mad in pursuit memoir notebook

DISPATCHED FROM THE intersection of yesterday and forever

Walter Price 9/17/05Friday, 9.30.05:  Irish Wake

My father died last Thurday morning -- September 22. A fall on Tuesday. Ambulance. Trauma center. Decisions. The end.


Quick arrangements. Jump in the car with Jim. A melancholy two-day drive to St. Louis.

Irish wakes, I've decided, are distinct from the neatly defined calling hours at a funeral home. The wake -- the vigil surrounding death -- starts as soon as the immediate family gathers around to figure out what to do next. When Jim and I arrived Friday afternoon, the wake was in full swing -- photos of my dad spread across the dining room table, wine in the refrigerator.

It's organized chaos -- mother, sisters, brother, in-laws, nieces and nephews -- everyone pitching in what they can do, no one particularly taking charge, but everyone responsive and responsible. Kind of a purposeful restlessness revolving around the kitchen table.

My mother's kitchen seats 5 people only if the fifth person doesn't mind sitting in the dining room. The goal is not comfort but intimacy. If you stand up, someone takes your chair, so it becomes your turn to make ice, pour drinks, let out the dog, or open another bag of chips.

Crying is part of the Irish wake only in short spasms. Something sneaks up on you. You spout tears. Arms encircle you. You get a grip and the subject changes.

The actual calling hours at the funeral home became the gathering my father would have loved. Those dreadful receiving lines are not in our tradition, but my mother was equally horrified at the thought of sitting in a fixed spot and having some chatty old geezer plant himself in front of her with an endless story about something that happened in 1942 (not that there are many of those left). So she worked the room. We all worked the room. And my father somehow still presided.

The only sad part was that, when the evening ended, my dad couldn't hold his usual debriefing: a toddy with my mother and a review of the great turnout.


[photo above: last picture of my dad, taken 9.17.05 at the family picnic by my sister Kathleen]