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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Singing Daddy Home

When I got in the car, Monday morning, to drive back to the city for Daddy's funeral, I told BD the one thing I hoped for was to have birds singing when we were at the grave site. That happened once at a funeral for a farming cousin of ours and it would be the most comforting thing to imagine the birds singing Daddy home. Among many other beautiful moments that happened that day, there was a mocking bird who sat in one of the only trees on that windswept greensward and serenaded the entire ceremony. At the end. When we were holding on to our composure with all our might.

The funeral mass was held at the beautiful, in my mind, most beautiful Catholic church in Richmond, St. Benedict's Church. It was the church I went to in high school. It has an organ and a glorious music program and a kind tender music director. Mama was already there when we parked on Shepherd St., dressed and coiffed and ready to participate in everything. She was a little bewildered but mostly wearing her gracious company face. We'd hired a nurse she knows to help but we kept her with us all the time.

Fabulous cousins were arriving - even beloved Haile cousins - warming my heart and sucking up some of the sadness. Darling men, who I last saw as boys, trekked the miles across state lines to hold us and hug us. And there were children at the service. I know of nothing that makes such a difference, when I'm staring at death, as the sight of youth, with its promise of a future, dressed in Sunday best, ready to participate in real life passages.

Sister B played hymns from the choir loft and in those old style churches, violin notes soar out over the sanctuary like angel voices. It's odd - in all the years I went to St. G's I was never once asked to play my violin for any service - and at that time I was very good. Funny the things that you think of when you go back to childhood haunts. But then - I remember the 'hip' masses were all Folk Masses and we all sang Michael Row the Boat Ashore to guitars. Ahh well.

There was an ocean of nostalgia beneath the surface of the whole ceremony. Father Kaufman gave a nice homily that talked about the generous heart and made no false references to my sainted father... who might have risen from the coffin had he done so. It would have been much nicer if he hadn't used a personal microphone. That church does not need amplification and it was big enough and empty enough and made of enough stone to echo his voice back onto itself to the point that most of what he said was unintelligible - like it was to me, when I was tiny and mass was still said in Latin (and I thought the priest was offering dominoes for breakfast).

My cousin J spoke about Daddy, weaving stories of his own with tales he'd gleaned from the rest of us. He is a superb speaker and fortunately, his microphone had less reverb so I hope people could hear him better. I could. Mama could not.

After the ceremony the cortege snaked through the city with a police escort, first with a Richmond squad car and then at the county line with three motorcycles. Daddy would have loved that - being escorted. The cemetery is way out in the western part of the county where we were greeted by both the singing bird and a full military honor guard of 8. The heat was fierce and there was a breeze almost strong enough to be called wind.   It blew so hard against the flag the soldiers had a difficult time folding it, even having to unfold it and try a second time. But eventually they were able to present it to Mama ... before everyone baking in that noon day sun was completely singed.

When all the ceremony had been fulfilled, we drove to the Capital Alehouse out on West Broad where we'd reserved the back room for the afternoon - and things fell into a traditional Bono Funeral Reception - or Irish Party - whichever name you prefer. We are not a solemn sober kind of family. We are loud. We are boisterous. We are really all pretty vivid, now I come to think of it. We had a fiddler - my sister - who played the songs and gigs of Appalachia and Ireland. We had boys lifting beer and toasting Daddies of the world. We had lots of food and a signature family desert made of chocolate and whipped cream. We sent Daddy off with laughter and tears and memories and more hugs than a teddy bear. We did it right for him. We did it right in honor of him. We absolutely know that he's been reunited with his brother and his sisters, his mother and father, with Earle Corcoran, his best friend from WWII days. And without a single doubt I know ... God is nigh.

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake, From the skies.
All is well,safely rest,
God is nigh.


  1. bess my dear made me cry

  2. I think Troopers and police feel honored to be asked to do the duty of escorting someone to their final resting place. I know a man I go to church with, a police officer, said he felt honored when he was asked recently to escort the procession for the wife of one of our former ministers...I don't think he had ever actually known her (well, when she was well enough to interact). But he was glad to be able to do that for her all the same.

    That was a beautiful post you wrote.