The day of my father’s funeral stands out in my mind. I remember blue sky and sunshine. It was six days after my eleventh birthday. At the end of the day, the chauffeur from the limousine handed me a carnation he had been wearing. I took it home, pressed it and always remembered the kindness of that moment in the midst of a big feeling of emptiness.
My dad had been sick for a while. In fact, the Christmas before this July day, my mother announced “this would be Daddy’s last Christmas.” But that is a story for another time. Somehow her efforts to “prepare” me only sustained shock and disbelief throughout those seven months, and beyond. When he did die, I was numb.
Mom chose a Unitarian minister for the service. My understanding is that she and Daddy had left the Catholic church and this choice for a funereal seemed the farthest away. There were flowers and people and a casket. I don’t remember that much. It was as if I was sleep-walking. Something I did a lot at home, I was told. I think it was a way of escaping the night time ambulances and emergency medical events.
But I do remember the burial. I can see the brightness of the sky and the people standing around. I remember the quiet. In that frozen moment, this tall man in a suit handed me a carnation. I have been to many burials since then and have shared in the ritual of leaving a flower for the deceased….a final gesture of love, a tangible expression to connect to the one who is gone. But this was my first funeral and giving up that flower did not enter my mind.
Of course, it wasn’t the flower itself that mattered. It was an ordinary white carnation. When I tried to press it, it stayed sort of lumpy in my scrapbook. I think it was the connection that was made when he gave it to me. I felt “seen”.
Everything was out of my control, I had no bearings or context to understand what was happening. His gift told me that he saw me, that he cared. For the rest of the day, I clutched the carnation in my hand. Somewhere in the midst of this horrible moment, a little symbol of kindness existed. I existed. As long as I had it (and I still do) I had not vanished as my father had.