Mrs. Damon, we are required to release the body to the mortuary within a certain amount of time after a patient has been pronounced dead. Do you have prearrangements? Yes. What is the name of the mortuary?
The nurse's words act as a curtain drawing a close on my father's life. He is gone.
I am hit hard. Yet, I am required to carry out the business of notifying family and friends.
This is added to making detailed arrangements for his funeral and cremation in Los Angeles. These are the specifics that are not ironed out in his prearrangements.
And then, of course, the burial of his ashes just outside Pittsburgh, along with Mom's. This would happen months later, though, first things first.
It is an odd combination of tasks to complete: adjusting to the reality of his sudden absence while making arrangements for my father's funeral.
I want to suspend doing one or the other. It really doesn't matter which one. This is a bit much to get my arms around. But somehow I do.
Planning a funeral is not like planning a party. Not quite. It is not like setting up a reception. No, planning a funeral is not like anything I've ever done before.
It takes a few days to firm up all the particulars: the date, March 2, 2007, pallbearers, order of service, officiator, organist, vocalist, hymns, scripture, eulogy, program, reception. The works.
Oh, yes, my flight arrangements are confirmed. I am departing from Omaha on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2007 and returning on Sunday, March 3.
I learn that all my siblings will be at my Dad's funeral. Including me, all six of my father's children are traveling from six states: South Dakota, Minnesota, Colorado, Utah, Washington and New Mexico. We will be together for the first time since our family reunion in 1989. Dad had always wanted another reunion.
As my departure draws closer, I continue to revise Dad's eulogy. I check the weather forecast, which calls for snow. I am not too worried – winter is almost over.
Two days before I leave snow begins to fall, but I can't think about this too much. After all, I have to get myself to LA to say goodbye to my dad.
One day before my departure, my siblings are arriving in LA and where I live in South Dakota, it hasn't stopped snowing. School classes are cancelled. Businesses are closing. Events are rescheduled. There's talk of shutting down the interstate south to Omaha.
The night before I am to leave for LA from Omaha's Eppley airfield, Interstate 29 is closed. Eppley remains open. My flight leaves on time. I have no way of getting to my father's funeral.
I e-mail the program to my sister-in-law to make copies. I e-mail the eulogy to my nephew to read in my stead at the funeral.
March 2, 2007 comes and goes and my father's funeral with it. Family and friends report that the service was a beautiful and honorable tribute to my dad. Still stunned by the shock of not being there, I listen while staring out the window at the deep snow barracade and try to imagine being there.
A friend of my Dad's made an audio recording of the funeral and sends it to me. I can't open the envelope and promptly forward it to my Dad's brother in Pittsburgh. He couldn't travel to the funeral either.
2008© Paula Damon
A resident of southeast South Dakota for more than 30 years, Paula Damon is a popular columnist, keynote speaker and freelance writer. Her columns have won first-place in Iowa Press Women and National Federation of Press Women competitions. Damon's columns took second place statewide in the South Dakota Press Women 2007 Competition. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.