When he was alive, they wondered sometimes who would turn out for his funeral. Did he have friends? He didn’t seem to be social but then, you never could know whom your father held dear.
And then he passed. It was a long week of agony and wonder, and when it happened in the early morning of a Monday in November, the leaves long since fallen to the ground and the forecast winking of snow, they knew it was time.
That didn’t make it easy, though. One can never prepare to lose a parent, no matter how old they get, no matter how his body takes a beating.
They moved in motions studied and quick and without a trace of thought to make the necessary plans and have the important conversations. And then, they gathered together in the dark hues of the funeral home, in the back room, ready to greet whomever swept through the doors.
It was a gray day and cool, with ample cloud cover. Streams of people poured in until there wasn’t an empty row in the funeral home. The line of people waiting to comfort the mourners ran the length of the building until a half-hour past the scheduled time for the service to begin. The place burst with well-wishers.
And after his body was lowered into the earth, and after the closest few shoveled speckles of dirt onto the plain pine box in which his body rested, the people kept coming. To the house, to the mourners, until there was standing room only for days.
When the youngest son went on the day he died to the bakery, he couldn’t keep the tears back. It was the place his father had gone every Friday for decades, for challah breads and seven-layer cake. And he would never go again.
The woman at the counter asked, “What’s wrong?”
“My father died,” he said.
“Who was your father?” she said.
He told her his father’s name and the woman behind the counter burst into tears of her own. “I wondered why he wasn’t here last Friday. We loved him here. We will miss him so much.”
The son bought his single slice of seven-layer cake, hoping to find comfort in its chocolate piping. And as he left, he was comforted – content in the knowledge that his father had touched many in ways he’d never known.
He knew he missed him greatly and always would. He thought he had been a wonderful, loving father, a great example of someone who cares for his family and lives a life of meaning. But until that moment on the sleek bakery floor, he hadn’t known how much other people valued the man he took for granted.
As he walked to his car, he looked up at the sky. Perhaps it was his imagination, but he thought he saw the clouds break somewhere in the middle and a beam of light shine through. He smiled.
I miss you already, Dad. And you did a wonderful job.