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  • On the way to his funeral, I concentrated on Dad's last wishes. He had stated them clearly. To me, to my brother, to his wife. No open coffin. Cremation. Mix his ashes with those of my mother, who had died fifteen years before. Scatter the ashes on their favorite golf course. He and Mom had made the decision long before her death, and he always honored his commitments.

    I understood his aversion to the open coffin. He said he hated the thought of friends and acquaintances inspecting his remains and criticizing his appearance. "Doesn't he look so natural?"

    And I'm sure he must have thought about his botched plastic surgery. The melanoma had required long, painful radiation treatments that destroyed his nose, and the gnarled repair job was so awful it horrified small children. In the last months that Dad was able to go out, he always wore a bandage and stayed in the familiar territory of his Nazarene Church and Henrietta's Restaurant for Sunday lunch. I willingly made a solemn oath to protect him from helpless humiliation.
  • Then how did it happen?

    His wife and her friends did it, sneaked behind my back to the funeral director to arrange it. And I wanted to explode.

    "My Daddy," I cried.

    "My Husband," she wailed.

    The coffin stayed open and I watched dozens of mourners pass by and pass judgment.

    Daddy, I am so sorry I let you down.

    After the funeral, his wife said she had second thoughts about his pre-planned cremation.

    "No," I said and left the room.
  • I forced myself to phone Dad's widow, once a week at first, dwindling to once a month or less. On the anniversary of Dad's death, I steeled myself to call and found the number no longer in service. When I tracked her down, she told me blandly that she had sold the house and moved to a town ten miles down the interstate. Soon after, she installed an answering machine and neither took nor returned my calls.
  • Fifteen years later, I slide my hand over the round belly of the empty funeral urn that sits in my garden. I wonder if she's still alive. I wonder if she remembers.

    Did she ever realize that I thought she brutalized my father's dignity by overruling his last request?

    I know I stole from her the chance to have a place to grieve the loss of the man she loved.

    I'm not proud of it. I wish I had had the wisdom to divide Dad's ashes and let her bury her share. Dad loved peace in the family. I know he would have approved.
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