Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pause to Remember

This is a brief pause to remember what happened on April 28 during the year I was 12 years old. That morning one of my older sisters came into my bedroom early in the morning to tell me that my father died.

It was a Tuesday. I had last seen my father the previous Sunday in the hospital. He was gravely ill, and I think he sensed that would be the last time he would see any of his children. He struggled to remain conscious and alert. I remember that he held our hands, one by one, and told us that he loved us, he loved our Mom, and that he wanted us to be good -- good people, good citizens, and good to each other.

That Tuesday morning was hazy. I remember calling my closest friend and gave him the news. My friend went to school and told everyone else. I think one of my older siblings called the school to give them the official news and to explain why none of us would be going to school the rest of the week.

My sister took me to her house. I remember that a lot of people were there. Family, family friends, neighbors, and so forth. I dunno, it all was a daze. I knew that my father was dying, but when the death actually happened, I went into shock.

I don't remember quite when I saw my mother next. Perhaps it was even the next day. She also was in shock. But she was a strong, strong woman. She held us close, and looked after our needs. I remember that she even took me to a store to get a suit to wear to the funeral. She even let me buy a new pair of boots to wear with it, while my twin brother who already had several suits got a new pair of dress shoes. Always looking after us kids -- not herself. I don't know how she did it.

I was discussing these memories with my twin brother who is visiting this week. His memories are about the same as mine. He said that he remembered sitting next to me for almost the whole week. We were inseparable. We both remember that our siblings -- all 13 others of them -- each spent time with both of us, hugging, thinking, talking about our respective memories and stories about our father. We had a lot of sibling bonding going on that week, and no sibling squabbles. I think my Dad would have been proud to know that his last wishes -- that we all take care of each other and show our love and respect for one another -- continued in the immediate period following his death, and to this very day. His legacy holds us close.

Our huge family surrounded us. My father was the first of his siblings to die. All 21 of his brothers and sisters and their families -- aunts, uncles, cousins -- came to pay their respects and did things (or tried to do things) to show that they cared. One particular cousin, closest to me in age and with whom I had fought like she were a sibling -- was particularly close and good to me. I think my father's death was a turning point in our relationship. We have been and remain fast friends and very very close.

The funeral was also a haze. The long black limos, the police escort from the church to the cemetery, the pictures in the paper and front-page news story -- I have copies of those papers that we looked at last night, and I didn't remember that well at the time. My Dad was a very well-loved man by many people, and highly regarded for his diplomatic work in Europe during its post WWII reconstruction.

I think what I remember most outside of the funeral and such was what my Uncle Joe did. Instead of sit around looking forlorn, he took several of us kids out for ice cream, then to a park to play (or swing, or whatever), and just spent time with us. Getting us out and away from the heavy feeling at home was the best thing he could do for us. He just knew intuitively what to do. No one asked him -- he just did it. I sure miss him. He always took such good care of us kids, especially after my father died.

Later today when my brother returns from his meetings in the city, we both will head over to the cemetery where our parents were buried to leave some flowers (from my yard) and to reflect on a man we would have liked to have known longer than we did, but who we loved, admired, and cherished. This cemetery is just a mile from my home; I go there fairly often to reflect and to remember. My twin brother is lucky: he gets to work in the very same office that our father once did in Paris. He has photos of my Dad and various heads-of-state throughout his office. That's gotta be impressive (and he says "daunting" to live up to that legacy.) (My opinion: if anyone can do it, my twin can. He's the impressive one!)

Anyway, thanks for reading this brief pause and flow-of-memory. It's never easy when one's father dies, especially at such a young age. With the support of loving family and friends, we got through it, together. That's what Dad wanted.

Life is short: show those you love that you love them.

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