Issue Number 56
by Jean Weber
In November 1999 I got word that my father had a terminal illness, pulmonary fibrosis. I visited my parents in February-March on the trip to Corflatch. I had hoped to see my father at least once more, but I hadn't realized (until too late) just how quickly his health was deteriorating.
When Eric and I were planning our motorhome trip, we were particularly concerned about the problems of keeping in touch with my parents, because we knew we'd be out of mobile (cellular) phone contact for most of the trip. Fortunately, one thing after another kept delaying our departure from early June to later in June.
On Monday, 19 June (Sunday, Father's Day, in the USA), I phoned my parents. Mother said Dad wasn't going to last until my next planned visit (in November), so I started making arrangements to go earlier.
On Tuesday morning, Eric took his driving test (to get his license to drive the motorhome) and we planned to leave on Wednesday. On Tuesday afternoon, my mother phoned to say that my father had just died. What a shock! Even more of a shock for my sister, who had arrived late Sunday for a week's visit with them. She'd spent most of Monday talking finances with my father (my sister is the family tax accountant).
I promptly booked a flight to Seattle for the following week. The trip was not without its drama, starting with expediting the renewal of my Australia passport (which I'm writing about elsewhere). Then, I arrived in Sydney to discover that my flight to the USA had been cancelled (the plane was still on the ground in San Francisco) and that all the SFO passengers were being put onto a flight to LA later in the day, and my connection to Seattle had to be changed. Then the flight out of LA was delayed.... Oh, well, eventually I got to Mother's, and as I was flying Business Class, I got treated very well by United.
The following week I flew to Washington DC with Mother. We stayed in the Sheraton National, a hotel on the Virginia side of the river (and one in which several conventions had been held, some years ago). My sister's room had a great view out towards the Mall; we could see the Capitol dome and several of the major monuments, as well as the national Fourth of July fireworks show! The funeral was on the 5th, and we were all astonished at the beautiful weather. Having lived in the DC area for many years, we all knew that July can be ghastly: hot, humid, smoggy. The 4th was a bit that way, but the 5th was very pleasantónot too hot, not too humid, and relatively clean air.
Afterwards, I stayed at Mother's for four weeks, to keep her company and help sort out some things. We haven't had just-the-two-of-us time since 1967, the year my father was in Vietnam and my sister had gone off to university.
The funeral certainly was an impressive ceremony. There were 2 platoons of honor guard, a full brass band, a horse-drawn carriage carrying the coffin, a riderless horse with the boots turned backwards, 7 riflemen each firing 3 rounds (for a 21-gun salute), and the graveside ceremony involving the folding of the flag.
I'm not a fan of the military, but I'm glad my father got the recognition he deserved, after a 32-year Army career including service in three wars (WWII, Korea, and Vietnam).
Dad graduated from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1938. He joined the Army in 1940 and served in Burma and India. He was a founding member of the Military Police Corps and was Provost Marshal of several military bases, including the Southern European Task Force, Verona, Italy, 1959-60, where he was responsible for the physical security of US Army nuclear missiles in northern Italy. (That one I didn't know until I read his obituary.) As a senior colonel, he was deputy commander of the 18th Military Police Brigade in Vietnam, 1967-68.
Later he was a faculty member of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (now National Defense University), specializing in international economics and area studies of the Middle East and South Asia.
Dad married my mother in August 1940. After he retired from the military in February 1972, they spent the next 27 years travelling, sailing large power boats, and doing all sorts of interesting things.
Being a meticulous, organized, and realistic person who planned ahead in detail, Dad had arranged and paid for his and Mother's funerals years ago, so she didn't have to do much except phone the right people.
Because death isn't a taboo subject in our family, and because Dad was concerned about Mother's welfare (both financially and emotionally) after his death, we could all discuss her plans, even in his presence.
I thought that was a particularly healthy attitude, but I've noticed that some people look at me oddly when I say thatóas if they think she was looking forward to his demise. Not at allóbut once someone's dying, and in considerable discomfort, then death is a blessing and the bereaved need to get on with their lives. Grieve, of course, at losing a loved one, but be comforted by the fact that they are no longer suffering.
I've put on my website a copy of a zine containing photos of the funeral. If you're interested, the address is http://www.jeanweber.com/wrevenge/funeral.pdf
Brought to you by:
Page last updated 29 March 2002