Death is a symbol. People stand in for other people, incarnation after incarnation.
My father comes in my room late one night earlier this week. “Al died.” His face is pale; he collapses to sitting on my bed, head bowed as he cries into his hands. Only he raises harrowed eyes to warn me, popping out through fear’s door where the pain gripped his voice,
“Be prepared. I’m next. And mom. I haven’t been feeling too good. I didn’t tell you but…”
And he sinks back into despair.
I try to hug him but his body and mine are too long-limbed, his back too rounded, mine too straight, and we clash. I never fasten my arms firmly to his shoulders. Maybe he resisted. The torment had him.
At the funeral, he told jokes, said inappropriate things that suggested the man he knew nearly all his life–his only sister’s husband–was not the best friend he appeared to be. There were hurt feelings, slights in the last ten years. And he learned early to protect his sister.
“I’m here for my sister.”
We drove five hours there in morning traffic after dropping our younger off at the airport to begin her college visit. Her flight left at 6 a.m. for Boston, Newark first. We had to get her there by 4:30, and then took to the road, sailing in to the Veterans Cemetery by 9:30 and thirty minutes to spare. This honored last rite in exchange for a leg he left in Korea.
And I cried. For the man, for his children and wife, for my father and mother, for my daughters, all the endings and beginnings swirling inside the belled mouth of a trumpet, steady-sweet, singing taps to signal day is done. As if we didn’t know it with our guts sunk into the intoning rabbi’s throaty prayers.
Huntington Beach, CA
Pamela Gerber is a freelance writer, blogger at inthegazeoftheother.com, college English instructor, mom, daughter, yogini and wife living in Huntington Beach, CA.