Burying my father was the hardest thing I ever did but I survived it. I hope that my story will help you to handle your own grief and will teach you that there’s a way out of it.
My dad and I had what one would call a long distance relationship at best. He didn’t much care for the telephone, and he moved to another state altogether. We spoke on occasion, and the talks were very brief. I tried on several occasions to engage him in dialogue, but my dad wasn’t interested in talking on the phone. After several attempts I decided to give up trying to engage him. This is a decision that I deeply regret and will have to live with for the rest of my life. I really wish that I had tried harder, and that we had shared more time together. My only comfort is that when we parted last, we did share time together, and we were finally able to talk as adults.
During my last visit, we sat at his quiet, plain apartment and he told me stories from his younger days. My dad had a very storied life, and my only regret about that day is that I did not record our conversation. I believed that I would remember all of the details from his stories, but I was wrong. He told me how he had seen me on television several times, and that he was proud of his famous son. We shared some more stories, and then I left him at the hospital as he was feeling slightly ill.
Days later after I returned to New York City from my time in Florida, my dad was gone.
My dad asked to be cremated, so that is what was done. I wasn’t present during this request, so I don’t know exactly what he wanted to do. However, we cremated his body and my sister received his remains in Pennsylvania. After several months of driving around with my dad’s ashes in the back of her van, she decided that it was time to finally bury his remains. I was under the impression that we’d scatter his ashes in the ocean or something, but she really insisted on burying them. My sister happens to be somewhat religious, and it is her belief that the lord will return, and his servants need to be buried. I respect her views on this and I complied. I also paid for it all. Money comes and goes, but if I can give my little sister some peace of mind, then so be it. The entire day was a haze for me, I know I lived it, but I was in a dreamlike state the entire time.
I had a cold the night before, so I had to sleep on the couch. Using my cpap with a runny nose is not a good thing. I awoke relatively early, went through the morning routine, and I took the train out to Newark with my son. The only times I had ever gone to Newark Penn Station had been to visit my dad. Immediately after arriving there, I started to shed tears. My youngest sister called me, and I could barely get the words out as we spoke. Everything about this trip reminded me of visiting my dad, except that this time he’s in an urn. I couldn’t breathe, I started to hyperventilate. I told myself “breathe Angel, let it out.”
Dad’s Girlfriend and her faith
My son and I caught a cab and went to my dad’s girlfriend’s place. When we arrived I saw the cathedral where my dad used to work, and the building he used to live in. Last time I was here was a few years ago, before he moved to Florida. His lady moved to a new apartment, thank goodness, less pain. However, once we walked in, I heard the birds that have always been there. As soon as I heard them, I remembered joking with my dad about the angry birds that they have. My tears began to flow, she hugged me and my son. I couldn’t bare her looking at me, I know that she saw my dad in my face. When she looked at my son, I know that she saw my dad in his face as well. I saw my dad as I looked at her, then came more tears.
We sat and spoke for a while as we waited for my mom and sisters. She spoke about Jesus and the Christian religion. As she spoke, I heard her radio in the background, it was tuned to a Spanish Christian station. The speaker on the radio was intense, screaming and preaching. I was feeling overwhelmed and I just wanted to run away. She continued to repeat to us how good God was, almost as if she were trying to convince herself of this. She repeated how her faith and her love for the lord have guided her through this and many other difficult times.
She shared a story with us. She said that 40 years ago she was an alcoholic, heavily drinking beer, wine, and whatever she could get her hands on. She said this happened when she was more or less my age. She then stated that one day she couldn’t take her lifestyle anymore, and she threw her arms up, closed her eyes, and begged the lord to save her from this living hell. Just like that, she said she was done with the drinking and dedicated her life to the lord.
Anyone who knows me, is aware that though I respect religion and people’s right worship as they will, I don’t particularly follow any religion myself. Though truth be told, I was raised as a Christian. As I listened to her, I could feel my son looking at me, he was wondering what I was thinking. I didn’t say anything, and I let her express her views uninterrupted. My son knows that I often speak my mind, but in this case, I decided it was best to let her continue without interjecting my own views.
It is my belief that if a person’s faith is so powerful that it can actually stop them from doing drugs and drinking, that you should allow them to follow their faith. Who am I to try and steer her from that? Who am I to plant even the smallest seed of doubt? The only thing that I said jokingly as she prayed for my cold to go away, was that just in case God was too busy to cure my cold, I was going to take a cold and flu pill.
Once the others finally arrived, we all piled into the car and drove over to the cemetery. My mom saw a flower store and wanted to get flowers, I complained that we were late and we should proceed to our objective. I think that I was overwhelmed and didn’t want to prolong this any longer than it needed to be.
It was a dark and rainy day. My sister asked “Who is carrying the urn?” I immediately replied that I would. I am his son, and I will carry him to his final resting place. I picked up the urn containing my dad’s ashes and I carried them slowly up the hill towards his grave plot. The urn was much heavier than I expected. It had a rough grainy and salty feeling. It’s one of those eco-friendly urns that will dissolve in time. My youngest nephew asked my sister question after question as we walked. “Grandpa is in there? Why? How did he die?” She knew that I was upset, and she was concerned that I might snap so she told him to calm down. “Sorry, he doesn’t understand yet.” I nodded that I understood, he is a child after all.
Once we arrived at the plot, some men were there waiting for us. I didn’t know what to do, so I stood there holding my dad’s ashes. One of guys told me to place it on top of the plot and I did. Once I set them down, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I stood there staring at the ground. The men indicated that we should say our goodbyes and final words, but I had none. I took the lead position in the group, but I just stood there like a deer in the headlights.
What happens now? What are we supposed to do? There was no major procession, no priest, just me, my son, my mom, my two sisters, my nephews, and my dad’s lady. The one who actually said some religious words was his girlfriend. As mentioned before, she’s extremely religious and provided the parting words. I didn’t process a single thing that she said, “thankful and grateful he is free.” I was in a haze, she held my arm, my sister held my other arm, “I’m happy he is at peace.” I couldn’t process or say anything. I stared at the urn and thought “he tried,” and “this is all that is left of what was my dad.” No legacy, no grand event, not even a proper grave marker.
One of the men picked up the urn, removed the green carpet and inserted the urn in the hole. What was happening? I think I was crying. “Are you okay, Angel?” I didn’t know who was speaking. They began to throw dirt on the urn. I began crying again. My sister was confused, “How will we find him?” The guy explained, she didn’t know these details, my pain became anger. I understood what was going to happen, we spoke about this before, she’s the one who explained it to me, why was she confused? I didn’t want to talk about this then, I thought she understood.
I was getting angrier, but I came to my senses. She was distraught, she was hurt, he was her dad too. I became foggy again. I explained to the men that we understood, not to worry. My mom wanted to put a simple grave marker of sorts, again, the anger came forth, but she loved him too. I went through so many emotions. I was numb, angry, confused. We were there, but were we really there? Was this really happening. I was so very sad.
Since my dad was in an urn, they do things a little different and only provide a small little plot with no headstone, or grave marker, etc. They put their names on this big stone where the other urns are interred. It didn’t feel quite right to me, my dad was worth more than this. Are we cheating him in death? Again, I felt the anger and rage coming up from inside of me. We spoke about this, why did they bring it up? This made me feel unsure.
Part of me thought this was a fitting ending for a man like my father. He loved his privacy, and unlike me, he was extremely discreet and secretive. He hated people knowing anything about his personal life. Even as he was dying, and I went to visit him, he was suspicious of the other folks in the center. He never trusted people, he was extremely private. So I can’t help but think that he would prefer that we are the only ones who know where he is buried. I considered trying to find out if he could get a marker, but it seems like it’s not an easy thing to do, and like I said, I kind of felt he’d prefer this method.
The whole day I felt weird, and I apologized to my loved ones if I was distant or not present. It was all a haze to me, and though I know I was there, I wasn’t. This was truly one of the most difficult things that I have done in my life. Today as I look back on that afternoon, I miss my dad, but I am thankful that we shared those last few moments together. I am thankful that I made him laugh, and that he was proud. I am thankful that I was able to feed and provide him some comfort in his last days. The most important thing that I know, is that my father felt loved, and he was not alone when he left this world. Isn’t that the sum of it all? The true meaning of life, being loved, and not being alone?
That’s how I survived burying my dad.
Featured photo credit: Angel Rodriguez via instagram.com