For my Dad’s funeral my sister wrote a beautiful tribute to his life as a caregiver. I wrote the vision of the afterlife we all share. I wanted to post it here, one month after he passed away. We read at the graveside.
Where is my father?
No seriously. Have you seen him?
I feel like we’re all suffering a bit from the missing limb syndrome. An amputee may consciously know they’ve lost a limb, but the mind is slow to realise. They reach to scratch a missing knee, they put their arm out to lean, and falter.
We’ve all been doing that recently, faltering. We turn to ask my Dad a question, and he’s gone. He’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone.
And each of us is left wondering, where is my father? Where did he go?
My father knew loss. He was so young when he lost his dear brother Donny, who lies here today. In an accident that forever altered my father’s life journey, he and his family were devastated by losing Donny. No sense could be made of it. And there was no question, where was Donny? He was gone. His father Jesper died as well from a long illness, and it was sad to find my father still mourning and unresolved. There was no explanation. They were gone.
More recently, Dad lost his brother Larry and his mother Marion is such a short space of time. We all had to wonder: Where did they go? This time, my father had an answer: They’ve sat down to dinner together.
My father explained a vision, which we all began to share. Of Nana’s dining room. Her flower-patterned wallpaper, cloth covered dining room table, with plenty of room for everyone. All laid out for the nicest dinner ever. Her blue and white china, the crystal stemware, the silver polished and ready.
Even recently, as he was in hospice, we had the time to ask him what he thought would happen. He told us, “I picture I’ll be with my family in Nana’s dining room.”
They are all waiting at the table for him. Everyone, healthy, in their prime, happy and joking – there were always lots of laughs at the James table. Nana played the straight man to her son’s shenanigans.
Meals were served in beautiful serving dishes, never casual, never taken lightly but always enjoyed. A meal together was a warming ritual, to bring the family together. Good food was always a central part of the James home.
And of course there were candles lit. Always candles. After my father lost Larry and Nana, he lit a candle for his missing family when he would eat, and when we would eat together. At even the simplest of meals, no matter breakfast, lunch or dinner, my father lit a candle to invoke that vision of The Dinner. Perhaps it could connect these two worlds at that point- in lighting that candle we were together with them. Lighting the candles reminds us that they are gone, they are gone, they are gone.
We all share this vision of The Dinner.
When Uncle Arthur died suddenly recently, I was struck terribly. I was unable to return home for his memorial because I was also ill at the time. I was crushed by the loss of the person I called My Ankle (he called me his Knees). This was more than the missing limb syndrome.
I would wake from nightmares sobbing, and Ronan would hold me. I was having the same dream each night, leading Uncle Arthur carefully by the arm through Nana’s house. Coming into the dining room, I told Uncle Arthur, sit, here, this is a good place. There was a piano! I was surprised and he was delighted. But then I’d wake realizing Uncle Arthur was gone.
I think we’ve all internalised this vision of The Dinner. We all know where Dad is now. We know Dad is with Donny, Jesper, Larry, Marion and Arthur.
Our minds have been slow to realise in these last couple of weeks, we’re struck with his absence over and over. Groping a bit, the mind incredulous: but he was just here a minute ago!
We like to think now that, when you turn to ask Dad a question, to talk with him, and realise he’s gone, you know where he is. He’s with his family, sitting at The Dinner, together, having the best meal ever.