By the Time He Gets to Phoenix...or Wherever Falling Flowers Go

By the Time He Gets to Phoenix...or Wherever Falling Flowers Go
My father had grown so very thin, I assumed he knew I could see the end was near. It wasn't until I brought it up that I learned he was waiting for me to initiate the actual subject of his death.

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I clicked the front door shut behind my husband and our friend, Erin and took a deep breath. As they headed off to the beach, I returned to the living room where my father was resting on the sofa, easing myself onto the cushion beside him.

“Dad, we need to talk about the future.”

“But I don’t want to go to the hospital.” He looked me directly in the eye, determined to assure me that his feelings on medical intervention had not waivered.

I returned his look, just as directly,

“No, not that future. I’ve been visiting funeral homes.”

I waited while his shock gave way to understanding. His face softened as he patted my knee with a hand that was as delicate as a bird, “Anything you want. Just tell me what you need.”

That was the tenderest moment I had ever shared my father, that pat on the knee with that fragile hand.

“You know I want to be cremated.”

“Yes, I do. But which crematory?”

He looked confused for a moment as he sat with the question. He, like many people, had thought simply by saying one wanted to be cremated and foregoing a funeral, no further planning was required. Not so.

Acknowledging his confusion I continued, “I didn’t think you had chosen one and I wasn’t familiar with any of them myself. But, when it comes time, they are going to ask me where to send your body so I thought I should do some research now before we need it.”

I laid out the information from the various funeral homes, some of which had their own crematories, some of which had contracts with other facilities. As funeral homes package their services differently, it took a bit of work beforehand to translate the information so that options and prices could be accurately compared.

As I was reviewing the information my father stopped me to express relief that I had brought up the matter. He said he had been thinking about it but didn’t know if I was prepared to discuss the issue so he had been waiting for an indication from me that I was ready. In the end he had decided it was best to wait until I brought it up. I was very touched by his concern and smiled inside as I considered how many times I had checked his breathing just to make sure he was still alive every time I visited him over the last several weeks. I had assumed he knew I was prepared, and had been for some time. My assumption, as so many are, was incorrect.

He continued, “I’m not afraid, you know. It’s just like a flower falling.”

And then he got a little moist around the eyes, “I just don’t know how it will be for you, to see me like that.”

I nodded, “It’s okay.”

And we just sat for a moment.

I then shared that I had spoken with my brother, a former police officer, to find out what the procedure would be if I, or my father’s friend, Freddy, were to find him. We were to call 911 after which the police would come out. They would contact the coroner after assessing the situation.

“You know we need to talk to Freddy about this. He’s close by and sees you so often it will probably be him finding you. We need to prepare him.”

Just then the phone rang.

I smiled as I handed over the phone. “It’s Freddy.”

“Fred! We were just talking about you and what you’ll have to do if you come over and find me dead.”

I couldn’t hear Freddy’s end of the conversation, but I imagined a lot of stammering. I’m not sure what his reason was for calling but I was sure it wasn’t for this.

“No, no! I’m not saying it’s going to be this week but it can happen to any of us any time. The ceiling could fall on me today. You never know.”

With a big fat raccoon sitting right on top of you when it does. I chuckled to myself and considered the ceiling over our heads.

Somehow they shifted to more benign topics and chatted a few minutes longer. After Dad hung up we returned to the final decisions, ending by preparing a guest list for a small memorial dinner to be held at his favorite Lithuanian restaurant.

He appeared satisfied with the details we had worked out and I was relieved to have a plan in place. I gathered up the funeral home pamphlets. “Scotty and Erin should be back any time now.” I didn’t tell him they had planned their beach walk in advance to give us the opportunity for this conversation.

He creased his brow, appearing to be deep in thought as he watched me put the brochures and memorial dinner notes back in my satchel, and then my father posed a question I never saw coming.

“Do you think Erin has ever heard “By the Time I Get to Phoenix, as sung by Isaac Hayes?”

I knew the version well. “I don’t know that she has, Dad.”

“Well I want you to get it and play it for her when they get back. It’s on the Hot Buttered Soul album.”

“I know it is.”

I looked at the album jacket to see which track I wanted. The time listed next to the song was 18:40. Eighteen minutes and forty seconds as only Isaac Hayes could deliver them and we listened to every one.

None of us realized at the time that this was my father’s way of saying good-bye to her. Erin never saw him again.

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Filed under: Stories About My Dad

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