Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A place to say goodbye, or hello

I was stuck at a red light the other day, right next to a cemetery, and several of the graves had little American flags on them.  I started to wonder if my dad was eligible for a flag.  He got a medical discharge out of the Air Force.  I know he wasn't in long enough to get any benefits.  Does a flag count as a benefit?
But it's a moot question, cuz my dad doesn't have a grave.
I guess when I decided to cremate him I wasn't thinking about that.  When I worked around the corner from the cemetery where my grandpa is buried, I used to get a spicy chicken sandwich from Wendy's and then sit on his grave and eat it.  Then I'd go back to work and say that I had lunch with my grandfather.  It didn't make me feel CLOSER to him (although I physically was), it just seemed like the right thing to do.  I only worked there a couple of months and I haven't been back to "visit" my grandpa since.  I have to wonder what state his gravestone is, since I don't think my mom's been there to clean around it or plant flowers and obviously my grandma hasn't driven anywhere in 4 years.
Of course, visiting my father is easy.  His ashes are at my mom's.  She'd probably let me borrow them if I asked.  I guess technically every time I eat at mom's, I'm having dinner with dad like I had lunch with grandpa--he's only on the other side of the wall from the dining room.
But it's weird not to have a GRAVE, with that ponderous gray stone that distills a life into 10 words or less (name, dates, maybe a "beloved father and husband" inscription).  The ceremony at the grave site, well those are always terrible and I'm not sad we didn't have one (I'd have been a lot sadder if we had, if you know what I mean).  Everyone I know who died has a grave.  Except my dad.   Does that mean I don't love him?  I could spend all my money and buy a plot and pay a backhoe to excavate a hole and put his pretty green stone box underground and put up a big ugly gray stone to tell everywhere were the pretty box is hidden.  That seems silly.  My mom wants the box buried with her.  Fine with me, but I'm keeping a spoonful or two of dad so he can be in the coral reef with me.  Because I know how much my dad loved nature and he'd think being a coral reef was awesome.  And although no one would ever actually do it for me, I think it's pretty cool that to visit a coral reef grave, you have to scuba dive.  "Going to visit my dad, gotta get my tanks filled." The big blue sea, the immense green ocean, becomes your gray stone.
Then again, whether you believe in life after death, or the Elsewhere Bar, or that life is a candle that just gets snuffed out at the end, everlasting life is really when people who are still alive remember you.  If you're a fan of Terry Pratchett, the British author whose battle with Alzheimer's started exactly when my dad's ended, you might have read his book Small Gods (it's pretty stand-alone if you're not a Discworld reader).  It's about a bunch of gods who no one worships anymore, because no one remembers them.  That's what happens eventually to people I guess, no one is alive who remembers you and you fade away.  But I've written all this and as long as Blogger is online, even if I die today, people will read my blog and remember my dad.  And maybe me.  So this blog serves, I guess, as my dad's big gray stone, a place to visit him and say hello.  Because he's here, somewhere.