I laughed in the limousine on the way to Dad’s funeral. Uncle Paul was sitting up front with the driver and Uncle Paul had apparently never ridden in a limousine before. He peppered the poor driver with all sorts of questions that the driver was loathe to answer. He wanted to know how fast she’d go, and if it was hard to corner, and what size engine it had. He slammed on imaginary brakes when motorcycle riders escorted us through red lights. “That light was pretty red!” he’d call out. Rather then explain, the driver just kept saying, “I’m sorry, sir.” By the time we arrived at the chapel we were all doubled up with laughter. It was too funny. Then we saw all the people standing outside and Mom said we needed to stop laughing because people would get the wrong idea. So, we put on sad faces and exited the car.
I didn’t know how to grieve. Lots of people were crying, but I didn’t. I knew I was supposed to, but the tears just didn’t come. People would pat me on my back and tell me how sad I must be, but I didn’t feel sad. I didn’t feel much of anything. I just wanted to escape and be alone. I wanted to laugh and listen to records and play some basketball. I wanted to not see the shell that had once been my father when I closed my eyes. I didn’t want sympathy and I didn’t want to talk, but we had to sit and eat ham buns and potato chips and Jello salad and thank people who expressed condolences. I was sixteen. I couldn’t even cry at my father’s funeral…
I knew there was something seriously wrong with me. I’d been to funerals. I knew what was expected. I couldn’t even fake it. We left to go home. I was ashamed of myself. Family and friends joined us at the house. Casseroles and hot dishes loaded the table. Folding chairs from church filled the living room. More sadness. More tears. Mom broke down standing by the kitchen sink. Aunt Katy stood with her, consoling her. I couldn’t stand watching Mom sob, her shoulders shaking, chest heaving, face contorted in pain. I turned away. There was a huge lump in my throat, but I couldn’t muster a single tear.
I didn’t cry. Not for a long, long time. School resumed. There were more condolences to endure from classmates and teachers. Mr. Buckner asked if he could share at a chapel service about Dad’s dying from emphysema because of smoking cigarettes. I said yes, too young to understand how my situation was being exploited to warn teenagers not to smoke. More sympathetic responses after chapel. Once again I was the center of unwanted attention. I just wanted to go to basketball practice or sit in the cafeteria with my friends and flirt with the girls I was too shy of to ask out. I hated that classmates seemed sadder than me.
I drove the ‘56 Mercury home from school one day and was very excited about the fact I’d gotten an A on an important paper. I didn’t get many A’s. Very few. So getting one was cause for great celebration. I couldn’t wait to show Dad…
It hit me like a ton of bricks. I couldn’t show Dad. I couldn’t show anything to Dad. I’d never show anything to Dad again. Something deep inside broke. I had to pull off to the side of Osborn Road. I couldn’t see through all the tears. My shirt was completely soaked. It all came pouring out. It seemed like hours, but was probably more like just a few minutes.
I drove home. I didn’t know how to tell anyone. The family all just sat down to supper like normal and life went on.
Grieving is hard. There is not a right way. Someday perhaps a dam might break and the loss will flow out and then somehow life will continue. My friend and mentor, Vic Kelly died from Covid19. My heart breaks. When I look back I think I did things really well in our relationship. A year and a half ago when he retired from leading the writer’s group I wrote a tribute to him. I told him that he’d been like a father to me in so many ways. I found a poem he’d written that had deeply impacted me and sent it to him. He told me he had wasted his life as a teacher and that he should have used the gift of writing that God had given him. He thought God was probably disappointed in him. I was able to respond and tell him that God had placed his life up on Heaven’s refrigerator and was showing it off to Satan. “Look what my kid has done!” I told him how God sang over him and delighted in him and how his love had changed my life.
The news of his death hit me hard. There was no funeral where I could mourn. There was no gathering of family and friends where we could grieve together. Just loss. Painful, hurting, aching loss. Helplessness in the age of decay. Oh, how I long for it to be different.
The tears flowed. I sat on the patio and just sobbed. I told God how much I hate death. I told him through the tears how wrong it all is. And then the Spirit came and met me. Wept with me. Sobbed with me. Held me as my chest heaved and my shoulders shook. The consequences of loving deeply is grief and sorrow. You don’t weep if you don’t love. Eventually the dam will break and the tears will flow. And the Father who knows all our sorrows, and his own, reaches down to wipe away every tear…
Ray Hugen is wrapped in the Father’s love. Vic Kelly, too.