As I told you last week, in this three-part series, Dad became Catholic.
He disappeared on Sunday mornings and reappeared hours later with a beatific look on his face. I, proud Reform Jewish granddaughter of a past president of Temple Beth El, felt embarrassed by my father’s religious zeal.
Today religious conversions are common. Not so in the conformist 1950s when we wore circle pins and Weejun penny loafers and most rabbis refused to conduct intermarriage services. But Dad happily practiced Catholicism until he died, of colon cancer, at 69.
The day before the funeral home visitation got off to a bad start. To help Margaret, my stepmother, I had volunteered to phone the Detroit News and Free Press with information on Dad’s obituary. I got the papers the next day. The Detroit News obit was lovely. As for the Freep, the placement and length were fine. But I had blown it. Somehow, in listing survivors, I neglected to include Margaret. I called her to apologize.
“The News got it right,” I said.
She wailed, “But all my friends read the Free Press.”
Soon after, at the Desmond Funeral Home in Royal Oak, MI, Margaret and I sat in an office waiting for the director to arrive. I told her about a visit I had recently made. Renowned Detroit ad man Ross Roy had died. He lay in an open casket at home in one of the Grosse Pointes, wearing a navy sport jacket and holding his tennis racquet.
I said to Margaret, “Dad was such an avid golfer…”
“NO!” she said, hazel eyes wide. “We are not burying your father holding a golf club!”
The next morning I paced the lobby of the funeral home waiting for my sister. Despite a Valium, I lacked the nerve to view the coffin by myself. Anne, whose relationship with our Dad wasn’t as fraught, walked in. I clutched her arm as she sailed into the receiving room as though blown by a gentle wind.
Our father’s shiny wood casket sat to one side of the room. The open lid was lined with white satin which puffed around—a cross. The cross was about 8 inches high, though it might have been 8 feet. I peered into the coffin. Dad’s cheeks were pink. His pate shone. He was settled in for a nice eternal nap. His hands, which could execute long, breaking putts, lay on his stomach, clasping… beads and yet another cross.
I muttered, “I see why Margaret nixed the golf club.”
That evening, as visitors came to pay their respects, I hovered in an antechamber. At one point our Christian friend John asked my husband, “Does Suzy know she’s supposed to guide visitors over to view her father?”
“She knows,” Burton said.
Dad’s funeral the next day would result in one of the most remarkable Godsigns I would ever receive. Look forward to the end of the story in next week’s column.
(Have any interesting end-of-life signs occurred for you? I’d love to hear about them.)