Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Goodbye Papa

This last weekend we had the Memorial for my Father. On Friday we had the Visitation, Firefighter and Police Honors and the Celebration of Life. On Saturday we had the Memorial Mass, Military Honors and a lunch.

My In-Laws went with us and stayed in Rochelle on Friday night. I have to say that I am very grateful; it was a hardship on them.

The Visitation started early. Before we even had everything set up there were people there. The firefighters were a huge presence. We all mingled around and looked at the photos and memorabilia, but most of the visitors formed a line to talk to my Mom. The line went out the door of the room and at times I think it may have even gone out the door of the building. That went on from 15:00 when the doors opened. At the time we were supposed to have the Honors there was still a big line.

We started the Honors with a bagpiper from the Chicago Police Department playing some tunes. All I could think of was Braveheart ("Sayin goobye in there oin whey, playin outlawed tunes on outlawed pipes).

The Fire Department filed in. The room was full to start with and they packed it. There were about 30 men and women, and this from several departments in a rural area.

The Chief gave a very moving introduction. He said that many of them had never heard of the Firefighter tradition of the Bell Ceremony until my Dad taught them. Dad insisted that they have the material and be prepared to perform the ceremony in the event they lost one of their own. As it turned out, he was the first to be so honored. The Chief was impressed by the turnout and he couldn't keep his voice from breaking a bit at times.

They rang the bell three times, and three times again, and again.

Afterward they opened the mic for people to come up and give testimonials, a Celebration of a Life.

I went first. It was hard, but there were three funny things. I had been thinking about what to say since my Mom and Dad first said that they wanted that ceremony to be part of the memorial. I had chewed on what story to tell, how to present it. In the end I started telling the story of how "We" took one of my Dad's Literature tests, and I threw in a few other things that just came to me. Once the story started flowing it became easy.

The second funny thing was, I mentioned how I had always tried to be different than my Dad; I never wanted to be like him because it was too easy to be a chip off the old block, hide in the old man's shadow, Junior, Little Bill. I always tried my hardest to be my own man. Afterwards many people told me that I looked, sounded and acted just like him while I was up there. They said it was scary.

The third funny thing was as I looked out into the crowd, and I had thought that I wouldn't be able to look out into the crowd because it would have made me cry, but as I said the story just took me. As I looked out into the crowd I thought I saw his face. He was there between other people watching me, smiling.

Of course it wasn't him; he wouldn't have been hiding in the back anyway.

Others got up to speak, some several times. Friends and family spoke. Friends and family didn't speak as well, but it was clear that no one had nothing to say, it was just the right thing for some and silent respect was right for others.

My brother Rose spoke last. He gave a moving speech as well and it was a good ending to the ceremony.

I don't know how long everyone stayed after and talked, I had to get my young ones and elders back to bed.

In the morning we went to mass, just as my Dad requested, and to my Mother's consternation. It was clear that he homily was directed to my Mother, that my Father was a good Catholic and he would have wanted my Mother to be too. I don't think she bought it.

The grandchildren and my sister, Lavender brought up the gifts and roses.

In one of the side chapels they set up three of the poster-sized photos of my Dad and had Firefighters "guard" them. It was a very nice touch. Beside the altar they had the poster of my Dad as a Firefighter.

The Fire Department also brought out the old fire truck and had it outside for people to see.

When mass was ended we went out to the parking lot and the local VFW gave him a 11 gun salute and played taps. The bugler really hit some of us hard and my Dad's sister worst of all. My brother Rose, who was in uniform, received the flag and presented it to CW2 Don Proven, who in turn presented to my Mom with a tear-filled thank you.
The lunch was in the church basement and was very lovely. Another line formed to talk to my Mom.
In all I thought it was a fitting and excellent send off for a great man. We will see him again when we get the ashes back in a couple of years.

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