It is not by accident that I refer to Kevin’s surviving family only when absolutely necessary to tell our story accurately and clearly. There are many reasons for my decision, but the most relevant one is because we had suffered enough pain already. I have made the decision to avoid additional suffering unless it is for a clear purpose.
In this particular situation, I had no choice but to briefly refer to Kevin’s brothers’ as we all participated in the meeting before his burial, at the Funeral Home.
The girls and I, the ex-wife, who however was the executor of his bankrupt estate, and the two brothers and their wives participated in the meeting. The purpose was to choose a box for his ashes and decide on an appropriate obituary for the papers.
The selection of the funeral box was easy. Simple and inexpensive. Kevin, a real estate investor, aware of the value of land, always wanted to be cremated, just like my mother. He, because he believed we were running out of places to bury people, she because she didn’t believe it made any difference as to her there was no God, therefore no life after death.
The Funeral Home, in a quint suburban town near Philadelphia, showed the profitability of death. Everything screamed money, money and more money, and just by looking around I thought in horror we would not be able to pay! Kevin’s younger brother offered to loan us $1,000 which was repaid later, but his generosity of the moment was much appreciated, as it took the load of an additional immediate financial stress.
The fact that all of us sat in the same room and for the first time in years were forced to face one another was relevant.
We, the family, were to tell stories about Kevin, to decide on the wording of the obituary and then go on with our lives, as we did for so many years before Kevin’s death.
“Let’s use “sudden death,” the older brother asked, and the funeral home director started writing the newspaper obituary.
Yes, it was a sudden death, after all… we all agreed to the vagueness of the statement. Had anyone ever seen an obituary which said the person killed himself?
When it came to remembering stories about Kevin, our job was more difficult. The girls remained silent. I, the “disfranchised,” party had no right to remember anything from my over twenty-five years I had known him and our almost nineteen years of marriage. Through my mind paraded the questions our family therapist asked of us on a first intake: “What is the story your mother told the world about you the most?” and “What do other people say about you?” Yes, that was a painful, but important therapy session, but there was no place for those memories or stories in the perfectly calm funeral home, where only good stories are remembered.
“Oh, and he loved guns! He really, really loved guns, he had a collection!” I heard his older brother say, and my wondering mind came right back into the room.
“Who liked guns?” Eva asked, and I saw her hand reaching over and holding her sister’s. Natalie was pale and tears were traveling down her cheeks, and her face looked like a lifeless statue.
“Your father. He had a collection which he gave me when he got married.”
He looked at me:
“Your mother hated guns! He only kept our grandfather’s gun…”
“You mean we had a gun in our home for all those years and I didn’t know about it? You mean when he punched holes in the walls he could have used the gun?”
The ex-brother-in-law stared at me. I stared back. He looked calm and in control. I felt confused, devastated…stupid!
“He had a gun,” was the brother’s final answer.
Both girls were crying and the funeral director brought tissues. Plenty of tissues! Their entire life they heard over and over again stories their father told them about him being a pacifist. He told them he was a Vista volunteer, he didn’t participate in the Vietnam war because he opposed violence and hated guns. While all the other kids in the neighborhood played with water-guns, our daughters, to make a statement, used squirt bugs… His anti-violence, anti-guns statements were among the things they admired about him, and now, their uncle was telling us it was a lie and we had a gun in our home and didn’t know about it!
“A gun? There was the gun, in our home? Where? He never told us he liked guns. You are wrong!”
No one seemed to know where Kevin kept the grandfather’s gun in the house, but the thought that for over twenty years I didn’t even know he liked guns, never mind that there was a gun in our home, send shivers up and down my spine. I had to believed his brother when Police found two additional guns and ammunition in Kevin’s new home.
In that moment, sitting in the comfortable armchair of the de lux suburban funeral home, I felt like vomiting on all the beauty, perfection and lies which surrounded even death! instead, I picked another tissue and wiped my tears and continued to watched my daughters cry over a childhood of lies and confusion. I felt my heart stabbed by doubts that for over twenty years I lived a “pretend game” and I was married to a stranger…who was he, really?
The Memorial Service was held in the same Church where we were married and our daughters Christened.
Many people were in attendance. Most of them because they wanted to support us, especially the girls, who didn’t deserve the burden of such a tragedy, so early in life, or ever. What their father often said when they complained about the unfairness of a grade or life in general, turned out to be true, ” No one said life was fair.” His untimely death was undeniable proof that he was correct.
Now, during the memorial service, I watched my beautiful daughters, holding hands, supporting each other, stepping up in the same Altar where their parents were married and they were Christened. Only this time was for a sad reason, to deliver an eulogy for their father.
My words cannot describe Eva’s. I asked her permission to share the eulogy as it was spoken by her in 2005, at Kevin’s Memorial Service:
“As children, we remember our father as a devoted and affectionate Dad, dedicated first to our wellbeing and happiness. He attended every one of Natalie’s gymnastics meets, spent hours sorting out our confusion over math homework, and often used his knowledge as a former lifeguard to show me swimming tips.
He loved gardening and every year took us to the Flower Show in Philadelphia, the site of his first “real” date with his former wife, our mother Rodica. He often included us in his passion for gardening, even setting up a corner of the yard with a rose-bush for me to tend…”
Eva stopped and swallowed her tears, squeezed her sister’s hand. My daughter was brave. She continued:
“My father was a man of great mystery, and I wish I had known him better. He struggled in life, but now we hope his struggles are over, and he can finally lay at rest.
For us, the death of our father is mostly a loss of hope. The hope that he would see Natalie graduate from high school and both of us graduate from college and medical school. The hope that he would be present on our wedding days, and most importantly to us, the hope that he would meet his grandchildren. His love for us when we were children always assured us that he would show the same devotion to his grandchildren.
Today, we gather to remember and celebrate his life, and we believe the best way to do this is to look at the ways we can make a difference in the lives of others, most especially those struggling with inner issues.
We want to thank every one of you for being so present in our lives, today at the memorial service, in the days surrounding our father’s death, and especially in the countless ways you are all present every day, good and bad, in our lives.
The Universe relies on balance, and your good balances the pain we now feel. Thank you. “
Holding hands, supporting each other, as they did the entire time, my daughters stepped down and sat next to me.
It was over… or was it?