I’m unpacking. It’s weird because now I can unpack all the way. In recent times, I have kept the suitcases handy and partially packed because my next trip to San Jose and another Dad crisis was always just around the corner.
I have the whole 13-hour drive cemented in my head. I know where to get gas, use the restroom, sleep, eat, and find good radio stations. I know how long it takes and when I will arrive.
When I woke up in the middle of the night last night, I had to think for a minute before I could define that light area straight ahead. Oh, it’s the bathroom. That’s not where it was at Dad’s house or in the motel. This is my house.
For the 23 years since Fred and I moved to Oregon, my destination has always been my parents’ house. Dragging in after the long drive, I could expect a hug, dinner, and a soft bed. I remember one Christmas when my mother greeted me at the door by telling me, “My Christmas present is here!” Me. Ditto, Mom.
Everything has changed now, and so have we. The house will be sold, and my brother and I won’t visit San Jose as much. We can stop commuting because God is taking care of our parents now.
My father and mother are together again, Clarence “Ed” and Elaine V. Fagalde, side by side. It feels right, but it hurts. Yesterday in Portland, on the shuttle from the terminal to the long-term parking lot, the woman sitting next to me answered a phone call from her mother. Afterward she said, “No matter how old you get, your mother’s still checking up on you.”
I felt the tears coming. “If they’re alive,” I said. “You’re lucky.”
And then we arrived at the Q bus shelter, grabbed our bags, and went off to our cars. She was probably on the 205 freeway before I stopped crying enough to drive slowly toward the parking lot exit.
It’s going to be that way. Obvious triggers and not so obvious ones will bring tears. I’ll sob and scream then go on, refreshed for a while. The tears signify how much you loved them, said the wonderful Fr. Saju on Friday at Dad’s funeral Mass. The priest had seven funerals last weekend, but he made everyone feel as if theirs was the only one.
Putting a loved one to rest involves a lot of quick planning and last-minute detail, but it went well. We didn’t have a huge crowd at St. Martin’s, but every single person who came was special. The music by the talented Ophelia Chau was gorgeous, and Fr. Saju included everyone, Catholic or not. We laughed and cried. The military honors, complete with “Taps” and a flag ceremony, tore our hearts. And then there was a barbecue at Aunt Suzanne’s house, where cousins from different branches of the family got to know each other over hamburgers and linguica dogs, potato salad, chili, beer, and five different kinds of pies.
It was ridiculously hot outside, 97 degrees, so eventually we all crowded into the air-conditioned house and watched cousin Rob’s slide show of old black and white photos, yelling out guesses as to where they were taken and who all those people were. That’s Uncle Don! No, it isn’t! That’s Jack. No, it’s–” We kids have to fill in the blanks now. I hope Dad and Mom were watching together, smiling at the memories, knowing all the names.
I came home yesterday. When the plane landed back in Portland, it was 60 degrees, overcast and raining. Suddenly the light sweater I didn’t need in San Jose was not enough coverage. That’s Oregon. This morning I cleaned, filled and lit the pellet stove. Annie is sprawled on the love seat warming her belly.
It’s odd being home. I already feel memories starting to fade. I don’t want to forget where I was the last few days or the last few months. I want to hold on to those precious memories, just like I wished I could hold on to the red rose I snatched from the funeral flowers. I didn’t know how I’d get it through airport security, so I left it for the motel maid.
Do I really not have to go anywhere until Thanksgiving? Can I actually make plans and expect to keep them? Is my father really gone? And my husband and my mother, too?
This is part of growing up. The cousins whose parents have not already passed away are doing the same caregiving dance my brother and I did for so many years. All too soon, there will be another funeral, another name etched in stone.
But it’s not all darkness. As Dad’s ashes were slipped into the niche with Mom’s on Saturday, my cousin’s daughters and my niece’s son and daughter, ages 1 to 4, ran around between the walls of ashes and the commemorative benches. Knowing nothing about death, they laughed and hollered, rolled and jumped. To them, this place was almost as good as Disneyland.
Take a lesson from the children. Grab joy wherever you can. Fall, cry, get up, and play some more.
I’m home. The next chapter begins.