I'm staring at the body in its casket --trying desperately not to zone on the million annoying stimuli that seem to fill the chapel-- and at the same time I'm trying to figure out how I feel about this whole scene... maybe because figuring that out is a lot easier than trying to sort through my own feelings with regards to my father's death. The funeral is tasteful, I wouldn't have expected anything else from my old man and it is easy to see that he had a hand in planning the whole thing... in fact he had too much of a hand and that's what's bothering me. He left detailed instructions for it, he took care of every little detail, up to the point of telling us what kind of flower arrangements he wanted and which florist those arrangements were to be purchased from... I should know, as his oldest son it was up to me to carry out his wishes. He also left a check with the necessary funds to cover the cost of those arrangements and everything else... and perhaps that is the most telling aspect of it all.
In a way the whole experience left me feeling sad --or sadder-- than I was to begin with. My relationship with my father was not an easy one and even after we made our peace with each other some tension remained but I never understood how alone he really was, I never knew what kind of price he paid for his 'success'.
The thing is that the detailed instructions my father left for his own funeral were a stark reminder of all that. It is true that he was never good at relinquishing control and those instructions could easily have been dismissed as an extension of that fact but the truth is that I believe that there was a different explanation this time around: he felt the need to leave such careful instructions because he feared that no one would be willing to take care of those details for him, he had to leave the check to pay for those arrangements because he felt he couldn't be sure that either Steven or I would care enough to pay for them ourselves.
My father may have been a highly respected man but he wasn't loved and he knew it. When it came down to it, all he really had to show for his success was a failed marriage and two estranged children. He had acquaintances and former rivals but few real friends. He used to have a brother, but my uncle died young and his widow and her children drifted away after a few years when she remarried so he had no real family other than Steven and I... and we all know how well that turned out.
There were very few people who actually cared for the old man and that is plain to see here, in this dignified and tasteful service... especially for a sentinel. I can hear the politically incorrect jokes that are being traded in the back rows and the gossip that's spreading like fire due to the fact that Sally is sitting with us, where she belongs. She may be nothing more than a housekeeper as far as my father's acquaintances are concerned, but she is so much more than that to us... and unlike my father's well-dressed socialite 'friends' who came here just to be seen, Sally is here because she actually cared for my old man. For well over forty years she took care of him, when my mom took off Sally took care of our family as if it were her own and neither Steven nor I are going to overlook that fact.
I know we must paint a rather unusual picture, sitting here in the front pew. There's Steven with his girlfriend du jour (I didn't even bother to learn her name, seeing how he seems to be dating a different girl each time we meet and this one seems to stand out only because of the timing. She is here because dad died now but that doesn't mean she's going to last more than any of the others), Sally, Blair and I, that's it.
Is this how much my father had to show for his life? Is that what his iron discipline and total dedication to his work, to getting to the top, got him? An end in which he wasn't even sure someone would care enough to make the arrangements for his funeral with the least bit of care and concern, an end in which he felt the need to leave a check to cover the expenses?
It is a sobering thought. It is true that I've never really cared about material things and that --if nothing else-- at least I have the certainty that, in spite of my stint as "Ice Man" Ellison back when I was in vice, I have friends who would actually miss me, who would remember me if I were to die tomorrow. That is where my father and I differ and I can't help but be saddened by the fact that he was so painfully aware of just how few people actually cared for him. I am saddened by the fact that he felt he couldn't even be certain that Steven and I, his own sons, would care.
I can't help but think that it is ironic that the one person who will miss him the most --the one person who knew him the best-- is actually the one whose very right to be here is being questioned by the men in expensive suits who are making golf dates and the women who are arguing about who is the best manicurist in Cascade. Yes, my father's death is bound to have an impact on both Steven and I but the truth is that I can tell even now that it won't be a direct impact. It is an impact that is going to be felt mostly when we have to catch ourselves before mailing him a Christmas card or when we pick up the phone to wish him a happy birthday only to be suddenly reminded of the fact that he is no longer there. For Sally the impact is one that she will feel every day.
My father worked hard all his life --he was the embodiment of a successful man-- and as I look around I can't help but wonder if these are the benefits he reaped from his success.