The night before my dad's funeral I couldn't sleep. I think I finally dozed off around 4:30 a.m. Jack woke me up about 8:45. We made it to the church just after 10:00. I don't know what I expected from something called a "memorial service."
"We were sandbagged," whispered Jack. It was a full-length Catholic mass with some extra sadness thrown in, in the form of my brother making his best effort to read a eulogy for his dead father without sobbing.
Funny bits: watching Jackson cope with all the Catholic rigamarole by fidgeting relentlessly; plus the whole, Now we're standing UP! Okay, now SIT DOWN! Uh-oh, time to KNEEL! Also, I did giggle when my brother referred to Tom Brokaw's Greatest Generation, but it only makes sense if you've watched Ricky Bobby five or thirty times. I'm an asshole. Tell me something I don't know.
When we got to Ft. Logan cemetery, though, and walked past a row of old guys in VFW hats standing at attention for my dad, I lost it. If the church thing left me a little cold, the military ceremony stuck a sword in my heart and yanked it right out of my chest. A twenty-one gun salute is an astonishing shock to the system, but when the color guard folded up an American flag and a soldier got down on one knee and handed it to me, that was the saddest public most wrenchingly heartfelt thing that has ever fucking happened to me. Jackson was sitting on my lap and he hugged that flag to his chest tight. The military, they've had a lot of practice burying soldiers, and my god they know how to do dignity. I'm not one to romanticize that shit at all, but I have a lot more respect for spit-and-polish now.
One happy side-effect of being sleep deprived is that it gets you in touch with your weeping. One unhappy side-effect of being sleep deprived the evening after your father's funeral is that it's your twenty-fifth high school reunion!!
As you can imagine, even after an hourlong afternoon nap, I was ready to put a pillow over my head and sleep for two years. But when your best friend has flown 3,000 miles just to hang with you, you dig down deep for the strength to hold both the sadness and the joy without dishonoring either one. Two glasses of wine at the hotel bar and my chin was above water. Off we went.