“Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die” – Part One

The response from friends, family, and strangers on the internet has been overwhelming. The impromptu eulogy I wrote to my dad the day after his passing is so far, the most views this site has had so far. I’m glad I had enough clarity to put it out there and share that little bit of the odd relationship I had with my father with people and let them get to know a little bit of him in the same was that I’ve always known him. I’m sitting here looking at the calendar and wondering how it’s already been two months since it all happened and I’m just now realizing it.

As a little follow up to that previous story, I figured in the interest of first and foremost, helping me to personally find closure, as well as to continue to honor my dad in a way that only a Ward can, I’d share a few of the highlights of the last couple months and what we’ve done since then.

Days after Dad’s passing, my brother and I made our way to Georgia, where our Dad had resided and where his brothers and his mother still live. It had been the first time I’d been back to Georgia since I dropped out of school at the Atlanta Art Institute after my “stupid-kid-end-of-the-world” scenario that came after Nycki dumped me in 2002. This was the state where I’d been born and had intended on visiting again, sooner than later, but somehow never made my way back down there under happier circumstances.

Alex and I arrived in Atlanta via plane where we met our Mom, who’d driven down from Tennessee and made our way overnight to Statesboro. The trip was meant to be a very quick one, with Alex having to be back at work in two days. The three of us made our way to our old hometown of Macon, Georgia.

The family decided the best place to hold the service was in the field outside the barn-made-house that he, his brothers, and my grandmother and grandfather had raised them. The family had moved out of there long before and it was my first time back on the property since I was a little man in short pants. Luckily, when we asked the barn’s current residents if it would be okay for us to come and hold the ceremony out there in the field next to the pond across the back yard. Mom, Alex, and I had shown up first, getting a little time to explore the old farm before the rest of the family began to roll in. I remember sitting down in the grass looking out at the lake, and having fragments of old memories come back into my head. As I’ve said before, I have a difficult time remembering the first several years or so of my life before the second surgery and my second chance, but seeing the lake again reminded me of two things. My dad trying in vain to teach Alex and I how to fish, how bored I got with it, and how my brother or I (I can’t recall which) ended up getting a big bite on our line and just as Dad was coming to help reel it in, threw the entire rod and reel into the lake.

The service was pleasant. No religion, no frills or anything like that. Just the family and a few close friends gathered up in the field where my dad grew up, listening to the music he loved, sharing the stories that we all loved about him, and just trying to bring something positive out of the unexpected bad circumstances. Lots of small touches that Dad would have probably appreciated, like my Aunt Linda, with whom Dad was constantly bickering and mutually getting on one another’s nerves as only family can, holding the urn of his ashes as the service went on. A little detail that probably would’ve irritated him to no end. The service began with a boombox being brought out, playing Willie Nelson’s “Always On My Mind”, a song that’s done a number on me emotionally well before the ASPCA started using it in their manipulative little TV ads. Courtney, an old girlfriend of mine, used it as one of her standards every time we went out to karaoke and it always brought the house down. Needless to say, using it in the context of a funeral for a father that I’ve had a rocky relationship with for many years was only going to lead to uncontrollable blubbering at a point where I just wasn’t ready for it. Fortunately, my Aunt Diane saw where the song was taking the amassed group and hit the next track on the CD. Something that got a laugh out of all of us and couldn’t be referred to as anything other than extremely appropriate for the kind of man my Dad was.

Dad, in his days as a truck driver, spent a lot of time on his XM Satillite radio to get him through long trips. His favorite channels were the comedy stations and Outlaw Country. He called my brother and I immediately after hearing the song and told us to look it up. We got a good laugh out of it and it became part of my regular iPod rotation for a little while, and then when it came on at Dad’s service, I couldn’t think of anything other than how well it just fit.

He’d begun attending AA meetings again. He’d spent the week leading up to his surgery attempting to earnestly quit smoking once and for all, which was something he’d never really attempted in over forty years. A couple nights before the procedure, he called me up and we talked about the operation he was about to go through. He had an honest to God sense of worry in his tone as he talked to me and in one of the most frank and honest conversations the man and I ever had, told me he was scared of the surgery. He told me that despite his fear of going under the knife, the thing that kept him going, kept him from running away from the problem as he sometimes liked to do, was me. My “for shit” memory usually forbids me from having any recollection of his words, but what he’d basically told me was that after watching me go through serious surgeries as a child at such young ages, what did he really have to be scared of. It was one of those rare moments with Dad that didn’t involve joking around, being nasty, or tap dancing around “feelings” like typical closed off cavemen. It’s a conversation that I’m now very grateful to have had with him in retrospect, although it does give me pause in thinking about how much dad may or may not have known about the riskiness of his operation. If there’s one thing Ward men are good at, it’s keeping secrets.

The night before my birthday, the night before his surgery, I saw a missed call and a message from dad on my phone soon after we had a brief last exchange of words. I didn’t return it because I was headed out for a date that night and I figured the surgery would go fine. We had talked an hour or so before and I made a point of telling him I loved him, but in retrospect, I’m honestly gonna feel bad about that one for a while to come. It’s just one of those little regrets you can’t change and need to learn to live with.

More soon, folks. Til then, I am my father’s son…

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