prolific men I have ever come across. I’ve only really spoken to him twice in my life, and both times at the worst of circumstances. When my brother died and when my father passed away. But from those two short experiences I took away a profound respect for the man.
Nancy played Amazing Grace on the organ there in the chapel.. which was really just the beginning of the end for me. Amazing Grace, that was my dad’s song. If it was sung properly, it always brought a tear to my dad’s eyes. It was really important for us to have it there in one capacity or another.
The services started, and much to my surprise (and chagrin), I was up first. The reverend asked me to the podium, and I got up there in front of everyone. Oh God they’re all staring right at me, aren’t they? I did my best to not make eye contact with anyone. If I did, I knew I had zero chance of getting through this. Towards the end I had a really hard time keeping it together, but I did. My voice got thick a couple of times, my chin trembled through most of it, I was sniffling through the middle parts, but I did it.
For those of you who didn’t make it, here’s my remarks. Yes, some of it may look familiar to you.

"When I first started writing this on Monday, I wasn’t sure in what direction I would want to go with it. There was just so much in my mind I wanted to say.. so many feelings and emotions I wanted to convey. So many things I wanted to say. I wanted to make some profound speech in his honor, maybe to try and make him proud of me just once more, if I could. On the night he passed, Sunday, I eventually got on the computer that night.. and I made a blog post about my father’s passing. About how I was feeling, about our relationship, what he meant to me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was writing most of his eulogy then.

In the final weeks of his life, I visited my dad in the hospital. When we could, we talked. Small talk, mostly. Never about what was happening to him. Eventually it got to the point where he couldn’t talk anymore, so I would talk. I would sit at his bedside and just.. talk. About what was going on in my life, about mom, about how I wanted to try and make it so everyone around me was okay. I told him I’d make him proud. And near the end, it didn’t feel like I was speaking to him anymore, to the man I knew in life. It was like an empty shell to me. I think before his body finally gave out, before his body lost it’s strength to fight, he was already gone. His new journey had begun. A trip I couldn’t go with him on (as it was with so many of our road trips) had began, and instead of me sitting in the passenger seat, it was my little brother. This is how I chose to see the last week or so of his life. Because I feel that every ending is really a new beginning.

And I choose not to remember him as he was at the end. Laying in that damned bed. No, that’s not how I will remember this great man. He's the man who sat in the middle of the boat when we three (Zack, dad, myself) went fishing. Maybe because eventually he knew one of us would wrestle the other into the water. He was the one directing traffic when we 'processed' deer at Rudy’s. He had me do the final cleaning of the deer, perhaps because he knew I didn’t have the fortitude to ‘field dress’ them. He was the one who would sing along to old country songs at the top of his lungs during our very numerous road trips. The man who would look over my shoulder while I grilled cheeseburgers, and made comment on how I made them better than he could. He was the man who sat in his chair while I sat on the couch, and we just watched TV together. Especially shows on Discovery and National Geographic. And we wouldn't just watch them.. we'd talk about them. We'd have real discussions about them. He was the man who tell me how to fix anything, or how to do something that needed to be done. Whatever it was.. he knew how to do it.

The bad times are there to, in my mind. But they aren't important, they aren't the memories that shine in my memory. I remember the man I loved. And who loved me. And he told me I could do anything I wanted.. and I believed it, simply because my dad said it. He was.. he IS the man I look up to. The man I wanted to be all my life. Some people wanted to be firefighters and astronauts.. I wanted to be as good a man as my father was. No, I just wanted to be HALF the good man he was. He was my role-model, and my moral compass.

Since Sunday, there’s a song I’ve been listening to over and over. A song by Paul McCartney. Because it seemed so appropriate. A song about the ending of a life being more than just a sad time for those still living. About how in death, a different kind of life begins.
At the end of the end
It's the start of a journey
To a much better place
And this wasn't bad
So a much better place
Would have to be special
No reason to cry
No need to be sad
At the end of the end

When I would leave his house, we would always say the same thing to each other. And I’ll end with that. As I slipped my shoes on and opened the door, he would call out from wherever he was in the house “See ya, JayJay, love ya hun”. And I would look over my shoulder with a smile and say “See ya pop. I love you.”

Okay, speech over, time to head back to my seat. But I didn’t. Not for a few seconds. Eventually though I joined my mom, and she whispered to me how beautiful it was, so did my uncle Rod.

The good reverend started his sermon.. and my remarks was like a 3rd grade writing exercise compared to his sermon. I was really just blown away by it. I cried through most of it, of course. Hey, I was done with my remarks, no need to keep that switch flipped any longer. I have to admit, that as much as I did truly love the reverend’s sermon, there were some parts I don’t think I even heard. Sometimes, I just felt myself staring at my father in that coffin. And the whole world blanked out around me. There was just me and my tears.

The sermon ends, and now everyone walks passed the casket to pay final respects. And they of course have to hug mom and I and all. And a lot of people said it was a really good speech. Took courage and all to do it. Anyone who knows me knows I’m an attention whore, especially when that attention is a compliment geared towards me. At that moment, I just couldn’t truly appreciate what everyone said to me about my speech. Because my head was already in the next part of this whole thing.
The reverend, however, did pull me aside and said it was simply a spectacular speech. The kind that he would think took weeks to write. That made me feel really good. To hear someone I admire as much as I do the good reverend say something like that.. it just felt really good.

My mother, grandmother and I get into the limo, then. And we head to the cemetery. Now I knew that this was going to be a full military burial and all.. but truly I was not expecting this. It makes me well up a little in tears just thinking about it.
We pull up to the cemetery, and I look out the window..
I see 2 current active duty soldiers standing there across the way from where my father’s casket will be. They’re from the Army, and standing at full attention. Oh God that was rough seeing. It was just amazing. And then I saw the rifle troop from the local American Legion (Troop 221, I think?) standing at attention, and one of them with a bugle horn. Oh God this is going to be hard. The hearse pulls up, and the pallbearers take the casket to the gravesite, with the American flag draped over it. Now pardon me if I get the exact sequence of events off.. I was kind of dizzy at this point from all of the emotion oozing out of every pore on my body. I think as the 2 soldiers marched to the casket, the American Legion guys did the rifle salute. The 21 Gun Salute. The first shot made more than a few people jump, of course. I was kind of expecting it, but I still felt myself jump a little. I felt myself squeeze my mom’s hand just a little harder for a second. As the 2 soldiers got to their places and began folding the flag, ‘Taps’ started to play. Ah Christ..
You know.. during his life, my father didn’t talk much about his time in the Army. He just didn’t. He never really shared any of the events that happened in Vietnam. Which was a hint about just how horrible it was for him. But there was never any doubt about his patriotism, or that he was proud to serve in the U.S. Army. And to see these guys honoring my father in this way.. oh man it was just to much. It made my heart swell in pride and gratitude.
So they fold the flag.. and my mom lets go of my hand and kind of nudges me forward. And I’m like.. what? What’s wrong? I see one of the soldiers, the one not holding the flag of course, salute the other one, salute the flag, and he holds it. It was so very touching. And then the soldier holding the flag, he makes eye contact with me.. and he marches to me.

He was going to present me with the flag.

What an honor.. an honor I don’t even deserve, and I know it. To accept this flag from this brave soldier in such a state.. I have NEVER felt so honored.. and humbled.. in my short life. I tried to keep eye contact with him, he deserved at least that much for what he was doing. But I just couldn’t. Maybe I was afraid to show him my tears. Maybe somewhere deep inside I felt that I didn’t deserve to look such a man in the eyes. But he presented me with the flag.. and he recited the following:
"As a representative of the United States Army, it is my high privilege to present you this flag. Let it be a symbol of the grateful appreciation this nation feels for the distinguished service rendered to our country and our flag by your loved one."
And with tears trickling down my cheeks in steady rivers, I held that folded flag close to my heart with one hand, and I shook that man’s hand with the other. I think I said thank you.. God I hope I did, in the least.
So the reverend wraps it up.. and people start to step away from the casket. And I’m in such a daze at that point. All I know is I’m holding the flag that was on my father’s casket.. and I’m staring at his grave. Josh and my mom shook the hands of the American Legion guys who were there.. and yes I know I should have, also. But I was just in a state of shock, I think. I looked for those 2 soldiers, the ones who did the flag folding ceremony.. but I couldn’t find them. They were gone. For a moment.. I questioned if they were ever there. The flag I was cradling to my chest was proof that they were.

Everyone starts back towards their cars, and my mom stands with me for a few moments at my father’s casket and grave. Keep in mind it’s like 35 degrees out at this moment, and the wind’s blowing harshly. But I didn’t feel it. I just stood there staring at his casket. A few gold colored leaves danced at my feet a moment, and then were carried away in the day’s cold wind. My mom tugged on my arm, to urge me towards the limo. But she will attest to the fact I didn’t move. I didn’t budge. I just stood there, staring at the casket. Maybe if I stand there long enough, this will have been some grand trick. Maybe none of this is real. But the harshness of the wind reminded me that it was real enough. And it was time to leave. I wanted to salute my father’s casket, I think. I was seriously considering it the whole time I was standing there. But that seemed.. well tacky. I’ve never even been close to serving in any branch of the military (but if I was in physical condition, have no doubt I would). And I never saluted him in life.. but maybe I felt the need to do something more. To finally say goodbye in my own way.

Finally, I was the only one standing there at the grave. Everyone else was in their cars. And everyone was respectful enough of me to not have moved their cars, not to leave yet, until I was away from my father’s grave. In my head.. I said ‘you are the heart and soul of my life, dad..’ and the out loud, in something of a whimpering whisper, I said


And I got into the limo with mom and gramma.

The ride back to the funeral home consisted mainly of mom and gramma talking about the service, or making small talk.. and me sobbing softly to myself as I clutched the flag to my chest. They had removed my father’s wedding ring and gave it to me, and I wore it the whole ride home. I think.. that’s the reason I feel a little better today. Because I have finally had a real chance to let my emotions out. I mean really let them out, and not be afraid.

We finally got home, and a small army was in our house now. People we had invited over after the services for food and to talk. It was a merry time, for the most part. And I wish I could have participated more, but at the beginning, I just felt awful. I really wanted to be alone. My first, and strongest, instinct was to sneak away from the crowd of people. From the food and the drink, and just be with myself and my thoughts. But I didn’t, being the adult I am. I faced my emotions, and I wasn’t afraid to express them or my thoughts to those around me. That’s the 2 months of therapy I had last summer talking.
Eventually Josh..
Josh.. let me tell you about Josh. He’s my cousin, of course. And over the passed couple of years, he’s become one of my closest friends. He has. He’s nearly the spitting image of my brother, and after Zack died, we did become closer. He’s had a shitty life, his parents really did him wrong. I think he saw my dad as the surrogate dad he never had. And my father, he did love him like one of his own sons. Maybe that’s one of the reasons Josh and I are so close. I truly do feel like he’s my brother sometimes, and not just my cousin. We talk about things that we don’t feel comfortable talking about with others. We’ve cried on each other’s shoulders, we’ve been there for each other. He’s been there way more than I’ve been there for him, but I do try. And everyone comments on how we’re trouble makers when we’re together.. but I think they’re exaggerating.
Or they’re right on, one of those.
Eventually Josh challenged me to yet another game of Bowling on the Wii.. and I was happy to oblige. And I promptly waylayed him. It felt good. Then his ‘kids’ took turns on the Wii, my aunt did, and me and Josh finished the night with playing a few holes of Golf on the Wii. It really makes me feel good when he and I can sit down like that and have fun, to play with or against each other like that. I think I just enjoy interacting with him with something I’m actually kind of good at.

Everyone heads home, and me and mom finally get some dinner. Sandwiches, of course. I play Super Mario Galaxy a little.. and eventually I come home. And that’s my day. It’s been a long and a hard couple days.. but I feel like I’ve gotten over a hump, finally. I think all of us have.

And thank you to everyone who has been there to support me. Including my NetFriends (that’s right, I made that up!). In alphabetical order: Ashley, Chris (my lil buddy!), Missa, Nessa and Rua. I really appreciate you guys’ patience with me. I’m so gonna try to be faster on my posts!
And thanks to everyone who is here who have supported us. And those who have seen my posts about dad through Mary’s blog. I really do love you, Mary. You’re like that really awesome aunt/second mom who likes talking about video games with me! And anyone who knows me knows the surefire way to my heart is by talking about video games.

And life goes on now. For all of us. I’ll do all I can to make my life now one my father would be proud of. A good life with those I love. And that’s the most wonderful thing there is, isn’t it?


Patty said...

Bravo Jason. You have a way with words that would make many jealous. Life has really presented you with some challenges over the years. You have done a fine job and shown great wisdom. It is evident, the love you receive and inspire. You have made not only your father proud, but the rest of us, also. Take care of yourself and your mom, and I am looking forward to seeing you both soon. Big hugs to you both,
Patty Boerner

carole said...

Hi Jason:
Wow, you got through it with grace. Going forward with your Dad looking down on you is going to be a super journey. I am glad you have your Mom, Gramma and cousin to walk with.
You are strong.
Take care and love your new life.
Mary's friend

cityfarmer said...

I applaud you, Jason...I don't know you but I do know death...a sixteen year old niece of ours took her own life a few weeks ago...her family is reeling with grief, as yours....you are all in our prayers....your Mom has the greatest gift...YOU

The Urban Chic said...

Jason, your posts about your dad are beautiful and I can how proud your parents are. I too just lost my mother, so I know the grief you are going through. Tomorrow would have been her 80th birthday, so we are going to spend the day with our dad. You are an inpiration for all of us. I am so glad Mary posted about you and your dad. It is humbling to see that real men do cry. Prayers for you and your family. Pat

About Me

So what about me.. I'm a geek. Born and bred. My mom often says I'm just a big kid. A.. a really big kid. I live in Massillon, Ohio. I like sketching, coloring on the comp, video games.. and all other things a self proclaimed geek would dig. Hi Nessa, Chris, Rua and Ash! And hi Mary! I'm currently unemployed, but workin hard to change that. Workin.. really hard. oi. Welcome to my blog!!