It has been one week I wish I had never had to go through and one which has forever changed me. Of course, I had no idea how I would react when last Monday, I had received the news that my biological father had died. I was not prepared, and I suppose no one is ever prepared for such an event. He did not have any outward conditions such as cancer or diabetes which would be reasons for his death. So, really no time to see a deterioration, which I guess is a blessing that it happened, and it was quick. I know many people who have had to prepare for such an event and see their loved ones slowly die. It is a mixed blessing for me that I did not have to witness such a thing and being so far away, across the country and not being there perhaps made it easier, but I have learned that it is never easy.
I was trying to recall any other time in my life, losing a loved one, and I can only recall when my maternal grandparents died, about a year apart. I only heard when my maternal grandfather died and was not able to attend the funeral and I do remember seeing my maternal grandmother, perhaps a few weeks before her death and she did have a form of skin cancer, I believe. Again, I was unable to be at the funeral. They, during my formative years, and perhaps troubled teenage years, about which I spoke last week, were really my parents, so it was, for me, tragic, and I made a pledge to them, that whenever, I was in New York City, I would visit them and I have never missed a chance, including two years ago, when Rosa was with me and last November, when I had business in the city.
What I will take from this experience of last week is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life, and I am sure everyone who has been through this at one time, or another has gone through this as it is part of life. I flew out on Thursday morning from Boston and with a connection in Seattle, arrived in San Francisco around 4:30 pm, got my rental vehicle and drove to my hotel, which is right near their house. After checking in and dropping off my bags, including my mobile office, I headed over to the house. It was something I was not ready for, but I needed to and spent a few hours with Nora. We chatted about generalities mostly, about Kenn and about life in general. The house was eerily quiet. I am so used to when I come to the house and Kenn is at one of his grand pianos, practicing or giving a lesson to one of his many students over the years. It absolutely felt different and while Kenn and I used to sit at the kitchen table and talk, it was Nora and I having the conversation and much more in depth than we ever had before. I sat in the seat he used to and she, the seat, I did. After a few hours, I took my leave and told her I would see her tomorrow.
One of the things that for me was extremely important was to have my time alone with him. It could not be arranged for the afternoon before, as I had arrived too late, so I arranged to be at the funeral home when they opened at 8:30 am. As you know me and the fact that I had to drive back to San Francisco (they live in Marin County) north of the Golden Gate Bridge and was there early simply because I wanted the most amount of time and traffic and parking in the city. I also had to stop and get a red rose at a florist as Rosa asked me to place one in the casket, and I found a place a few blocks away and that opened at 8:00 am, where others did not open until later. I was lucky. In any case, after accomplishing this task and finding parking, I walked over the memorial chapel and was met by Robert, I believe one of the funeral directors. I explained who I was, as I had been looking for another person and he said, it would be a few minutes.
When he came back and said Kenn was ready, we walked up the stairs and opened the door to the chapel where he lay in the opened casket. I am not sure that I was prepared for what I saw or how I would react. I have been to one or two visitations in my life and saw the body, but these were of other’s loved ones, not mine. When I saw him and I had no time to react, as there really was no time to react. I asked for time alone, about 10 minutes, and Robert closed the door. I took a deep breath and started to speak with Kenn. He was at peace and even a slight smile on his face, so I know that when he passed, he did not suffer or at least that is what I hoped for. He had not reached out by phone to Nora or anyone, so it must have been quick. I had my moments during those brief moments alone with him and tried to get out my feelings, both good and bad. I realized that the scale swung to the positive and while friends said to get everything out, if I could, I tried and realized that negatives of our relationship were really, more superficial, but I had to balance my short time alone with him which I did.
Before leaving and before Robert said it was time to leave, so Kenn could be moved, I told him I loved him, kissed him on the forehead and knew that he was at peace and really, so was I. If I had not done this alone time with him, I would have regretted this my whole life. After leaving the memorial chapel, I drove to the cemetery, which is in Oakland, so I had time to think, as the drive was about 40 minutes. The funeral was to happen at 10:30 am, so I was there well in advance and first, so I had time to think about what was going on. Then Robert pulled up in the hearse and he, along with the workers at the cemetery removed the casket and rolled it towards Kenn’s final resting place and I just watched. Nora and her friends who drove her there, then arrived and we chatted for a while. Then others arrived friends of Kenn’s, students of his, and some of Nora’s friends. Rosa was also there via WhatsApp, and she was a part of the ceremony as well. She was instrumental in my being there as she said I must go, not just for me, but for her and for us and that is what pushed me to go.
Remember that I did not attend my maternal grandparents’ funerals and that regret lives with me and that is why I visit every time I am in New York. I never met my paternal grandfather as he died during that 18 years I spoke about last week when Kenn was not in my life and he was cremated, so no chance to connect and Kenn’s mother, I only met a couple of times, once at Kenn’s previous wedding as I walked her down the aisle, but really there was no relationship. I believe she is buried in upstate New York. In any case, I was not going to have any regrets in terms of Kenn, so attending, and with the words from Rosa, I did fly out, I did have my alone time to speak with Kenn and finally, to attend the funeral. The only other part of this was whether I was going to say anything at the cemetery and when I was originally asked, I waivered. It is not that I haven’t spoken in front of other people, but I was not sure how comfortable I would be and what would I say.
We played this at the memorial service
In the end, their family friend Michael started by saying a few words about Kenn’s accomplishments, and then he gave his personal connection. He did a prayer and played some music. Remember, or if I had not mentioned this last week, Kenn was a concert pianist, composer, teacher etc. His favorite composer is Chopin and, something I found out from Rosa, is that his favorite song is “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel, something I never knew. Apparently, she and Kenn were having conversations during the few years she had a chance to get to know him, so I learned some things that he never told me but told her. In the end, when he was done with his part, the funeral director asked if anyone else wanted to say anything. There was silence. I knew that Nora was not comfortable saying anything and she would have been the next person up. That gap in time, between asking and no one speaking, was my chance. Remember, I was not going to have any regrets, so I got up. I knew it was now or never.
I don’t know how much time I took, but that is not important. I knew it was the right thing to do and I spoke about the time we first met, which I shared I last week’s blog. I shared about the one time he and I collaborated musically when I played trumpet in his pit orchestra in his production of “West Side Story”, at Canarsie High School where he taught and was choral director at the time. I am sure there were other words spoken and I believe Michael was even recording if I wanted to go back and hear the whole ceremony. In any case, once I was done, and perhaps, maybe 5 minutes, others followed with their first encounters with Kenn, and it was special to hear their stories. It gave me even more insight to the man and in the end, allowed me to be at peace. I had done what I came to do, fly out to be there, have my alone time and speak at his funeral and I felt an amazing calmness that I had never felt.
The last part of the ceremony was to scoop dirt, one at a time, once the casket was lowered, on the casket and everyone did it. I did it twice, once for me and once for Rosa, who attended as well. Others followed and some also did it twice for those who could not attend and then it was done. He was at peace and so was I. I hope Nora will find peace as well. We talked for a while, and then went for lunch and ended up meeting one of the couples who had attended the funeral, so it was nice. The experience, one I would never have felt attending, nor I am sure most people, gave me comfort in knowing that he is in a better place and having come out to California, and done what I came to do, I am in a good place. I know that Rosa being with me allowed me to do what was necessary and while I will never forget, I know I am strong enough to handle it and will be there for others, who will get through this, which we all will do at some point in our lives.
The last thing Nora and I did for Kenn, was to go to his favorite Mexican restaurant and have Menudo, which was one of his favorite dishes. We chatted and commiserated more and more. The in-depth conversations and reflections we shared were very important and she will figure out what direction she will take in good time. I can’t imagine being in that big house alone and what she is going through, but I know she has a support system there. I stopped by one more time on Sunday, spent a few hours and then made my way to the airport where I took the red eye back to Boston and arrived yesterday morning and back at the hovel around yesterday, just in time to turn around and head to Europe tomorrow for the next couple of weeks and a chance to be with the love of my life for about half that time. The emotions are still flowing through me, and I know that I will have my moments, happy and sad, but that is part of the human experience, and I am at a point in my life where I am good with allowing me these moments.
All week long, I have had emotional experiences and when I read people’s comments from last week’s post, I choke up. I want to thank everyone who read the post and thank everyone for their support during this trying time in my life and appreciate the love and support. As with everything else in my life, I will get through this as well and come out stronger. I know I will have moments and I will keep moving forward and while I stopped “working” for a few days, I am back in the saddle now as having that avenue will allow me to heal, as well, so thank you from the bottom of my heart to all those that commented about the loss of my birth father, Kenn Gartner, October 23, 2023. As always, I look forward to your comments, questions, concerns and continuing the discourse through whichever means you read my posts!!!
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Weathering the Storm with the Wandering Puffin