We buried my father yesterday and moved from what was into what is and what will be.
As the oldest, handsomest, humblest and only son I tried my best to find the essence of the man I called dad so that I could share it with people.
I did so knowing it was an impossible task and that I would never be satisfied but I am nothing but stubborn so I walked before family and friends and just spoke.
I thought about making a biblical reference to when the Israelites wandered through the desert following a pillar of fire and night or a pillar of clouds during the day but that has been done many times and wanted something more specific to dad.
The Essence Of A Man
The days have blurred into a mishmash of images and thoughts I can’t quite separate yet as Johnny says I remember it all.
Some of those who are most dear to me have spent much of this time in close contact trying to support and prepare me for unexpected waves of pain and loss intermixed with very happy memories.
My middle sister spoke how time made dad softer and it is true, it did but I feel some of the opposite happening to me now.
I am becoming harder, grouchier and more gruff.
It doesn’t bother me and I expect if dad could still speak he wouldn’t do more than nod his head at me.
I haven’t yet achieved what he did.
No one calls me grandpa and retirement is years off so the responsibilities I carry require a different approach. There will come a time when I pivot and adjust as he did, but not yet.
And the funny thing about it is that he and I had this conversation in early July, during my first trip back to LA.
He was in the rehab facility and one of the first things he noticed about me was that I looked tired.
“Travel is a little harder than it was at 30.”
He laughed and said it would stay that way for a while.
“You have some big responsibilities. It doesn’t get much easier for a while.”
We went back and forth about some of the things men do and then we moved on to the kids.
“Whenever I said something about what you were doing to my father, you know what he said to me?”
“Yeah dad, I know.”
We both smiled and I appreciated our ability to engage in Wilner shorthand. We didn’t have to spell it all out to understand each other.
When we finished in the chapel we grabbed my dad’s casket and walked it out the door and loaded it in the hearse.
I took a deep breath, walked to the car and followed it to dad’s grave so that we could put him into the final resting place.
My son and oldest nephew were also pallbearers, representatives of the grandchildren.
I watched them grab the rail of his casket and looked at the 100 yards we were going to walk…downhill.
For a moment there were flashes of memory in my head. I could see them in diapers chasing each other through the living room of the house I grew up in.
Their grandfather was watching them, pride and joy emanating from him.
The pleasure he would have taken in knowing they were part of this last walk would have been immeasurable.
Grandpa would have raved about all of his perfect grandchildren.
Once we got graveside and lowered dad in we grabbed the four shovels and started to fill it in.
At first everyone who was there got to scoop a couple of shovel fulls in and then came time to fill the rest in.
Rabbi Hoffman and my mother both told me they didn’t want me to overdo it. “It is too hot, there are people here who can do it.”
I shook my head at them and said they didn’t have to worry. I think they recognized I wasn’t leaving until it was done.
“Mom, tell one of my sisters to get me some water and let me take care of dad. It is the last thing I get to do for him.”
But the thing was, it was never just me.
Some of my wonderful and incredible friends helped make sure those four shovels were always in use.
My son, my father-in-law, brother-in-laws, we all kept it going.
And I have to give Rabbi Hoffman credit too. He shoveled and shoveled in a way I have never seen a rabbi do at a funeral.
I expect this morning his back will feel the same need for ibuprofen as mine and I am exceptionally grateful.
Even if he hadn’t done so I would be because of his kind words and manner with my family, but the hard labor sticks out.
It was a 100 degrees and he worked as hard as any of us. It was beautiful.
“Josh, we can’t do anymore. The workers will have to put the sod down and smooth things out.”
I looked at our friend the rabbi and nodded my head. We did all we could do and that has to be enough.