It would be wrong not to tell you how much I laughed with my brothers and sisters in the six weeks while Dad lay dying, in the week while he lay dead. How much we sang together. Laughed and sang together in a way we hadn’t since we were kids, and maybe not even back then so hard and long. Sang Dad’s favorite songs, the ones we’d played for him in the hospital, our phones on the pillow next to his head, at other times an iPod on top of his bedside locker. We sang every song we knew. I’m a rotten singer, even mime “Happy Birthday” in groups. But I sang for those seven weeks in Dublin. Because of the whiskey. Because I didn’t care. Because I did care.
I thought of the ballads my Dublin ex sang. Thought of how he’d attended Mam’s funeral services three months earlier. Thought how that was the first time I’d seen him, talked to him, in years. Thought back two decades and how crazy-hard I’d loved him. Thought how terrible-great we used to be together. Thought how I hoped he’d attend Dad’s funeral services as well. Thought of him holding me. Thought all this next to Dad’s dying bed. Thought God and my Dad and my husband to please forgive me. Thought how grief makes us crazy, makes you yearn.
We waked Dad at home for two days and a night, him so thin and shrunken inside the coffin, almost unrecognizable until we realized if we sat on the couch where we could only see him in profile, see just his face beyond his ear and not those sunken cheeks and those bones pushing, then he looked like Dad. The white lining of his coffin trimmed with glittery gold that I hated, loose white threads that I wanted to scissor, speckles of gold on the new black suit we’d bought Dad for Mam’s funeral that I scratched off with my trigger nail.
Family and mourners wanted me to put Dad’s glasses on him. “Ned always wore his glasses.” I resisted. It’s not Dad, I wanted to tell them. Dad always wore his glasses. This isn’t Dad. But upstairs I went and back down again and placed Dad’s glasses on his face. Glasses on with eyes closed. The thin eyelids instantly discolored. Made him look like he’d two green holes in his head. Before the undertaker closed the coffin, I removed Dad’s glasses. I have them still. All the better to see you, my dear.
So few pieces of Dad to give. His cap to my sister. His huge potted hydrangea to another sister. His wedding ring and good shoes to our baby brother, Dad’s mirror-image in so many ways. The Wicklow jersey and his watch to the oldest. His gardening tools to the third brother. Me, I got his glasses and his gold house key. Key. Lock. Turn. Open. Mam. Dad. Home. I would fight with lions to keep that key.
I sang Amazing Grace to Dad in his open coffin. Sang with my brothers and sisters and the rest of our family and the mourners, my gifted young red-haired nephew the strongest voice in the throng, mine the weakest. Sang while looking at Dad’s face for the last time. Sang as I wondered if he could see us, hear us. Rise it, we Irish tell our singers. Rise it, I like to think Dad told us.