It’s a long drive back to Nashville…

but we made it in one piece. Well, two pieces, I suppose, counting me and Karsten separately.

I’m completely exhausted. Glad to be home, but have already cried twice tonight. I’m going to try going back to work on Monday. Here’s hoping I hold it together.

We scaled the wake back to one evening instead of two, thank the powers that be. One evening of non-stop condolences was tough enough to get through. And then Thursday was the funeral services at the church and cemetery, followed by the funeral luncheon and after-luncheon gathering at my sister’s house. It was a long day to finish a long week. And then, of course, there’s the eight-hour drive today.

The wake was tough. My dad looked unrecognizable. I suppose he’s been looking stranger and stranger as he got closer to the end, but it was only once they tried to make him up to look normal that he looked so shockingly weird. Everyone seemed to feel that way, and I took to warning people when they arrived to brace themselves if they planned to approach the casket. A lot of people thanked me afterwards for the warning.

I made a slide show of photos and ran it on my laptop on the other end of the room from the casket so that people would have something positive to focus their visual attention, and a lot of people thanked me for that, too. I’m pleased that it helped other people, but just making it was cathartic for me, so I hardly needed to watch it.

Also, at the funeral service in the church yesterday, my sister and I both gave eulogies, and although we hadn’t compared notes or anything, people commented that it was nice how our statements echoed each other. I said it’s easy to be consistent when you’re telling the truth.

In case anyone would like to read it, here’s what I said in the eulogy:

It’s tempting to say that 2005 has been a bad year. I spent most of this year anxious and anticipating my father’s death. I did not, as it happened, anticipate my mother-in-law’s death. And watching my father die slowly took up the summer months and into the fall. So yes, it’s tempting to say this has been a bad year.

But you, I, my father, all of us — we don’t live in years. We don’t die in years. We live — lived — in moments. A series of moments. A collection of moments. And yes, we die in moments.

You see, during these past few months, the concept of time has become surreal to me. There was, for example, the first day we all thought would be my father’s last: the hours spent in vigil, five to ten minutes passing in silence, 20 to 30 seconds between each breath my father took. But he fooled us, and lived for weeks after that. Time is unreliable in our lives. Only moments matter.

And so I learned from this ordeal to make the most of moments. When my father was alert and talkative, I tried to use those moments to find out what he still needed in his life, what unfinished business he felt he had. And in the hours and increasingly days that passed in unresponsiveness, I learned to find comfort in the memory of past moments — a skill that I hope will comfort me for the rest of my life.

Some people live to be 104 years old. You might say they’re rich in years. Yet it’s no guarantee that they’re rich in moments. My father lived relatively few years. Yet I believe, and I suspect my mother, for one, would agree, that my father was a man rich in moments.

My dad was not the last year of his life. He was not the moment of his death. He was — and, for me, he will always be — the sum total of his laughter and love, the gifts he gave me and the extraordinary generosity with which he gave them, the lessons I learned from him, the corny jokes he told, the many kisses and hugs we shared, his accomplishments, his friendships, his ability to love and give and accept and learn and love some more.

For all of its difficulty, 2005 has given me some of my life’s most precious moments so far. And we, as a species, are blessed with memory. So I can step forward into the next moments of my life, holding close my memories of the good, the sweet, the beautiful moments this year and all the years before it, and comforted by the memory of the moments I shared with my father.

I’m often told that I resemble my father in many ways: our appearance, our love of music, our aptitude with languages, and so on — but I will be lucky if at the end of my years, I can know that I resembled him in this respect: that I lived a life abundant in love and rich in moments.

I would like to conclude these thoughts in the words of Mary Oliver, who wrote so eloquently about the illusion of time and the loss of what we love in the poem “In Blackwater Woods.”

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
that your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

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