“Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” ~ rabindranath tagore
Today is a special day because it is my Dad’s birthday. It wouldn’t be right to share his age, just know he is old! Like really old!
I kid, kind of.
As the youngest of five, my parents were and are certainly older then the rest. And with my Dad going gray early on, he definitely embraced that grandfatherly role. And yet he has always embodied those traits of a grandfather, cuddly, compassionate, in a lot of ways Santa-esque.
It may not seem it, but it makes sense.
While other kids had doctors and lawyers as fathers, mine was and is a funeral director.
Thanks to shows like Six Feet Under and My Girl, it comes with an almost gothic perception, which couldn’t be farther from the truth.
I won’t lie, I grew up with the smell of formaldehyde and bleach wafting upstairs, since we lived above the funeral home. A place that while yes catering to the deceased, also was a place that my siblings and I would run and play tag, hold concerts, and even photo copy our hand prints on my Dad’s copier much to his annoyance.
Family gatherings have always been entertaining. Dinner conversations tend to lean towards medical terms and causes of death. And instead of showing my sisters’ boyfriends a shot-gun he would ask of they wanted to see the refrigerator that preserved that dead. Yup a very normal childhood.
Except it was. While we may have learned about death at a younger age, it gave us an appreciation and a respect for both the living and the dead. It wasn’t freaky or scary. It was just another aspect of life. It was what happened when life ended.
My Dad has always been a pillar in the community, though he may not think of himself as such. He knows everyone and everyone knows him. He always has a “Dear” (in a think New England accent mind you) a smile and a hug for anyone who wants one. He is that cup of comfort, that people crave in times of need.
Yet, he isn’t just a 6’3 stoic teddy bear. A car crash that killed six people including two young girls, tore him up. When we were older my mom mentioned that he couldn’t eat grilled meat for several years after having recovered a badly burnt body. He just shrugged it off acting like it was another day of work.
Except he rarely gets days off and is always on call.
Vacations cut short or cancelled because someone passed away. He would have to leave early from a game or a concert. Yet he never complained, and we learned early on to never complain either. What he does is a service. One so few do.
One that even in his greatest pain, he still had to serve.
I don’t think I ever realized what he truly did, until the night and days after my sister died.
From the moment the news broke, being ever the funeral director he was that calm beacon casting its light amongst the darkness of grief.
In the days after, countless people would come up to me and my family saying it was unthinkable that because my Dad dealt in death he had somehow made a bargain with the grim reaper and was exempted from loss.
As my dad would say later, “No one is exempted from the pain of death.”
And yet through his own suffering and pain he still had to work. It was and is an incredibly small town with only one funeral home. Death doesn’t stop for one family nor because my Dad’s heart had been ripped out didn’t mean he could take a pause out of life and compose himself. He had to keep serving. And he did.
He was an example to all of us, and he still is.
He witnesses people at their absolute worse while fulfilling their and the deceased’ wishes. He isn’t just a funeral director, but a therapist, doctor, cosmetician.
He is also my Dad.
The man I talk smack about the Red Sox (and he the Yankees) with. Who teases me about that burnt coffee I like (Starbucks) and I tease him about the dirt he likes. (Dunkin’s) He took pictures long before selfies were cool and polaroids were how you developed film. He taught me how a real man should treat a woman, and what unconditional love is. Not just for my Mom and us kids, but also the grandkid’s who yell Papa gleefully whenever he walks into a room.
So Happy Happy Birthday Dad!!! (Your eighty right?;) I can not wait to see you in a couple weeks. I’ll be sure to wear my Jeter jersey and have some Starbucks waiting for you! I love you past all the numbers in the world! <3