I returned to my car, turned the key and jounced a little when the radio came to life with the euphonious “Stayin’ Alive”. In and of itself, this was unremarkable. After all, the dial was set to the classic hits station (read: they play “oldies” which, ouch, happen to be from the era during which I grew up) and that song is, by all accounts, a classic. What was remarkable, however, was that it was playing after I had spontaneously (more on that in a moment) visited my father’s grave. For the uninformed, my father freakin’ loved the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack. In fact, he had been known to listen to it often, always loudly, proudly and while in his car. It was not unusual for him to pull into the garage with “Night Fever” blasting so loud we could hear it in the house. He would then remain in the car until the very last note, when he would finally kill the engine and come in to join us. It is not often that I catch The Bee Gees on the radio, but when I do it is as if my dad is right there in the car with me.
Monday will be ten years since my father died. Every year since, I’ve viewed January 11th as a day-to-get-through knowing that eleven days later is his birthday…also known as a-day-to get-through. But this anniversary feels somehow more permanent than have the previous nine. Ten years is a long time. So much has happened. My father knew my two little boys. Now I have one young man and one teenage daughter. I’m fifty. I’ve gotten divorced. I am gray! How could he have missed all that?
I have been feeling out of sorts, not known how to commemorate it, not known what to do with myself. So, today, while making a return to a store that happens to be about five minutes from the cemetery, I headed over. (Of note: the store is a chain. There are others nearer to home. So, um, perhaps it wasn’t quite so spontaneous after all…)
I thought I knew where to find him, although I am not sure why I thought that since every.single.time. I go there I get lost in the beautiful winding roads that seems to go on forever. I was sure I knew which section, but once I got there (and saw that he wasn’t) I knew I’d taken a wrong turn. (Of note: there are no headstones at this pristine cemetery, rather all identifying plates are on the ground…therefore, frankly, every section looks pretty much the same.) Finally, as I began to feel my shoulders rise, anxiety and irritation percolating, I followed the signs to the “Welcome Center” (yeah, I thought it was a rather absurd choice of words for a cemetery, too) and approached the gentleman tending the front desk of the bright, yet somehow somber office.
“Are you able to tell me where I can find someone?” I asked. He hesitated, and I knew that I needed to be a bit clearer. “Oh, I’m not looking for a welcome center employee (of which there seemed to be many); rather, it is a permanent resident, if you will.” He smiled. I smiled. But I hated that I didn’t know where to find my father. He looked up the name, confirmed his date of death (like I needed to hear that!) and told me where I could find him. He used a bright pink highlighter to show me the route on a map of the grounds and then proceeded to tell me exactly where to find him at Mt. Nebo, Section 28A. I flashed a smile, cut him off and assured him that I could handle it from here…mostly because I can read. And then I left, map in hand, feeling the weight of the welcome center follow me out the door.
Well, I can read, but, unlike my father, I am literally incapable of following a map. It is source of embarassment, but one I can live with given the fact that I am never far from a navigation system. As such, once in the car I managed to get lost. Again. This time was different though: this time I knew where I was ultimately headed and that whole ability to read thing was going to work in my favor. I drove around in just a few circles before I spotted the austere sign telling me I was in the right place. I got out of the car, pulled my sweater more tightly around me, found a rock that felt strong, meaningful and appropriate, and headed across the lawn, taking care to not step on any of the nameplates in the ground. There was one new one, from just last year, while the rest had been there long before my father. I placed the rock on his stone, told him the highlights of the year (“I’m engaged”, “Harrison got his EMT license!” “Jess is holding steady and still making me laugh every day!”),told him I love him and asked him to keep on showing up when I least expect it. I was there for less than ten minutes. The air got colder, the sky grew darker and my heart became fuller.
I seldom go to the cemetery. The last time I went it was a stunningly beautiful day. I took a long walk around the grounds, trying to ignore the fact that there was a burial happening several hundred yards away. I cried like a baby. I may have even lain down on the ground next to him begging him to help me through the day. And I definitely stopped for an ice cream cone on the way home.
Today felt different. I am strong. My kids are strong. My mother is strong. My brothers are strong. None of us has lost our sense of humor which we were taught was more important than just about anything. My father’s legacy is apparent – like his father before him, all seven of his grandchildren will vehemently support the assertion that they were his favorite. I have a wonderful partner whom my father would most definitely approve of. My brothers and I remain the best of friends…just how my dad wanted it. But we all still miss him every single day.
Now turn up the volume and go: Stayin’ Alive