Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I said the F word in a funeral home. A LOT.

Last Sunday I found out my dad died. I found this out the same way I always find out things of this nature - my older sister told me. People tell her and have her tell me, because... I don't know why. But they always tell her first, and leave my finding out up to her.

I was at work when The Older emailed me and asked me to take a break so she could call my cell. I said hey, no problem, and ran down the hall to the locker room. As I was sitting down to pee, I called my sister. She answered the phone crying, and I told her to take a deep breath and not say a word, because whatever this news was, I wasn't going to get it on the toilet.

After I was situated on a bench I told her it was okay, whatever it was, and that I wanted to hear her breathe for me. Big, deep breaths. After she did this for a few minutes, I told her to go ahead, but take it easy. (I can't stand to hear her upset. It murders my soul.) She told me between sobs that our dad was dead. I knew the news was coming, because there was nothing else that could have upset her this way unless it was news about our other sister or her children, which I would have gotten first because I'm closer to The Oldest than she is. I stupidly asked if she was serious, which appears to be my stock asshole response when I'm getting "So-and-so Is Dead" news, and told her it was okay. I told her to breathe. I stared at the tiled floor while the news tried to beat its way into my brain, while it tried to wring some sort of reaction from me. The Older noticed my lack of appropriately upset reaction and commented on it, making me feel about thisbig as I told her, "I'm at work."

It was all I could think to say.

It is my job to keep people calm in crisis. In order to do what I do, you fabricate around yourself a shell that is nigh on impenetrable. You do this to preserve yourself against the absolute horror that can come with what I do. That shell is most of the reason I did not react, I think. I hope. I hope the reason for my lack of reaction didn't have something to do with the shitty state of my relationship with my father, although if I'm being honest, I know that it did, at least a little. I know there was some shock there, although his health was TERRIBLE and certainly this did not come as a true surprise... Death is always a shock. It's so sudden, so permanent. And so, I focused on talking my sister through her grief and panic, because for whatever reason, it's what I could do at the time.

I went back into my office, asked my boss very calmly if he could get someone to cover the rest of my shift because my father was dead. He didn't seem to hear me, then turned and looked at my face, as if to see if I was serious. My phone was still to my ear as I looked at him, my skull filled with the sound of my sister crying on the other end of the line. I said, "I'm sorry," but to whom, I don't know. It was all I could think to say...

The Boy showed up then- turns out The Older had called him before she called me, out of concern for my reaction to the news and the affect it might have on the pregnancy. He found me kneeling in the dark in another office, staring at the carpet and trying stupidly to comfort my sister over the phone. He pulled a chair over, sat down with his legs on either side of me, and there in the shelter of him the tears finally came.

The next couple of days are a blur. We wound up in our home town, where we picked The Older up at the airport. The morning after that there was the funeral home to visit, details to tack down that could not be finalized long-distance via phone or fax. I learned, not unexpectedly, that my father had not had one cent of life insurance, nor had he made any sort of realistic arrangements for his death at all. (My uncle's ex wife had gone and gotten all kinds of papers for him, filled them out, and taken them to his apartment. She'd explained that all he had to do was sign those papers, and the government would give him life insurance. They would pay for his many, many medications. He would have nurses that would come to the apartment and check on him, they would make sure he was okay. The drawback would be that my dad would receive a few dollars less a month in Social Security, which would be more than made up for in the deferred cost of his meds. The papers were never seen again. He made no effort to even sign his name.)

My dad had been in congestive heart failure for over ten years. He'd been told by every specialist, general practitioner, nurse, whomever that he'd ever seen, "You're not going to live much longer." How could he? He was poisoning himself with everything he ate or drank. It was some strange miracle of luck that he'd managed to live as long as he had. He knew he was going to die, and soon. He could not have thought otherwise, and did not think otherwise, as evidenced by a comment from his own lips not so very long ago in response to the question, "Who do you think it will fall on when you die? Who do you think will be responsible for handling that?"

His answer? "What do I care? I'll be dead."

With no wife to shoulder the burden, he knew it would fall on The Older and myself. With The Older not having had a paying job in quite some time (She is the primary caretaker for her fiance's very ill mother, and cannot be away from the house for stretches of time, so this is more than understandable,) he knew it would fall on me, the daughter that was not his daughter, more by his own doing than genetics ever could have accomplished alone.

So there I sat, at this table, across from a mortician that seemed to have a Jones for very large numbers. I stared at him quietly as he explained that the stiff cardboard box they used to transport my dad's corpse to the crematorium cost more than 200 dollars. (A box. A cardboard box. Worth 200 dollars.) The transportation fee itself was enough to boggle the mind, not to mention the cost of the urn or the memorial pamphlets that had been printed up, apparently using pure gold leaf as paper, and the blood of infant angels as ink. I sat very, very quietly, staring at the ever growing numbers. I did not make a sound.

And I got angry. I got angry because, as terrible as it is to admit, I resented that as the daughter with the shitty relationship with this man, who was not my biological father and had never treated me as an equal child to begin with, I was staring down the barrel of a six thousand-dollar gun while trying to save for the birth and future of my unborn child. I got angry because not once in his life had he ever done anything responsible, and it never kept him up for one second at night how his childish ways hurt the people that had to make up for them. I got angry because he was a PARENT and should have done MORE, because we were good, dutiful children and deserved more. I got angry because The Older started crying again, as I (the youngest) signed papers and prepared to shoulder a very heavy financial burden that she could not help with, and so she was being crushed by a guilt I could not sooth with words or actions, and the inability to save her from that feeling ENRAGED ME. I got angry because ANGER is not the response a person should have when sitting in a funeral home trying to iron out the details of a parent's final arrangements. I got angry because what I wanted more than anything in the world right then was to punch the funeral director in the throat and chuck that fucking over priced urn through a window, and I am not proud of that.

The Boy tapped my shoulder, asked me to step out of the room with him. I snarked, "I don't want to step out of the room. I want to fucking leave." He asked me again, very softly, to step into the hall. So I did. Of course I did.

And then I lost my ever-loving mind. He hugged me while I scream-whispered about how my dad was a selfish, heartless fuck who never thought of anyone but himself for one second of his life, and how were we going to do this with a baby? He held my hand while I asked over and over and over, "Who DOES this to their kids? Who fucking DOES this to people they're supposed to love?" He told me it would be okay, that he would write a check right then to pay for half, when I started hyperventilating again about how we're having a baby, I can't afford this with a baby, oh my god, THE BABY. He soothed me when I demanded if he'd seen the look on The Older's face, the one that suggested she was either going to throw up or kill herself right there, and how could someone do that to her?

I said 'fuck' more times than I can remember.

My sister and uncle came out of the office eventually with the funeral director in sheepish tow, and explained to me that since our dad had been a resident of the same county for the last 40 years, that county might be willing to help defer some of the funeral costs if we could find certain information. They needed his social security card, a copy of his lease, any titles he might possess, bank statements, etc. I growled that we would never find those things, as the man had never kept any sort of responsible record. They insisted we try, and so we went to his apartment.

Walking into the room where my dad died had absolutely no affect on me. I looked at the chair his body was found in, and wondered if he had been comfortable. I hoped that he had. The Boy and The Older went to search our dad's vehicle while The Uncle and myself poked around the apartment. Long story short: We found what we needed. The county deferred close to four thousand dollars of the funeral cost, and I was absolutely floored.

I cannot describe how grateful I was and am that a system exists to assist people with this burden. While The Boy and I could have paid the full cost, it would have put us in a precarious position, one where ANY unexpected cost would have put us very, very close to being shit out of luck monetarily. The fact that we were not put in that position but instead are still able to pay our medical bills and our house payment without having to beg, borrow and steal, is something I will never stop being thankful for.

Things I will never, ever forget or find my way around to accepting:

-The fact that my father was selfish down to his last atom, and his self absorption was entirely complete and unrelenting. This was evidenced not only by the total lack of insurance, etc, but more so by the *very large* quantity of something he should not have had that was found in his apartment. He had it and knew that if anything happened to him we would find it, and didn't care what that would do to my sister, how it would hurt her to know that he had been such a different person than she thought he was.

-The way a business or industry can capitalize on the misfortune of those that have lost a family member or loved one, going so far as to QUADRUPLE their cost and absolutely ROB people blind.

-Finding the papers my aunt had gathered for him, the papers that simply required a signature to insure his life, shoved in the back of a drawer in the kitchen and forgotten.

-My surprisingly violent reaction to the above three points.

-The fact that my sister will form this experience into a club and use it to bludgeon herself for the rest of her life, feeling guilty for not being able to help do what needed to be done, because he couldn't be responsible for himself and keep that burden from her shoulders.

-Going into false labor as soon as we got home. Having contractions and mind bending nausea for hour after hour because my body was coming down from the stress of the last week. Being so thankful that it stopped because, although my baby could be born now and survive, he needs more time. Don't we all need more time?

-That the predominant emotion associated with this whole shebang, for me, was anger and frustration. Anger that my father, who I loved deeply despite how I know it seems, could not care enough for his daughter - The Older - to take care of himself, or at least be marginally responsible for her sake. Anger that I'm angry, because it's easier than being sad for him and my sister and myself. Frustration that everything he ever said or did seems like lie after lie, in the current light, and he said he'd never lie to us.


  1. I found your blog through several other blogs and the F word always makes me want to read more ...

    I'm sorry for your loss. Your dad & your relationship to him sounds alarmingly similar to mine and I clung to every word you wrote .. this terrifies me everytime I allow myself to think of him. What he's doing, why he's doing what he is, etc etc etc.

    Take care

  2. I am so sorry sweetie. Damn. I'm just really sorry. I'm glad you wrote about it here.