Thursday, July 21, 2005

Creativity and Grief

With the unexpected death of my father, one of my biggest fears was sinking into a dark depression void of any creative spark. Little did I realize that creativity can help you through times of grief the same way that talking with good friend can.

When my Uncle Larry died, I remember my dad giving the eulogy and saying, "I wish I had a deck of cards and a racing form to lay on your coffin."

Remembering that, I emailed my 5 siblings to begin work on designing a funeral program for Dad that would be like a racing form. It turned out great.

Each horse's name had a Dad connection: Flea Market Wedding (a brilliant publicity stunt he pulled back in 1981), Sykeston Boy (named after his hometown), and a few others. I believe we had 10 horses in the lineup.

Inside the program was a heartfelt letter from the family, milestones of his life, and the names of all his many businesses through the years, kids, grandkids, my mom, etc.

Making this was a healing, cathartic exercise that allowed us to laugh and remember the qualities of our dad that made him SO HIM.


The priest who said the funeral is new in town and barely knew my dad. Mind you, my dad was Mr. Active Parishioner at Our Lady of Grace, maybe more so in the past but a very prominent man in the local parish community. If it wasn't for him, our school wouldn't have had a basketball court, several groups, and TV for the nuns.

On the morning of the funeral, Fr. Newbie comes running out of the church towards my sister, Racing form/program in hand.
"You CAN'T give this out in church! This is NOT appropriate for church! This does NOT mention Jesus Christ and CANNOT be used".

"F*** you", she thinks to herself as she dials her cell phone to me.

"Nancy, I'm here with Father G and he feels that our program is inappropriate because it doesn't mention Jesus Christ."
Her voice was filled with sarcasm and anger. (the priest was standing right next to her)

"Oh, f*** him!", I shout. I could barely breathe, I was so livid. I felt like someone just slammed the doors in our faces. Don't even think of messing with my dad's memory, I kept thinking.

"Yeah, I know, I thought the same thing", she replied, with him still standing right there.

He didn't know my dad. He didn't know how much he contributed to this church, he didn't know jack! I've never told a clergy member to go eff himself, but I was very close to it.

My other sister got into the heat of it and we were like lock and load hillbilly sisters ready to even a score.

FORTUNATELY my brother showed up at the church with inserts for the programs that listed the readings, songs, etc (ie all the religious stuff) and the priest, realizing what an ass he had been, relented and allowed our program in.

If this priest were in charge of recruiting and retaining practicing Catholics, I think we'd have a whole lot of conversion OUT of the church by this point.

EVERYONE at the funeral LOVED the programs. My dad, rest his soul, loves it. I'm sure he would've told us that the priest was a dipshit, one of his affectionate terms for people who bugged him.


In all this regime changing at my parent's church, another baffling edict was cast down by the Diocese of Oakland. No more alcohol served at the Parish Hall.

"OK wait, there has got to be a loophole here", I protested.

Me, the non-drinker for the past 9 years.

"Sorry, orders from the Bishop."

Once again, bad management decisions in the Catholic Church.

My dad liked his libation. He bonded with people over drinks. The thought of his funeral being a dry event almost brought tears to my eyes. So instantly my sister and I had to make plans on spiking the punch. Dad would've been so proud!

She hid a bottle of Skyy vodka under the table and whoever needed that fortification had it. I'm not one to dictate how people should grieve.

A Great Sendoff

Despite all the drama and clandestine spiking of punch, my dad's funeral was AWESOME. The church was jam packed, we saw people we hadn't seen since we were little kids. People flew in from all over the country just for the day so they could be there.

My sister, my brothers, and I all gave touching and humorous eulogies.

(My dad knows I want to do more speaking gigs so ha ha ha dad).

In the end, it all came out beautifully. Father Newbie actually had a bit of an awakening after the funeral and softened up. My family came together yet again to put on a helluva party.

I'm feeling joyful when I think of my dad and can feel his presence all around us. He's up there in a good place dealing a game of Pinochle with his brothers, stinkin' up some angel's den with a Cuban cigar, and enjoying a cool beverage on the rocks.

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