I had just turned to the 57th page in the book of my life when my Father closed the cover on his. I was ready for his death. He had been ready for it much longer. Over the years, MS had eroded the quality of his life to the point that once when I asked, “How are you Dad?”, he merely replied, “Waiting…”.

The funeral was traditional. Mercifully the casket remained closed and I was spared the well-meaning but misplaced comments about how “peaceful” or “natural” he looked. The established formula for a funeral and burial had been followed with the gathering of family and of his friends whose numbers were reduced by the attrition of 87 years. I had not given much thought to the purposes of those rituals until a few months later when I was confronted with the task of burying him a second time.

In the middle of doing something unrelated, Dad appeared before me. He was not alone. To his right was Bill, and to his left was Dan. This was not some ghostly apparition but there he was. Reflexively I reached out to touch him, but I knew that he could not and would not answer. There was no longer any meaning attached to him being there. It was left for me to bury him again.

The contrasts between his first internment and this second unexpected one were stark. Then, I had been surrounded by those who had shared his life. Now I was alone. Before, there had been well ordered preparations. Here, I was caught unaware. The disposition of my father’s body had been accomplished by strangers who were experts of their trade. Here, I knew that I could not delegate the closing of this “casket”.

It was silly of me to hesitate, but sentiment restrained my hand. I compelled myself to touch Dad in a way that would forever take him from my eyes. A bit of ironic cruelty was inserted into the moment as I was asked whether I was sure I wanted to do this. “Yes Dad…”. I touched him a second time and he was gone. It was as if he had never been there. No monument or marker would be erected, he just ceased to be. Bill and Dan were now shoulder to shoulder as I closed the cover of my cell phone, deleting him forever from my list of contacts.

Peace Everyone. Pete Schloss

12 thoughts on “Burial Rites in the 21st Century

  1. Good job Pete. First you confuse me, then you turn confusion into mystery and finally, near the end, you solve the mystery in a surprising way. A wonderful way to express love and remembrance. Your experience also reminded me of words my stepfather had about how he wished his remains would be dealt with. Never one to treasure nor waste a dollar, he hoped that when the time came, we’d bind his body in a green plastic bag and set it out by the curb.

      • I lost my step mom of 25 years in October, her phone is shut off but I think I’ll forever have her number. We also shared a Netflix account and Laura is there everytime I log in. I don’t know when the day will come but I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready for that day. I enjoy my ghostly reminders…one will be buried in December 2018 when I graduate law school and I’ll no longer pass her class of 2003 picture everyday I’m at school. Thanks for this post Pete. Much love to you and Chris.

        • Ashley, I did not know of your loss. I recall that you were very close to her. Our condolences to you and to all who held here dear in their hearts.
          Congratulations on nearing the end of law school and best wishes for what we know will be a bright future!

  2. Chris Graham says:

    I understand your gesture one hundred percent. I’ve saved several of my lost friends contacts for years because even just scrolling by makes me stop and think about that person for just a little while. When my grandfather, the undisputed patriarch of my mother’s family died, I would call his phone just to hear his voice on the message once more. I continued to do that occasionally until the service was no longer on but still to this day his number is in my phone, waiting for me to happen by for a brief visit.

  3. Sandy Ruhlander says:

    Pete, you truly have the gift of communicating your thoughts onto paper. I look forward to reading your post and thank you for letting me join you on these journeys. With that said, next time if you would place a disclaimer that the following may make you cry at your work desk it would be much appreciated. 😉

  4. Interesting timing for this. We are planning the burial of my parents ashes this summer. When mom died I asked Dad if he wanted to do a graveside service to which he replied, “wait until I die and then do everything at once.” So we’ll be going through a final service, just us kids, our final goodbye.
    I checked my phone after I read this only to find I have yet to “delete” him. Not sure I’m ready for that just yet. Peace Pete.

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