Mother’s Day Weekend, I went to a “Celebration of Life” ceremony for my Dad’s best friend Satish. We gathered at what used to be the Woman’s Museum at Fair Park in Dallas.
Fair Park is an anomaly in Dallas, where there is little love for anything with a bit of tarnish on it. Somehow though, Dallas developers have been slow to demolish this group of Art Deco buildings.
This particular building has a fascinating history, as most old buildings do. Before it was a failed Woman’s Museum, it served as an administration building. And before it was an administration building, it served the community as a coliseum for livestock auctions by day, and a music hall by night.
The front entrance has a nude female statue looking very much like the Venus De Milo, only she is rising from a cactus. Perhaps the rest of the world would find her tacky, yet both my mom and I loved her. Instantly.
It is certainly a place that feels like Satish, the man we have come to celebrate. He was definitely the Venus D’Milo blossoming from a cactus. As I think this, I feel his shimmering presence, my father’s best friend. I can see his face, crinkled in laughter.
And as we walk into the door, there he is greeting us from beyond the grave. There is a table filled with watches, watch faces, leather straps, larger clocks, all displayed in an old fashioned box with different compartments.
The little sign says, “Take One”.
I fondly remember Satish’s watch phase. He would buy ancient dead timepieces, nurse them back to life, re-swizel them and give them to friends. We show our wrist to the others around us, sharing his love with Satish Originals wrapped around our wrists.
We continue further inside and deliver offerings to the potluck room. My oldest happily denotes our hummus as vegetarian; she takes it upon herself to read the ingredients on the dip next to ours and proclaims it in need of a vegetarian sign as well.
After the all-important work of labeling, we follow the crowd into a large gathering room. Somewhere out of site is a projector flashing pictures of the family on a huge wall. It is good to see his happy face surrounded by family.
Time arrives for the formal part of the celebration and we’re ushered into a small auditorium. An eloquent man rises to speak, and with the ease of conductor, he directs us through a symphony of laughter and tears. He speaks of death as a gift of appreciation for the people we lose, a thought that strikes me as true though I’ve never considered it before.
It has been about two weeks since Satish has died and it is sinking in that I will never delight in one of his lively tales again. I mentally chastise my terrible memory, forbidding it to forget his voice, his laugh.
Before the presentation even started, a man tapped me on the shoulder and told me that as a 52 year old black man, he had been unable to find a job until Duke hired him. He proudly says this changed his life.
The man sitting next to him was younger and Indian. He seemed shy but in a rush, he spoke of how Satish mentored him, took him under his wing, and helped him on his life and career path.
A series of speakers take the podium…
A college friend touches on the brilliance of Satish, something I forget often because he was so wonderfully silly. All my Dad’s friends are brilliant, but Satish, he was special. He attended ITT, the MIT of India. Several of the men in the room attended ITT, but they all defer to Satish as the most brilliant: 53rd out of the 3000 accepted and he graduated 2nd in his class.
And yet, it was his humanity and love of people that stands out above the fact that he was google long before there was a google.
Another man comes to the podium, this man worked with him at Parkland hospital. He calls him Duke and shares several stories about the real difference Satish made in the lives of the people he came into contact with. Heads were nodding up agreement throughout the audience and he finishes with a quote from Maya Angelou:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
They play Bill Withers “Lean On Me”…
Most funerals share the stories of those from the best light, for Satish, it felt no one could full capture his light with mere words. I look at my father; he stares straight ahead. As tears roll down my face, I see he is holding them in. He reaches over and holds my daughter’s hand, as the young and old do, she comforts him.
The last speaker is Satish’s youngest daughter. She is amazing as she captures the warmth, humor, and wit of her father. She carries us through the journey of his life: the early days, his crazy jokes, his heart attack 12 years before…and the final hour of his life. I am in awe of her strength in this hour of loss.
We drift back to share a meal together as they play Man of the Hour by Pearl Jam.
I slip away to the bathroom and blow my nose and as I look in the mirror, I hope my fellow celebrants focus on the food and ignore me. All my makeup is gone and I look like a swollen turnip.
I fill my plate and sit down. It is amazing what good samosas’ and mint chutney can do for the soul.
The celebration ends with folk dancing. Satish and Carol met in a folk dancing class. Two kids from two different parts of the world embraced in their love of different cultures twirling in celebration of life. It is fitting that their goodbye would bookend their hello; and what a wonderful goodbye.
We gathered for food, dancing, remembrance, and love. I am profoundly grateful for the Satish time in my life. I slip a tiny watch face into my purse, devastated there won’t be more time with this man.
Back at the house, Mom and I plop on the couch, exhausted. We have a moment alone and we reflect on the ceremony. We talk about how good it was, but even with the cheer and happy funny memories it was hard.
Death is hard.
Then Mom says aloud the fear in the back on my head. Satish was 69. My Mom is 69. “I guess I am at the age where friends are going to die,” she says. Then my Mom starts to cry. I join her.
It is now out there in the open, just as scary as it was in my head. The inevitable “What’s Next” in our lives. Birth. Adolescence. Adulthood. Old Age. Death. And the tick, tick, ticking of the clock towards The Next for my parents.
Time is running out and I know, one day, in the not too distant future, they will be gone. I can’t say this to my Mom. I just can’t, so instead I say, “Mom, you were so right about having kids. They fill my heart.”
Moments later, the kids and my dad emerge from their walk to the pond for stale crackers from the pantry for the hungry fish. Mom and I quickly put death back on the back shelf of our minds, mostly hidden and as far from our daily thoughts as possible.
The next morning is Mother’s Day. We feel lighter with death hidden behind thoughts of flowers and breakfast in bed. Later in the morning, Mom and Helen go sit on the porch.
Surrounded by men of science – her father, my father, Satish – Helen is quite certain that the big bang happened without the aid of a creator. “Maybe there is a creator,” Mom offers. She asks a series of questions to prod Helen’s thought process. Who created the molecules that created the bang? How did something start if there was absolutely nothing to start it?
I see her ten-year old face contorted in the way it does when she is deciding whether or not to keep her own opinion or consider a new one.
Of course this whole set of hows and whats always makes my head hurt. I always go back to who created the creator.
Still, we are here. We exist somehow until we don’t. I have no idea what comes next. Lots of people feel certain they know but I never have.
I hope we have a next that somehow involves spirits no longer separated by bodies and picture us merging together. I am comforted by the thought of merging together with my grandparents, great grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, children and parents into some super spirit.
Who knows? Maybe all the love and light and one place caused the big bang, exploding into a new universe of life. It seems as plausible to me as any other theory.
Until that next comes for the people I love and for me, I am going to enjoy the now.
When the final next does come, I hope people will do the polka through their tears, eat some roast beast with horseradish sauce, and compare my living years to the Venus de Milo blooming out of a cactus.
About the Author: Jeanette McGurk
Jeanette McGurk is a Graphic Designer who entered the world of writing through advertising. She discovered writing a lot of truth with a little fluff is a lot more fun than the other way round. Now that she is no longer spending time making air conditioners, tile floors, IT and Botox sound sexy, she writes about the unglamorous yet wonderful moments of life for people like herself; in other words, anyone looking for interesting ways to put off cleaning and doing laundry.
She is a curmudgeon and doesn’t Twit or Instagram. She has heard the blog is dead but since she has finally figured out how to do it, that is the museum where you can locate her writings. http://jmcpb.blogspot.com/.