Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die – Part II

This post was half written a couple of months ago as a direct follow-up to Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die – Part I, just before I fell ill and lost part of my hearing. If you notice any jumps between past and present tenses, that’s probably why. 

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After Dad’s memorial service ended, the family packed up into our respective cars and drove off to get a late afternoon lunch at a local Mexican food joint that our dad was always fond of, where my brother, mom, and I got to sit down to a big lunch with the half of the family that we’d only had rare connections with for such a long time, ever since the divorce of our parents and all the drama that tends to go with that sort of event. My dad’s brothers, my uncles Warren and Ken were great through the process of helping Alex and I navigate through the heart-breakingly surreal experience of losing a parent, and getting to see how all of our younger cousins had grown up and become people we could hold conversations with was pretty cool, too. I really wish I’d gotten more pictures of the family together, but I never really think of using my camera for moments of sentiment, so much as to capture dumb things I see and find funny. (Got one of those coming up, actually!) In the spirit of my the bawdy Ward sense of humor which is our trademark, I couldn’t help finding the apparently filthy sense of humor behind the maker of the restaurant’s menu and figuring this might have been part of the appeal that the place probably held with the Ward part of my brain. It was probably stuff like the “Dirty Sanchez” burrito that attracted Dad eat there so often.

The lunch came and went and the family parted ways, as Alex and I had to get back to Kentucky so he wouldn’t miss work. On the way  back though, Alex and I took a small detour through the town of Macon Georgia, where we were both born and only have a small selection of memories from. As the ride went on, Alex and I began speculating ideas for shit we thought would be funny to do with Dad’s ashes. Coming up with horrible ideas such as driving up beside our Mom in her Prius, opening the urn, scooping out a handful of Dad, and firing it across her windshield. It’s not that my mom and dad didn’t get along. They had made some form of peace over the last couple of years after my dad had decided to stop fucking up, but as I feel is probably likely with any divorced couple who stays in contact for one reason or another, the sometimes it can be fun to get on your ex’s nerves. After the divorce and my dad’s absence from our lives, they made peace when he came back, even becoming friendly with one another, albeit with slight undertones of friendly antagonism. Dad, much like myself, was a needler. If he could find a way to give the people he cared about shit and make it funny, he’d move a mountain to do it.

We also talked about mixing some of my dad’s remains into a batch of weed and bringing Willie Nelson’s prophecy to life. I recently took “my Dad” into an open mic night at a local comedy club, intending to put his urn in a chair on stage and perform a short roast, (which went comically horrible and will make up its own chapter in this story later on) and smuggled his ashes into the movie theater to see the new Jackass: Bad Grandpa movie in tribute to dad’s fascination with Johnny Knoxville and dudes getting paid to injure their testicles.

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So, we’ve come up with a few loose plans for funny things to do with Dad’s remains while we keep him around, some of which we’ve already enacted, others of which, we’re planning to space out across the remainder of the year. The point of these little exercises in morbidity are to spend some time giving the man a fun little ride that would be just fucked up enough to be something he would have appreciated. We’ve come up with a couple of ideas that we think would be pretty hilarious, but I don’t want to spoil them just yet. Overall, I’m thinking if I take enough pictures and document the experiences here, it might make for a pretty funny book. The ultimate plan in doing all of this will culminate in an extended cross-country road trip to discover our dad’s final resting place. I’m thankful for the growth of a relationship that happened between my dad and my brother in the last year of his life. Dad and I never quite got that chance, but the way that Alex tells it, he and dad had a conversation on one of his long, quiet trips across the country, driving trucks for J.B. Hunt, where he marveled over the phone about the massive, beautiful view of the ocean on a high shore in a place called Ilwaco, Washington. Dad had apparently at one point, mentioned in passing, the idea of being cremated and having his ashes scattered there. I don’t know if he was ever seriously thinking about this, and neither Alex, nor myself have ever been to Ilwaco, but the plan is to get in the car and begin the long drive across America to cause trouble and scatter our dad and give him the kind of deranged send off he’d have appreciated.

Stay tuned!

 

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“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…

A Little Piece Of Land In Georgia

      Soon after receiving the news of my health situation and rushing me to the specialists at Egleston Hospital (Now known as CHOA) in Atlanta, Georgia, my parents and I reunited for a brief matter of minutes before the decision was made to fast-tracked into a surgical suite. There, I underwent a heart catheterization which showed them the sizable hole in the wall between my two ventricles. At the time, major surgery on newborns was a mostly unheard of idea, so instead, they chose to perform a more temporary measure that commonly helped to buy children a bit more time. The procedure  that involved a small incision just below my left breast and the placement of a surgical grade rubber band around the  in my heart to keep more fluid from escaping than necessary. The hole between my ventricles was big enough that the rush of  blood that was escaping was going fast and with enough force between the two chambers that it could potentially cause a lot of damage if it were to be left to run unchecked.  The entire procedure was never meant to be any sort of remedy to the situation so much as a prophylactic measure to hopefully buy me some chance at a slightly extended future.  The idea was that hopefully with this band, I would live several more years until A) medical science advanced enough to tell doctors how to fix this problem and B) my body had matured and developed enough to withstand the type of surgery that would have entailed.

My stay at Egleston lasted for about six weeks. They performed the surgery when I was 2 days old and afterwards they kept me all that extra time to monitor my medications. I had a lot of trouble with eating at the time and ended up losing two pounds in all my time in the hospital. I went from being the biggest baby in the nursery where I was born to losing a solid 2 pounds in just my first few days. It got to the point that they began adding a special formula to the milk they fed me to give me some extra calories. My entire family remained on pins and needles for the first couple of weeks of my stay. Eventually, my dad ended up needing to go back to work while my mom stayed on maternity leave and my Grandmothers from both sides, Grandmother Foster and Grandmom Ward stayed with my mother and I at the hospital the entire time.

My parents had told me sugar-coated versions of all these facts and stories as I grew up, because I was a curious child who always knew I was different from other kids and wanted to know why.  I knew I had a heart problem and I knew that one day I would need to have another surgery to fix the problem. We just didn’t really talk much about what could happen if I didn’t get the surgery or how dire my situation had been. It’s part of why, despite my particularly extreme circumstances, I feel like I had a relatively happy childhood. I wasn’t abused, I didn’t live in poverty, (although there were some rough times in our later years, but that’s a story for another time) and I never felt unloved in those early years. Even when friction began to build in my parent’s marriage, they managed to keep my brother and I insulated from it.

As a teenager, well beyond the years of my getting through the second surgery and seeing a marked improvement in my health and well-being, I started asking more questions of my parents, who had long since divorced and become more apt to sharing some of the more darkened details of the circumstances of my formative years.  The biggest revelation I had revealed to me was that my grandmother and grandfather, who had bought a cemetery plot for themselves at Brooks Cemetary in Brooks, Georgia, had sent my Aunt Kathy, one of their older daughters out of the hospital on the day they heard the news about my defect diagnosis to buy a small piece of space for my remains to go, in the seemingly very likely event that I passed in the days that followed.  Since my grandparents have passed, we haven’t been able to find record of whether or not that space of land is still sitting there in my name. For all we know it’s been sold off a long time ago and is occupied by some other departed soul. One thing remains for sure, the idea of having a grave site waiting for you practically all of your life can have a, shall we say, dramatic effect on a young man as he grows forward into adulthood.