Visiting Day

The funeral director killed the lights. I left. I don't remember ever feeling more alone.

The day of his visitation I went into his closet. I selected his tweed jacket, his necktie. I even wore his reading glasses.

I was twelve.

His clothes were too big. His glasses gave me a headache. His jacket came to my knees. I looked like a damn fool.

There was a matchbook in one of his pockets. On the front it read: “Drink Royal Crown Cola.” The matchbook looked ten lifetimes old.

I kept it in my left palm while I shook hands with a line of visitors.

The first hand I took belonged to Mister Bill. He worked with Daddy. He had tattooed forearms like he’d been eating too much spinach. He smelled like cigarettes.

“I loved your dad,” he said, sniffing.

Next: an old woman in a flowery hat. They said once she’d hit middle-age, she’d lost her hair—and her mind. She was a bird in the world.

She told me about a dream. “Saw your father in Glory,” she said. “He was laughing, wearing white, and eating dinner with Abraham Lincoln.”

After her: a girl I grew up with. My first kiss. We were six. She threatened to rub poison ivy on my face if I didn’t let her kiss my lips. I gave in. At the visitation, she hugged me and cried.

That hurt.

And my uncle. He wore overalls and necktie. He was the same man who taught me to play guitar, cuss, and chew tobacco. When he hugged me I could hear his heavy wheezing.

An accident in a fertilizer factory weakened his lungs. He wheezed even worse when he cried.

Then: my baseball team, the Boy Scouts, women’s Bible-study groups, old friends, new friends, strangers, distant family. My third-grade teacher. The mailman.

It was a god-awful day.

When the room cleared, I stood alone. The funeral director sat in the rear pew. He told me, “Take your time, son, there’s no hurry.”

On an oak table sat a photograph of a smiling man. I looked at it, wishing I would’ve had something poetic to say. But I’ve never been much for big words.

All I could come up with was: “I guess this is it, Daddy.”

The funeral director killed the lights. I left. I don’t remember ever feeling more alone.

Yesterday, I went to a party with my wife. I shook hands with people I’ve never met. I drank expensive beer. I flashed my most genuine-looking smile to folks who seemed about as shallow as creek water.

At the end of the night, I reached into my tweed jacket to retrieve keys. I felt something. A matchbook. “Drink Royal Crown Cola,” it read.

It’s been a long time since I’ve worn his jacket. But I’ve grown, it fits me now. So does my own life. I’m happy. I still have nothing poetic to offer. But if I did, I might say:

I’ll always miss you, Daddy.

Always.

21 comments

  1. John Roberts - March 29, 2017 10:36 am

    Good, I’m sure you’ll get a lot of positive comments from folks like me who’ve buried a close relative. You nearly hit the nail on the head (my nail anyway).

    Reply
  2. Sandy Gallagher - March 29, 2017 11:42 am

    Hits so close to home – I was six.

    Reply
  3. Sharon - March 29, 2017 12:07 pm

    This hit home. Today would have been my baby sister’s 60th birthday. Happy Birthday, Jo

    Reply
  4. Priscilla S. Adkisson - March 29, 2017 12:07 pm

    This is true – we never get to the place where we don’t miss our parents. At any time, any place and out of the blue – a memory will pop up and make the heart ache and yearn for a visit with them.
    PSA

    Reply
  5. Michael Bishop - March 29, 2017 12:10 pm

    Whatever our age, we feel orphaned at the loss of a parent, but it’s definitely tougher for a kid, much tougher, and your younger self and the orphan still inside the older Sean Dietrich both have our heartfelt condolences.

    Reply
  6. jim jewell - March 29, 2017 1:17 pm

    Man, you keep getting to me. It ain’t my story, but it’s close. My daddy left me when he was 42 days shy of 99; i was 70. But it hurt. Still hurts. Like hell.

    Reply
  7. Susie Munz - March 29, 2017 1:32 pm

    The pain of loss doesn’t go away, it just changes you so you can cope with it.

    Reply
  8. Meg Glenn - March 29, 2017 1:50 pm

    Beautifully and honestly said. I know it was years ago, but I’m very sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  9. Kathryn - March 29, 2017 2:50 pm

    Oh Mercy, I should not have read this one at work.

    Reply
  10. Dennis Whitehurst - March 29, 2017 3:03 pm

    Thanks, Sean. I’ve LIVED this one, in entirety.

    Reply
  11. Sam Hunneman - March 29, 2017 3:08 pm

    amen

    Reply
  12. Beverly Stovall - March 29, 2017 3:30 pm

    Your answer was perfect!

    Reply
  13. HRC - March 29, 2017 3:41 pm

    As usual, your essays seem to have perfect timing. Right now, I’m in such need of my sweet sweet daddy. I hear his wisdom in my ear most days. “Don’t wear your feelings on your sleeve”, “Knowledge is power”, “Keep your expectations low, that way you’ll never be disappointed” and my favorite “Rule with your mind, but always try to lead with your heart”. I still carry his busted Seiko with me. It eases me.

    Reply
  14. June RouLaine Phillips i - March 29, 2017 7:55 pm

    I have my daddy’s pocket knife he carried . So many memories whittled out from your sweet story of your dad.

    Reply
  15. Nancy Kane - March 29, 2017 9:08 pm

    Always…

    Reply
  16. Lois Young - March 29, 2017 9:12 pm

    Wow! This is beautifully written. It is poetic in the best way possible.

    Reply
  17. Horaces' son - March 29, 2017 10:13 pm

    I won’t ever be able to fill his jacket. Miss you Daddy ❤️

    Reply
  18. Ardis K - March 29, 2017 11:16 pm

    Amazing story, Sean. I don’t care how old they are, or we are when they pass, it still hurts. Your story just brings back the memories, good and bad! Thank you.

    Reply
  19. kathleen - March 29, 2017 11:54 pm

    thought of my Dad while reading this story! TU Sean

    Reply
  20. Debbie Galladora - March 30, 2017 2:40 am

    WOW…😪

    Reply
  21. Dora Huelsbeck - May 17, 2017 11:59 am

    I think of my momma and daddy every day. Daddy died 40 years ago. He never got to see my girls. He would have loved them. My momma died 10 years ago so she didn’t get to see my grandchildren. She was such a wonderful grandmother. They missed a lot but my children and grandchildren missed more. They will never get to hear the stories of the depression and eating Hoover gravy. All the stories make you realize how good you have it. Thanks for all your memories.

    Reply

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