It’s a hard thing going through life without adequate self-expression. How painful not to be an artist, not to be able to draw or paint or carve into stone or onto paper that sunset, that tear, that smile or even that heartache which for one moment, makes the world stand still and deeply stirs your chromosomes.
You see life naked, exposed, lying bare for the seeing and, for a second, you see, really see it. Then it’s gone and you’ve only its scars and you go home and do the laundry and life goes on as before; except, except now you’ve seen something you never saw before and you aren’t quite the same anymore.
I had my chromosomes stirred in this way recently and I wish I had it in me to make a painting of the face that did that. It was at the funeral of a friend’s father.
This wasn’t a particularly sad funeral, in comparison to some others. It was a faith-filled occasion and the man being buried had been an exceptionally good man, one who had served his God, his family, his church and his community well.
Deeply loved and respected, and 81 years of age, he had lived a full life. There wasn’t a lot of unfinished business left. His children were all grown and had lives of their own and he had given them both sufficient time and faith to prepare for his death.
But you only lose your father once and no amount of faith and preparation takes away the sadness of that. Nobody had to tell that to this man’s family, especially to one of his sons, my friend’s older brother—a 50-year-old bachelor, the type of shy unmarried man you often find in small rural towns and villages.
A shyness, a timidity and a goodness even, sometimes make a strange and wicked conspiracy that keep a certain kind of man unmarried. Everything inside of him would like to be married, even as that everything knows that it never will be. My friend’s older brother was a victim of this kind, a conscripted celibate, a good man unwillingly predestined to never have a wife and kids.
So he lived at home still with an aging mother and father, freely, though against his will, at 50. He took care of them, without fuss, though with a resentment which, while not admitted here, obviously admitted itself into other areas of his life and feelings. A man, respected and loved, but hurt.
We all know men and women of this kind, but mostly they can hide their real pain and mostly we are too preoccupied with our own pain to notice much.
But he was really hurting on this day and funerals are a contemplative time, a privileged time for seeing. I sat beside him at the reception table after the funeral as people filed by and offered condolences: “I’m sorry! Your dad was such a good man. He’ll be missed! It will be such a consolation to your mother to have you home. Take care of yourself!”
As he stood up to leave, he could no longer hold back the tears: “You only lose your father once!” he said, as if to apologize for crying. Then he checked his tears, his brief moment of weakness, and his face quivered.
For that second he was stripped bare, whipped. Fifty years of hurt, 50 years of inconsummation, 50 years of a kind of timidity and shame that come from being alone in this way, from being good and doing what’s expected of you, from being everyone’s sugar uncle, and losing a dad you still lived with—it all showed.
He was defenceless and exposed as though he was walking around naked. Losing a loved one can do that to you.
I realized then that he was not apologizing for his tears, he was embarrassed for his nakedness. Quickly he began to talk of something else, the ravaged local and the kind of death this was bringing to his home town. “A whole way of life is dying here,” he said, as if to make it clear that there were other kinds of death on his mind, beyond dad’s.
A young and very pretty woman, a friend of the family, came up to him and gave him a tight hug. Then, perhaps seeing what I saw, she gave him a kiss, right on his lips.
She took a step back from him, took his hand and said: “I’m sorry about your dad. You take care now, please do. Don’t forget lots of us love you!” His face softened a little and the tears reappeared: “Thank you, I do appreciate that!” “We’ll see you around then, OK!” she said as she walked away.
He let his tears flow freely for a bit. Then, as they stopped, the quiver returned, as did his need to apologize: “You only lose your dad once!” he told me again. “It’s tough! These things are really tough!”
Yes, death is tough . . . in all its forms.