It’s been just over 4 years since my Dad died. It’s pretty hard to believe since I can still remember his mannerisms as if I just saw him yesterday. He was a hilarious person with a gregarious laugh and people always gravitated toward him when he told a story or a joke. He was the go-to guy for advice and kind of like the Godfather, except not in the horse-head-in-the-bed kind of way. (Never mind the fact that he came from a line of Italian heritage or that he had cousins named Mickey and Paulie.) He was like the glue that held the family together. He was not only funny, but he was honest and real.
It’s only because of his sense of humor that I can even tell this story.
We went as a family to the funeral home to meet with them about my dad’s service. When we walked in, the air was cold, the suits were cheap and the desks seemed freshly-Pledged with lemon scent. There was an abundance of flowers, but not happy ones. Sad, depressing, leftover-from-previous-services kind of flowers. The art on the wall was reminiscent of Motel 6 paintings with ugly brass frames. It was the last place I wanted to be.
My family and I waited uncomfortably in a cold room with bright lights for the sales representative to come in. I think we must have waited a good 15 or 20 minutes before someone came in. When he finally walked in, the air about him screamed, “How much would you like to pay for your new car???” He had overly moussed hair, sparkly teeth that seemed recently whitened (think Ross on Friends), and he was tall and large. It felt like he was trying to sell us a jacked-up 1999 Hyundai with automatic windows. I couldn’t believe this was the person that was going to help us honor my Dad. Had my grandparents and family not already been buried there, we may have given the used-car-salesman the middle finger. But so it was. His name was Mike.
Mike was a bumbling idiot. I can say that because it’s true. He tried to upgrade us on the casket as if he was trying to upsell us on an aftermarket cassette deck for our 1999 Hyundai. I lost count of the amount of times my siblings and I kicked each other under the table as if to say “WTF?”
At the end of the meeting, he drove us out to the plot. Except he didn’t. Because he couldn’t find it. He couldn’t figure out the map. I was standing there in the middle of the cemetery with my mom and siblings and we were watching Mike fumble around with the plot map. I wanted to punch him in the testicles. After choking back some not-so-nice expletives, I looked at my mom and wondered what she must be thinking. I almost wanted to grab her and hightail it out of there and pretend it was all a bad dream. But it wasn’t.
The day of the funeral my siblings and I gathered at my parent’s house. We were supposed to have a limo drive us to the service. Not because we were trying to be fancy, but just so we were all together as a family. The time that the limo was supposed to arrive came and went. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. 5 minutes became 15 minutes which then became 30 minutes. A phone call was made to our buddy Mike. As if the day could get any worse, Mike had forgotten to book the limo for us. We were going to be late to our dad’s funeral.
The limo finally arrived and we eventually made it to the funeral home. It was a cold and windy January day and we stood outside while the limo driver and Mike tried to figure out how to unlock the service entrance door for us to go directly into the chapel.
There’s nothing more awkward than walking into your own father’s funeral late. I felt like the organ music stopped abruptly like a cliche. We came in and gave our hugs and kisses to the family and friends that had been waiting patiently for us to arrive. There were tears mixed with laughs and joyful memories shared. We sat down in the front row of the chapel and we waited for the service to start. And we waited. And waited. The same awful song on the organ was playing on repeat in the background.
At some point my brother stood up and addressed the room to let everyone know that it would get started soon. Then he swiftly found Mike and asked him what was going on.
The priest wasn’t there. THE.FUCKING.PRIEST.WASN’T.THERE. Where in the hell was the priest?
I don’t remember how long it took for the priest to show up, but suffice it to say that the service was delayed probably an hour or more. When he finally arrived, he sauntered down the aisle to the front of the ugly funeral home chapel as if he was running up on stage to receive an Academy Award. What’s worse is that his long-ish salt and pepper hair had major bedhead like he had just woken up from an all-night bender. And unfortunately he didn’t redeem himself with the eulogy. The eulogy was so awful that at times I looked at my husband and my brother in such shock. I think I even said, “Is this really fucking happening?”
One of the few people that saved the day that day (no, not pearly whites Mike) was my dad’s cousin Paulie. Thankfully his beautiful and eloquent words about my Dad during the eulogy almost made up for the ridiculousness of everything else that had gone wrong.
I tried to stay strong and not complain in front of my mom. It wasn’t her fault and she didn’t need to hear me bitch and moan about the priest being late or the fact that he seemed hungover. For all I knew she was pissed too.
In a million years I never thought the priest would come back to my parent’s house for the reception after the service. We didn’t know him personally. My parents didn’t attend the church where he resided and my dad had never met him. So, when his new Lexus peeled up in front of my parent’s house with personalized plates, I about fell over. To top it all off, his personalized plates were extremely self-serving. Something to the effect of “IMKING” or “IRULE” or something that extravagantly stupid.
The reception was nice and it was good to hear stories about my Dad from family and friends. There were laughs, tears, and a few ugly cries. Then it was time to wrap up and the family and friends started leaving. The crowd was getting smaller. Then it just became immediate family. But the priest was still there. By this point he had probably thrown down at least a bottle of wine on his own. I was cleaning up dishes and putting stuff away but the priest didn’t get the hint.
As a matter of fact, the priest wouldn’t leave. When I looked over at him, he was chugging back another bottle of wine and chowing down on the last bit of boiled shrimp. I kept begging my sister-in-law to get him to leave, but how do you ask a drunk priest to please leave your damn house? To top it all off, as I was clearing his plate from right underneath him, I noticed his socks. The man who was late to my father’s funeral, who didn’t even put a brush in his hair, who by this point probably finished two bottles of wine, was wearing Dr. Seuss socks. Fucking Cat In The Hat socks.
It wasn’t a child’s birthday party or a baptism or even First Communion. It was a fucking funeral. My. Dad’s. Funeral.
My brother had finally had it after the long day and politely escorted him out to his fancy car with his stupid vanity license plates.
By this point in the day, my family and I were just mentally and physically exhausted. I started laughing so hard at the ridiculousness of the priest and the socks and Mike and everything else. Tears were streaming down my face. I can’t even imagine how my mom must’ve felt.
There’s no guidebook for how to deal with the loss of parent, or how to best support your mom who has just lost her spouse. In addition, there’s no guidebook for how to deal with a funeral that has gone totally wrong. There’s no re-doing a funeral.
We had one chance to honor the man who meant the most to us in our life and it was a complete shit show. I’d like to think that although things went to total shit, that my Dad would say, “Well at least the family was all together,” or something wise like that. I’d also like to think that he’d laugh that the limo was late or more to the point, he’d laugh because his own family was late to his funeral. I can actually see him shaking his head in disbelief at that fact.
Since there isn’t a re-do button and since we can’t change what happened, I guess I will try to laugh at some of the ridiculousness of it all. Ironically, my dad always used to say, “Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.” Guess this a good time to listen to his advice.