I was asked a really odd question the other day from a book blogger. I was asked to share a painful memory. I guess it’s not that odd for a writer to share emotional tales, but this did catch me off guard as there was no fictional characters I could hide the truth behind.
I mentioned that my Dad passed away nearly nine years ago. It was an interesting time for us as trying to organise his funeral was not a straight forward task. Enter into the picture his girlfriend, who insisted under Polish tradition that catering had to be provided. A European funeral traditionally feeds its guests well, but being one of the organisers of the food and alcohol meant that grieving had to take a back seat.
My sister, my sister-in-law and I tried to reason with my Dad’s last love that perhaps we could pay professional caterers, leaving us with the task to huddle as a family and come to terms with our loss. But it was not the done thing. What would the guests think if food was not provided? So we did the Eastern Block thing and cooked.
The other spanner in the works came from the priest. It was our wish to have a singer recite our Dad’s favourite song ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ at the service, but apparently this did not fit in with the religious ceremony. Fortunately Dad’s girlfriend spoke up for us.
“How dare the priest dictate to his children what they can and cannot have at their own father’s funeral!” she said. She contacted the priest on our behalf.
A couple of minutes before the service, one of Dad’s girlfriend’s grandchildren came up to talk to me. I had just been consoling my nine year old niece before he approached to tell me how much my father meant to him. My Dad was like the kind grandfather this boy didn’t have through blood. As he walked away, I turned to my niece and told her it was her turn to hug me. His lovely words had released me from the chaos of worrying about catering. I finally was ready to grieve after putting my emotions on hold for the past week.
I entered the church, sat in the second row and heard the tinkling of piano keys begin Dad’s favourite tune. As our hired singer began the first line of the piece, a row of people stood up and began reciting traditional Polish songs, drowning her voice and making her stop.
This was a surreal moment. I wasn’t upset or angry – just phased. After all we’d been through sorting out recipes for the wake; organising the funeral; and finally being allowed to have the song that Dad loved played at his own service – we were secondary people at this celebration of his life.
The grieving eventually happened about a week later when I was back in Sydney, but its a tale I now tell with a sense of dark humour. It happened. It’s more than over. And if I ever did it again, an orchestra would be hired to play the song of choice.