The title is always the hardest part
I was on my way to the supermarket a little while ago, walking through my neighborhood with an empty knapsack on my back and thinking about what to buy for my observance tomorrow of Hadrian and Antinous’ initiations at Eleusis. I saw an older man feeding the parking meter in front of my favorite neighborhood restaurant and was reminded of my late father-in-law, who died seven or eight years ago. Then it occurred to me that this was at least the third time in the last week or two that I had seen a man who reminded me of my father-in-law… and I realized I was being tapped.
Galina Krasskova’s new book on ancestor veneration is sitting on my bathroom sink, awaiting my attention. (That’s where a lot of books I’m reading wind up, along with my Kindle.) I’ve been thinking for months about deepening my practice in relation to the ancestors and wrestling with the question of how to deal with my mother. She’s been dead for twenty-eight years, but our relationship has not gotten any less fraught in that time. Now I’ve been reminded repeatedly of another ancestor, a close one, just as I’m looking further into working with them.
Despite my recent divorce, I have no doubts that my ex-husband’s father is one of my ancestors, too, and no theological problems with the idea that, devout Anglican though he was, he might want my attention. I visited him in his last illness; a fall and a blow to the head brought him down after an eighteen-month battle with pancreatic cancer. I buttoned up my cassock from foot to throat and sang at his funeral. Some people were surprised, I think, that my then-husband would play the organ and I would sing for that funeral, but it was our way of dealing with the grief. I held firm until we were singing a Russian Orthodox kontakion toward the end of the service, and I *felt* my father-in-law’s transition from this world to the other. I dissolved into choking tears as I felt the gates close between him and us. But I had done my job: I had sung for the dead.
I can think of no one I’d rather have help me with some of the stuff I’m dealing with right now than my father-in-law. Like my grandmother and my great aunt, whom I already honor, he was an exceedingly competent individual. He was an educator and an administrator, a man with a true gift for management. After retiring from the county’s public school, he became the headmaster of the small private school attached to the church where his son was the organist, of which he had been a member for decades. As headmaster, he was organized, affable, authoritative, able to delegate tasks wisely, able to make his workplace a happy and functional one. If he was sometimes an overbearing parent, he was an ideal boss, and he must have been a much-loved teacher. He could hardly visit a restaurant without a former student, now adult, coming up to him.
I know I have photos of my father-in-law lying around. I think I need to buy some coffee and find those filters and the cone I kept when I moved, in case I entertained any coffee-drinkers. Both my father and my father-in-law took it with milk, no sugar.