My former husband died two weeks ago. The man I had married some thirty years ago had been an avid water sport enthusiast who divided his time between the water, his band, the gym and his love of tinkering in the garage. We have a daughter together, a daughter who just turned eighteen, who has just started college and “adulting” as they call gaining independence these days. His death was a major shock; it feels like being slugged the gut.
I watch as my daughter pours herself into her school work, knowing that her father would want her to do her best and live as fully and completely as he had. And yet, with her training wheels barely off, she’s vulnerable. She needs to know she’s loved and that someone has her back while she navigates the uncharted territory of loss. It’s uncharted territory for both of us, and while I can’t prevent her pain and grief, I can try to help her say goodbye to her father in a way that is meaningful for her.
There are other cooks in the kitchen, however. Within minutes of our getting the news of her father’s passing, his family were calling for passwords to his computer. Funeral plans were already being formulated and the family had kicked into gear going through his belongings, completely overlooking the fact that he had a will and had named, in writing, a third party representative to handle his estate on behalf of our daughter. As they do these things, they tell my daughter they have her best interests in mind; and if she needs money, they will gladly help, and just reimburse themselves from her inheritance once everything is settled.
With the funeral service held at a church she hadn’t attended, and details in place she was never consulted on, we talk about my daughter’s options. Going and showing a brave face to avoid judgement, or not going and planning something of her own. We talk about respecting his memory, and of grace and strength. I wonder whether the training I received to stoically move through this type of situation without a crack in one’s facade is a good lesson for my daughter. So often, I’ve acquiesced to other people’s desires and plans at crucial times in my life, which, in the end only added more hurt and anger, rather than healing and closure.
As I consider this funeral, with it’s pomp and ceremony, it’s arbitrary nature, juxtaposed against my daughter’s struggles with memories of her father, I want to protect her; to say don’t go. This funeral represents all that her father wasn’t to her; it seems an official mandate; a decree.
I think of her tender heart and her attempts to come to grips not only with her father’s passing but also their relationship, a relationship that was complicated and very different than memories his family and friends have of him. I want to pull her back, hold her in my arms, give her space to process this loss, but vitriolic communications from his family periodically intervene. I see her not wanting to ruffle feathers, afraid to speak up lest the funeral be dropped into her lap as everything else that requires a check has.
I want to scream “who says?” Who says this funeral is “official,” and therefore mandatory. Is this the “right” way for my daughter to say goodbye? Does her goodbye require a public display with a family who have had little previous interaction in her? And with all the details decided by others, with their playing the central role, who has the event really been created for?