Nearly twenty-six years ago I lost my father to cancer. I was ten at the time and barely understood the meaning of a forever goodbye. In the decades that followed I was tormented by dreams of him. In many, I’d discover that he’d never really died and that it had all been a horrible joke. I often woke up from those drenched in sweat and my heart racing. I hated those dreams.
Aside from these nightmares, the one thing that always plagued me was never knowing where his final resting place was and missing my chance for a final goodbye and closure. Through a newspaper article, I knew he’d been placed there around 1994, though he passed in 1991. We learned later the reason for the delay, aside from donating his body to medical research at UMKC, was that when he was shipped back to his sister-in-law, they didn’t have a place for him in the family plot. So, he sat on a bookshelf in their home for a while.
Since learning this, I’d been to Kansas City a few times, but had never been able to confirm where he was. My mom and I drove around a cemetery for over an hour while she tried to remember the place he’d once taken her to where his family had a lot. We were unsuccessful. Likely because we were at the wrong cemetery.
A few years later, my brother visited and drove around for a bit, this time the right cemetery, but he never found him. So, before my latest trip, I did some research and confirmed that he was in fact at the cemetery my brother had visited. This time. I called ahead and they confirmed his placement and offered to leave me a map.
When I arrived, it was dreary and early. The rain was light, but the chill in the air brought a familiar comfort. As soon as I parked my car in front of the mausoleum, the comfort dissipated. Half of me was missing. I shouldn’t be here alone. I called my twin brother and asked if he wanted to stay on the phone with me while I walked to our father’s crypt.
I opened the heavy iron gate and was greeted by a pitch black tomb … hell to the no. I hung up with my brother and immediately called the front desk. They sent up a maintenance man to get the lights on (thank you to the very understanding receptionist and the kind maintenance man who both kindly indulged my fears).
Finally down in the crypt, I once again had to wait for lighting. As I stood outside my father’s final resting place, I felt calm and peace. Any other time, standing alone in the basement of a grave yard surrounded by crypts would have sent me running. But, here, I felt safe. I felt welcome. I felt as though I were surrounded by love.
Because I was.
After the maintenance man came and went, I walked into the crypt. His stone was just above my reach, so I looked up to him – just as I had done so many times as a child. My last memories of my father were of him frail and sick in a hospital bed. In those moments, I was the tall one looking down at him. But, as I finally said my goodbyes to him 26 years later, I was once again standing in his shadow. I told him I missed him and that he’d missed so much. I whispered one last “I love you” and went on my way.
I miss the man I used to dream my father was. He wasn’t perfect, far from it. But, in my eyes, he was and will always be this mountain of a man with a beard and a Harley.