The ritual portions of grieving ended yesterday and we’re all worn out. It still doesn’t feel real; we all keep expecting to wake up from an elaborate nightmare but then it sinks in that it’s real. Robbie’s gone and the pain remains as strong as it was on Thursday.
Our family provided us tremendous support. Jim and Jennifer were closest geographically and were the first to step right up and help us get things done at home. But all the others arrived and went right to work, shopping, cooking, serving, cleaning and telling us to go sit. That helped a lot.
Friday, though, was surreal. Neither one of us had to make these sorts of arrangements before and I was amazed at how smooth and painless a series of painful decisions could be. Dick Miller of Spear-Miller Funeral Home walked us through everything with patience. We went through a variety of options and made our selections then he drafted an obituary, a task I dreaded having to undertake. He did a fine job, thankfully.
Later, we went to Oak Lawn cemetery here in Fairfield and found a cremation garden that suited out needs. We found a plot next to tree, something we think he’d like. Each crematory plot can hold two receptacles so we bought side by side places for the four of us, giving Kate an option; one we hope is not needed for a long, long time.
Our final stop was arranging for the luncheon to follow the funeral. Cinzano’s, an Italian restaurant in town, was recommended since they’re experienced at this sort of thing. They were gentle with us and we picked a buffet menu and altered the estimate from 100 to 75 to be safe.
Saturday was a bit of a blur as we tended to chores and greeted well wishers and arriving family.
The wake on Sunday was astonishing. Over the two shifts totaling four-plus hours, the estimate was that over 400 people came to extend their condolences. They came from every corner or our lives: family, Robbie’s classmates and co-workers, people from Church, from Deb’s knitting group, from town government (entirely bipartisan!), from DC and Marvel comics, neighbors, friends and many of the interns, residents, fellows, doctors and nurses who cared for Robbie. We were extremely gratified to see them all, humbled and overwhelmed to be honest. A multi-media presentation Deb had prepared about Robbie for a grad course last year cycled on a large flat screen which people watched as they oh-so-patiently stood line. In addition to the guest book, people jotted memories on cards and filled the entire home.
Monday was the funeral and again we were stunned. Dick Miller estimated the attendance at 230. Again, the people who arrived came from all walks or our lives. And they were a very different mix so Deb’s boss was on hand, as was my last boss, Jeff Rovin; a contingent from Shore Leave’s committee turned up, several of the Boogie Knights were also there. Robbie’s oncology team was well represented as was the Child Life staff (including Katie, the 7-West person who first got Robbie to think about Child Life as a career and left for a post in New Hampshire). Our jaws would have dropped had they not been clenched to keep from blubbering.
As you’ve already read, Uncle Jim and Deb gave superb eulogies. Father Bob, the main celebrant, gave a lengthy, animated, touching homily that tied the reading to Robbie’s life, and he name dropped like crazy making certain 7-West understood the large role they played in his final months. Kelly Vosburgh, a girl Robbie once dated, was among the three soloists who sang with the choir which was anchored by Michael, the current musical director, and Peter, his predecessor. Deb and Kate had selected all the music and it was uplifting as the choir sang perfectly.
While everyone was invited to the restaurant, a mere 175 turned up, more than double our estimate and kept the staff hopping. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves as we continued to celebrate Robbie’s life and how he touched us all.
Kate was surrounded by her old high school pals, many of whom traveled to be there for her, which was a wonderful gesture of support. The void in her life is suddenly wide, deep and very dark.
Tuesday, though, it was time for the final phase. The family and Brooke, his best pal since Kindergarten, assembled at Oak Lawn. Father Sam officiated and spoke eloquently. It was suddenly time and I kneeled, picking up the small, wooden container which felt surprisingly heavy, and gently placed it in the tiny grave. Each member in attendance walked by and dropped a flower within. They headed back to the house as the three of us sat and sat our silent goodbyes. Kate paused to rearrange the flowers and when we were ready to leave, she somehow misstepped and placed a foot in the grave, missing the receptacle by millimeters. She figured that was Robbie’s final practical joke and we laughed as we headed for the car.
The hard parts over, we once more enjoyed our family’s company at the house, feasting on the much of the food that had arrived in abundance from family and friends. Father Sam joined us later and looked like he really needed to unwind in a convivial environment, one we were happy to provide.
Today we began to put our lives back together. Deb and I cleaned our desks, put things away and began to prepare for tomorrow. There remain practical details to tend to but they can wait until we’re ready. For now, we want to enjoy our time with Kate until she returns to Maryland on Sunday.
We want to rest. We want time to continue to process the unimaginable.