My husband laughs at me all the time because he says he has never seen anyone “cocoon” themselves the way I do when I lie down. I am able to totally tuck myself in to my blankets like a baby that has been swaddled in theirs.
Until I was about nine, my father worked the middle shift ( 4pm til midnight), so he wasn’t there at bedtime most nights. On the weekends, though, he would always be the one to tuck us in. My sisters and I shared a room (that’s right; all 3 in one room, and it didn’t kill us!). My younger sister and older sister shared a double bed, but I was on my own in a single bed next to theirs. Daddy would come up and tell us a story (he was a GREAT story teller!), and then proceed to tuck us in. Starting on the far side of the double bed, he would first tuck in the youngest, Tina, then the oldest, Marie. Since my bed was right next to the door, I was the last. I always loved being the last and actually felt that somehow I had special time with Daddy that the other two missed, even though he did the exact same thing to them, and I’m sure they felt equally as special. He would make a big deal out of fluffing the pillow, arranging the blankets just so, and tuck it all around me nice and tight. The last thing he would do was hold both of my little feet in his massive hand for a second, and give a quick rub to my head, and then the kiss on my head good night. Finally, it was lights out. I always felt loved and protected and safe. He was a great dad!
As the years went on we moved to another house where we girls all had our own rooms. The tucking- in ritual went the way of all childhood rituals, and I just went to bed with a quick kiss goodnight. I am, and was even then, a hopeless insomniac. I would stay up until the wee hours reading or listening to music. Even after the lights got turned off, there were many nights that I would just lie awake for a while before I could finally fall asleep. By that time my Dad was very sick with emphysema, and he had a great deal of difficulty breathing. He only had the use of 13% of one lung, so even sucking in his deepest breath was little more than a whisper of air. Every breath was painful and exhausting, even with an oxygen tank to aid him. Lying down was particularly hard for him, making him feel as though he was drowning, so he would stay awake sitting at the kitchen table until he literally just couldn’t stay awake anymore. Finally ready to try to get some sleep, he would make the trek up the steps to bed. I hated that because I would listen to him struggle up the steps, trying so hard to catch his breath, stopping a few times, before reaching the top to then make his way down the hall. It was agony listening to it, so I can only imagine how horrifying it was to experience it. I would hear him stop off at my younger sister’s room for a minute to tuck her in, then work his way down the hall to his room. My room was directly across the hall from his and my mother’s room, so I would be his last stop. He would come in, and try to be quiet, lightly tuck the blanket around me, hold my feet, stroke my head and give me a quick peck on the head before leaving the room. I would pretend I was asleep so I wouldn’t interrupt the ritual. Being a teenager, there was a big part of me that rolled my eyes and wanted to say “Daa-ad! I’m too old for this!” But I never did. Because there was a bigger part of me that was just a little girl, who, in the face of seeing her Daddy wasting away from that horrible life-sucking illness, took great comfort in feeling his hand on my feet, and being tucked into the cocoon as only he could prepare it.
I married Jim when I was 19, leaving the nest so painstakingly feathered by my parents. My hubby is a good man, and has been the perfect mate for me. My father died when I was 20, a little more than a year after our wedding. I was pregnant with our first child, his first grandchild. Although relieved that he was no longer suffering, my heart was broken. My poor mother was so unbelievably stressed out at that time, and I found myself handling a bunch of little details for the funeral. My brother and I had to rifle through boxes of mementos to find my parent’s marriage certificate, and Mom charged me with the task of getting together Dad’s clothes and getting them to the funeral director. Mom was a little frantic when we (Mom, my sisters and I) went to the funeral home to make the arrangements, and she seemed to be obsessed that they make him look exactly as he did when he was alive. In her grief, she was focused on making sure that Dad’s hair was combed correctly with the part on the right side—she kept saying that she just wouldn’t be able to stand it if she went to see him and he did not look like himself. She made me promise to mention it again when I brought the clothes over to the funeral home. The funeral director was very patient when I told him yet again, and he said that focusing on a detail like that was a normal reaction with someone overcome with grief, he saw this kind of thing all of the time, and would be sure that Daddy looked his very best. The viewing was scheduled to take place a few days later in the evening before the funeral, and again for an hour before the funeral Mass the next morning.
The day of the viewing seemed to drag on, as family was gathering and trying to be “normal”, trying to not think about the evening ahead. In the afternoon, the phone rang, and someone asked for me. When I went to the phone, I was quite surprised to hear the funeral director. He said he did not want to speak to my mother because he did not want to upset her, but that there was a little problem, and could I come to the funeral home right away? I got Jim, and we made up an excuse about going to the store for something, and drove the mile to the funeral home. Here I was, just 20 years old, pregnant, and heading to a funeral home to be told God only knows what about my father’s funeral! I had no idea what to expect. I was so grateful Gilbert was with me (yes we have always called him “Gilbert” and not Jim)! We went to the door, and the funeral director and his wife greeted us so warmly and comfortingly. Jim said “ So, tell us what the problem is”, as he put his arm around my waist with one arm and grabbed my hand with the other. Mrs. Funeral Director said : “Well, I know how very upsetting this all is to your mother, so we thought it best to ask for you first, since you brought over the clothes and all. You see, your mother is quite insistent that we make sure your father’s hair is parted on the right, is that right?” I nodded in the affirmative, and she went on “ Well, I am so very sorry, but it seems that I just can’t make his hair part on that side. It just wants to part on the other side, and actually seems to be cut that way. I was hoping you could come and take a look and maybe comb his hair exactly as your mom wants it so we can make this experience as good as possible for her.” I actually had a hard time processing what she was saying, and Jim was saying to me “Peg? Do you think you can do that?” I just remember saying: “Sure, I’ll do it”. Mrs. Funeral director said, “of course I will come with you, and I will do the actual combing if you’d like, but please tell me I have it done correctly.” I honestly don’t know what possessed me, but I said “No, that’s ok, I’ll do it myself.” She and her husband looked a little tentative, and Jim said: “I will come with you—I don’t want you to go in alone”. Mrs. Funeral director gave me the comb and she and Gilbert walked on either side of me into the room where my Dad was.
We walked to the front, where Daddy was dressed and laid in the casket my mother had chosen. He was partially tucked in with a satin blanket, a crucifix placed there, rosary entwined in his hands. He looked at complete and perfect peace. All of the pain and strain of emphysema was gone from his face, and he looked like the Daddy of 3 little girls, the Daddy that took us to the park and regaled us with tales of make- believe: Barnacle Bill and sharks and soldiers and barracudas. His hair was combed perfectly, with the part on the left. My mother, in her grief-stricken state, had told the funeral director the wrong thing. He didn’t need his hair combed, everything was perfect. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I do remember the kindly smile of relief that came over Mrs. Funeral Director’s face when I communicated that his hair was perfect. She squeezed my hand, and said “why don’t you take a minute”, and walked silently to the back of the room. There we stood, Gilbert and I, at my father’s casket. It was surreal. Jim took a few steps to the side, leaving me to stand alone, gazing at this man, my hero and protector, now gone from the shell of his body. I took the comb, smoothed his hair anyway, tucked the blanket, put my hands briefly on his foot, and gently kissed the top of his head. He was tucked into his cocoon, by one of the daughters who loved him lots.
Later that night, as my mother went up to the casket with her children gathered around her, she held his hand and said “oh, he looks like a little boy! He is so peaceful”. She didn’t know about the phone call that came to me and my visit with my Daddy a few hours earlier. I did tell her a few years later as we sat having morning coffee at my kitchen table. She said she honestly was so out of it when he died she didn’t even know what she told the funeral director, but she did remember telling anyone who would listen that he needed to look good or she wouldn’t be able to stand it.
Growing up, my father made a cocoon of love to surround his family. As an adult, my husband has done the same for his. I know I am a better person because of him. I’m the renegade, impulsive and explosive one, and Gilbert is the “steady Eddy” and voice of reason. He has been an amazing father, and I know our children feel the same way about him as my father’s children felt about him.
I also know there are far too many people who never get to experience that kind of love and safe-keeping. Too many go through life orphaned, abused, alone, rejected and abandoned. It’s as hard for me to fathom how a father can abandon or hurt their child as it is for those people to imagine a loving and good father. I have no comforting words of wisdom for those that are victims of such abuse. But God does. I know, I know. Most would say: “If God loved me so much, then why did He let all of this happen to me?” I have no answer to the “whys” in our life experiences. I wish I did. But I do have faith: the substance of things hoped for and not seen. I have faith to know that God is God, and I am not, and faith to know that this life is but a wink on the timeline of eternity; like a grain of sand on a beach. But eternity is forever, and, when we have faith in Jesus, we will spend it with Him.
When I think of the word “cocoon”, I think of it as a verb, an action word. I cocoon myself when I go to bed, my father cocooned me when he tucked me in, Gilbert has cocooned us (me and the kids), and God cocoons me every day in His safety and protection, by His grace and comfort. He goes before me as a cloud by day and as a light in the night seasons of my life.
In closing this entry, I ask that you ponder the words of Psalm 91:1, 2 & 4.
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” … He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge…”
Imagine! We are cocooned under the wing of the Almighty! Hunker down, get cocooned and read the rest of the Psalm. You’ll be glad you did.
© Pro 31 Women’s Compendium and all blogs posted by its authors, Peggy Gilbert, Barbara V., Andrea B., Ronda W., including any photos or original illustrations, commencing January 1, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s authors and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the authors (Peggy Gilbert, Barbara V., Andrea B. and Ronda W., and Pro 31 Women’s Compendium, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content