Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The Eye Glass Ritual

The following is a painful story 
about my father's eye glasses... 

On January 8, 1994 - nearly twenty-one years ago - I received a call regarding my father's death, but the news rolled out gradually - little by little. The man on the other end of the phone asked me, "How's your faith in God? Are you still a warrior for Jesus?" I didn't know how to answer. The man rambled for several minutes about taking comfort in hardship and walking close to the Lord. I simply nodded to myself and wondered when he would finally get to the point. Unfortunately, the point came at the end of a sword. 

"I hate to be the one to say this," he stammered, "But your father had a heart attack."

It never occurred to me that anything serious would ever befall my father. He seemed invincible and larger than life, so I hardly blinked or skipped a beat. "Oh, that's terrible," I said calmly, "Where is he now? Did they take him to the hospital? What room is he in? When can I see him?" 

Silence - But finally, the man said, "Barry, he didn't make it." 

Suddenly the room began to spin around my head, and everything blurred together. I don't remember hanging up the phone or saying goodbye. I only remember crying inconsolably while my friends drove me to the hospital. My face was pressed against the cold glass of the car window while streaks of January rain refracted the street lights into a thousand drops of green and red. 

My mother divorced my father more than sixteen years before his passing, but she arrived at the hospital ahead of me and greeted me at the emergency room entrance. The expression on her face will live in my memory forever. She looked almost childlike as her lower lip quivered and tears streamed down her cheeks. Her hands trembled as she opened her arms to console me. We held one another and wept. 

When I finally saw the body, it hardly seemed real. There my father lay on a table, cold and covered in a white sheet up to his bare chest. A plastic tube stuck out from his throat. 

When I left the hospital, the paramedics gave me a plastic bag filled with items my dad was wearing at the moment of his death. My face was swollen and numb from crying, but I accepted the bag and clutched it close to my body. It seemed to me that opening the bag should be a sacred event, a private ritual far removed from sterile hospital walls and the cold stares of clinical staff. 

The ritual happened later that evening with a small group of friends and supporters. I knelt on the living room floor and gently removed each item one by one: a wallet and some spare change; a shirt torn to shreds when the paramedics ripped it from his chest and shocked his heart; a pair of white tube socks with red and blue bands on the top. Every article brought a new wave of recognition and sadness, but nothing prepared me for the last item at the bottom of the bag: my father's eye glasses

Throughout his life, he always wore the same thick, black-rimmed glasses. It was the only part of his appearance that never changed, from his wildest drinking days, to his life as a spiritual leader in the community. As I held the glasses in my hands, his eyes seemed to open one last time, and like Elisha in the novel Dawn, “I saw his face, with the eyes grown large with death and memory” (Wiesel, 1961). For one brief moment, the ghost of my father looked back with a lifetime of longing and regret, and then faded into nothing. Alone with my sadness, I buried my face into my hands and sobbed.

Twenty-one years later, the ritual was repeated when I collected my uncle Kenny's eye glasses in preparation for the burial, only this time, I could not weep. After so many years, my sadness has gone numb. 


Wiesel, E. (2006). Dawn. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition. (Original work published 1961).

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