Rest Easy, Pa’s Frank

A week ago, i sat with Crit and Debul and DW at the Bistro. It was dine and dash situation for me. i was trying to get over the pass at a decent hour because another 5+ inches of snow were coming any minute. if i waited, or even hesitated, there was a good chance the road would be shut down or the conditions too rough to drive in safely at 3am (the time i have to leave my house for a 7am flight out of Jackson Hole). we had just discussed everything i knew and everyone was processing many things allatonce. that i was not going to be there for the play. that was number one. and at ages 6 and 7, that makes sense. it only took a quick minute for Crit to proclaim through her sobs that she was sad about BOTH…all of it was making her want to cry. i said i get it. and i did.

As i was gathering my puffy and my hat, i was squeezing the guts out of my homies. “Do you HAVE to go, Mommo?”, Debul asked.

“Yes, buddy. i do. i HAVE to go, and i WANT to go.”

I knew when i cranked up the Subaru and headed up the pass, that it was as equally important that i go as it was that they saw me go. that they watched me drop everysingle thing that was happening in our world, and go to share time and space with my clan, sacred time and sacred space.

you go.

when i called DW earlier that morning, he said “Well, you can’t not go. That was one of the first things you told me about you when we met. That you can’t not go.”

My heart pitter pattered with love for my husband. for his knowing, understanding, and supporting the most important things, while i scrolled through the limited flight options into Scranton, Pennsylvania.

my mom called first thing in the morning, right after DW and the homies pulled out for school. of course, i was floored. flabbergasted. dumfounded. shocked. but not yet sad. i had a yoga class to teach in an hour. 

“Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.” Walt Whitman. i used the same advice when i genuflected in front of the altar and read from the Book of Wisdom in St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, standing in front of so many of the same folk that i read my manifesto tribute to Grammy almost exactly 20 years before. 

it seemed no one knew the protocol exactly. we were all on new turf and out of practice. thankfully and gratefully we were all caught squeaky and rusty in the joints of the Irish Catholic Way-Of-Death (as I heard my dad say a few times). It came back to all of us. 

Last Tuesday, all day long, my phone was dinging. brothers, sisters, and cousins galore checking in. sending love. and asking what i need. dresses? shoes? i’d love to report that at age 42 i have my act together enough to have appropriate attire for a somber occasion in the winter. but they were right, i needed shoes. and there were options a plenty.  my cousins got my back. they were there i suppose, when my Aunt Ruth told me i was dressed like a slut at my grandfather’s funeral. all because of my inappropriate shoes. 

An Irish wake in the heart of ‘ol coal country USA is a ritual to behold. This was my ninth in Carbondale. despite being spread about three different funeral homes; they all play out the same. It’s sad sad sad at first. when you walk in and all your people are there. like a wall taller than any wave at Maverick’s, the love swallows you up. and you cry. you embrace the way Grammy taught us, and you mean it. you give and receive love in a manner that permeates on the cellular level. we share cells. we share DNA. we share a long line of family patterning that runs deeper than any anthracite vein up or down the valley. there are bindings woven at all levels. the freckles on our skin, the flesh in our earlobes, the shape of our feet, the curl in our hair, the stoutness and strength in our physiques. the clever wit, the loyal friendships, the hearty laugh, the fondness of the drink (learning that it is not as fond of us). “for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” Whitman, again.

the turnout was overwhelming. four non-stop hours of other human beings in the town of Carbondale to pay their respects. everyone came. the Doherty clan warmed up the back room in minutes when they sat in the chairs and shared laughs and tears with everyone. they stayed for a good warm while. they acknowledged and respected the sacred space. they just came to be. to be together. the meaning of what it means to “hold space” for others sharpened in clarity for me as i looked around and witnessed its powerful effect.

i have heard about the AOH (Ancient Order of Hibernians) for as long as i can remember, but i did not have a solid understanding of its impact and meaning. when the funeral home was hushed for their arrival, everything held a different weight. They made ritual proclamation, and marched in unison, the unified front of a small town squad. The man who spoke took obvious pride in labeling himself of the ‘Ancient Order’ and there was terrific solemnity. It was a powerful moment. I read years ago that affiliation to something outside one’s self is one of life’s greatest motivators. I was comforted by Frank’s deeply integrated affiliation, and the respect and honor they bestowed upon him and his family. 

The Catholic funeral mass is a sovereign ritual. Not to mention the transition from the funeral home to the church. the final goodbye from the families is one of the most gut wrenching and heart draining experiences i have endured. being a daughter of the eldest son, this was my fourth time being the last family called. it does not get easier. it is awful. yet if i were ever not there to participate in the process, i could not forgive myself. 

The readings, the petitions, the gospel, the homily, the hymns, the incense, the cleansing tears, the reality, the everlasting, the looks over our shoulders, the winks, the hand holding, the hug giving, the tissue sharing, the pews full of love love love. the bagpipes. the AOH lining the steps. i felt like royalty walking outside that church. Frank was revered, and they let it be known. i suppose they know what great comfort that offers a grieving family. being honored and saluted as your body leaves the church seemed like a sacrament onto itself.

Frank showed up. My kids know that. When we come to Matamoras, Pa’s Frank comes over. With Matt and with Barb. He brings jazzards and treats from Barbours. He always did his best to bring his good cheer. No matter the season, the week, the day, or how he woke up feeling that morning. He showed up. He packed his bags and drove to Virginia several times a year to simply be where the family action was. He never cancelled. He never said “it’s too much, I’m not in the mood.” Instead, he strapped Matt and Barb in the car and headed south, and took it as it came. He wanted to be where love is and he wanted to take Matty there too. 

We came together, as we have always done and will always do. We held each other close and tight as we began the transition to our new way of life without Frank dwelling inside the Burnett body that we all recognize in ourselves. The intensity of those first few days offer a sound buffer to the grief we all must work through on our own as we go our separate ways. Grief can only visit where great love exists. May we each find comfort and solace as we begin to sit alone with the uncomfortable emotions in the days ahead.

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