My brother arrived the day after Dad died. We went down to the mortuary together to view the body.
Dad looked the same as the day he'd died. He and Mom had wanted us to use a (cheap) direct cremation outfit, so the viewing definitely was no-frills. However, someone had taken time to comb Dad's hair.
The direct services guy explained we had 30 minutes to spend with Dad, and no more. It was the law. The body was un-embalmed. We told him we understood.
We stood alone, gazing at Dad's cold body. Neither of us knew what to say. My brother and I have never been close. We told a few stories. It was only when we turned to leave that we began to cry, and then we clung to each other like two small children. After we left the chapel, we headed home to plan the funeral.
Mom and Dad's relationship was rocky and complicated. I don't think Mom really wanted a funeral, but my sister insisted. As my brother and I sat in my living room, we hatched a plan to create a photo montage of Dad's life to display at the funeral. What else should we do?
"I know which hymns Dad wanted sung at his funeral," my brother offered. "We talked about it."
"That's great," I said. "Should we have a reception?"
"Um...who's going to come?" my brother asked hesitantly.
It was true. We couldn't count on many mourners, since Mom and Dad had few friends. Dad's remaining sisters were, themselves, old and frail and living in different states. I doubted many of my cousins would come, despite the fact Dad had always been the family confidante, the one everyone turned to for advice and counsel.
As it turned out, Mom took care of most of the arrangements. The church ladies would provide a reception for whoever did turn out. We could put up our photo display. Hymns would be sung. All was in order.
On July 31, Dad was laid to rest in accordance with Lutheran traditions.
In the receiving line, which was very short, a man about my age shook my hand. "It's Bill Diller," he said.
We all reacted with astonishment. Bill's dad and my dad had been great friends as young men. Bill's dad had been captain of Dad's bowling team. And, most astonishingly, Bill had driven straight through from Wheatland, Wyoming, to attend Dad's funeral.
"You might remember," he told me at the reception, "my wife and I lived here for a few years. We didn't know anyone, and it was a wonderful feeling to drive over to your folks's house and know we'd be treated like family. I considered your dad to be my dad at that time."
I didn't know what to say. I was touched beyond belief. I know Dad would have been, too.
Bill had to leave directly from the funeral in order to get back home in time for work on Monday. But I'll never forget his kindness and how much it meant to us that he came all that way to pay his last respects.