Thursday, June 22, 2023

Personal Experiences With A Carlin Home Companion

Likely for the same reason as many of his fans, I read the book by George Carlin's daughter, Kelly, to learn more about him. A Carlin Home Companion did provide a great deal of insight into her father, but provided much more about the amazing person Kelly Carlin is and where her life's journey's have taken her. 

Her book was fantastic- I highly recommend it. And yes, I additionally learned a great deal about George Carlin's life, both public and internal, that I didn't know before. 

Rather than going into more details on the book itself, though, I need to focus on my reaction to one section. Kelly Carlin talked about her father's death, and and how it was a reverse of what most people experience. She was going through an extremely private moment, but because he was famous and beloved, strangers felt they were sharing the moment with her. 

For most of us, a majority of the world doesn't know what we're going through in those moments. 

George Carlin's death (fifteen years ago) should have hit me staggeringly hard. It's rare a full day goes by without me quoting him, I dedicate an annual section of my writings to him, and my daughter knew a huge number of his (often edited) routines from when she was little because I would tell them to her. 

His death didn't affect me at the time, because he passed the Sunday after my Father died on Friday. Reading Kelly Carlin's account had me reliving what I went through during that time. It also made me realize, while I talked broadly about the feelings, I've never really let out what specifically happened.

Mom was visiting my sister after Veronica was born. Dad had come over to our house on the weekend before for Father's Day. I did notice he seemed tired, but he was very much himself, and we had a fantastic day together.

When Mom called while I was at work, like nearly any time she calls, I was in the bathroom. Normally I do not answer the phone in those situations, but for some reason, this time, I did. 

I don't remember anything for a bit, other than her saying, "He's gone!" The next thing I knew I was over by a table between some conference rooms and cubicles. I have no idea why I went there as it wasn't in a direction that would have brought me to my desk or anywhere else I needed to be. I do know I did have my pants up which was nothing short of a miracle at that point. 

I also know I had dropped to my knees when I reached to table, and if the women working in the clinical and regulatory departments hadn't put their hands on my shoulders, I would have fallen all the way down. I will forever be grateful to those who stood behind me at that time. My co-workers were used to the volume I operate at, therefore they must have noticed something different in my voice than my usual "Italian Loudness." 

Once the peak of the initial shock passed... 
(Granted...the general shock did not pass. It continues.)
My boss set me up in a conference room to go through the actions I needed to take.

I got all the contact information from Mom for the hospital and the funeral parlor. I also called Rosa who was out with Anabelle (only four at the time). They ended up at the local Peruvian restaurant, El Marino and the way the waitress (a member of the family that owned it) took care of Anabelle that day created a bond that still endures. Once the calls were complete, I had to drive to the hospital between where he worked and where I did to sign papers and pick up his stuff. 

One element of comfort was Dad was at the job he loved. (Going back to being a programmer after we both graduated, following hating being in management, was perfect for him. He threatened to quit on the multiple occasions they offered him a promotion.) We know EMTs got to him immediately, and everything possible was tried. 

However, this meant he was taken to the hospital where I normally went to run radiopacity tests for work. Luckily, that deal ended soon after, because the one time I did have to go there for a test afterwards was not a fun drive, nor was I able to concentrate on anything for work that day.

Arriving there on that day, the nurse asked if I wanted to go in the room with Dad. One thing that kept me from completely losing it was hearing his voice in my head throughout the experience. (That kinda continues through most stressful experiences in my life. See? There was one member of my family who had decent emotional control.) I didn't want to, and refused This was because, as he always said, what is left behind isn't the person anymore. Whatever made him the man he was no longer remained. 

I knew when I first saw it  in the bag I wanted to wear his Superman logo ring that served as an initial ring as well. I wouldn't start until I had cleared that with Mom, and she ended up offering it to me. It was a replacement, and we ended up finding the first one in a file drawer when we cleaned his office, meaning more than one of us could have one. I selected to keep the one that was slightly bent of of shape, because then it feels like he's still holding on to me. It was also cool to see how he kept the ENTIRE photographic history of our family in his wallet. 

The weekend and next week are a bit of a blur. I didn't go in to work. We went over to Mom's one day, cleaned, vacuumed mowed, and stuff like that so it would be done when she got home. There was also the appointment with the funeral parlor to get everything in motion that needed to be completed. Based on Dad's above stated beliefs and wishes, there was no wake. The planning for the mass, however, still had to be done through the funeral parlor. It was weird visiting a place I'd never really been to in order to have them be the middle man for setting up an event in the church a block and a half away that we went to every week. They were very good at their job, revealing why things were handled in this way.

Dad's voice in my head meant I didn't drive to the crematorium with the funeral people either.  I could hear exactly what kind of a hard time he would give me if I did. It would have been an extremely weird and uncomfortable trip.

With the usual level of comedy of errors of all my adventures amplified by a lack of focus on reality, (and with help from a neighbor I am very grateful for since Rosa couldn't leave Anabelle in the middle of the night after a flight delay), we managed to pick up Mom with Kim's family from the airport when they returned. 

It was at the funeral mass that it hit me at full power.
All the trappings of every religion...
The rituals, the rules, the pageantry
Were created to help humans deal with the concept of death.
Losing someone forever, being mortal, everything connected with it. 
That's where it all comes from.

I worked on his eulogy and tried to include bits for everyone. Directly reading in front of a crowd doesn't work for me on the best days, and this was far from the best. I may have had it fully written or I may have had notes like I normally do for public speaking and recreated it later. However, if it was full written, I still used it as cues with various margin notes in the days before printers were easily accessible. It still bugs me that I left out a reference to "quality time" when going through all the great things about my father. Then again, I can't remember it at all, so maybe I didn't leave it out when I spoke.

Writing that up didn't do anything for my grief. I specifically worked on it to include things for as many people as possible. Writing something for me would come later with the poem/ list I put together about all the great influences I learned from Dad. (Ironically, I've had many people tell me that one helped them as well.)

It was at the restaurant meal afterwards that I had another revelation. (And a great big thank you to Aunt Dolores and Uncle Billy for footing the bill for that. I could visibly see a weight being lifted off of Mom when they told her.) That moment, and many others before and after this day, cemented what Dad always said about funerals. He knew he didn't want one, but he would always go to ones his friends held because he knew it was for them, not the deceased. 

What I saw at that restaurant (above and beyond a large amount of Italian food, because this is my family we're talking about) was very important. 

Going back to the Kelly Carlin book, and how everyone felt like they were a part of her private loss. For me, it was the opposite. There was an overwhelming feeling that there was a huge hole in the universe...and most people seemed to not notice it. 

But at that restaurant, everyone knew and could feel that hole, but they could still talk, laugh and share together. The world still continued on. A more powerful demonstration was seeing that with a massive part of our family support structure suddenly taken from us forever, the whole thing didn't collapse. The support, the care, the love and the memories were still there. It was a perfect representation of Dad saying that funerals are for those who've lost people, not those that were lost. This made me realize its all the other parts of a gathering of loved ones outside of the ritual and ceremony that are the really important ones in getting through these hard times.

That summer Up the Lake was unsettling, as was the whole world, I guess. Being there did cushion the blow a small amount. Like Mom pointed out, when we were up there, it felt like those we lost were still with us, just not there at the moment. 

Dad had been talking about taking Anabelle to Disney since he declared four the perfect age. (Rosa and my presence was not a requirement.) We went with Mom that fall, and were reminded of Dad at every point. That was probably the start of the epic Disney family adventures to come, where we still think of Dad at every point.

Life went on, as it does. He's still gone, and it still sucks. What happened at the time is something I've never talked about, and reading Kelly Carlin's account brought it all to the forefront of my brain. Now that its out, I can go back to writing all the silly stuff I enjoy, and that Dad would forward to his co-workers after telling me, "You're an engineer, you ain't supposed to write this good." 

This one was for me. Therefore I'll end it with what I wrote for everyone else back then.

Jeff McGinley
This was really hard to do. No matter what I came up with, it seemed both too long, and too short; and something was always missing. Honestly, If Dad were here, he’d probably tell us all to go home and do something fun. This would end up as a big surprise to many, but surprising people was normal for the kid from Brooklyn who built himself up from so little to take care of us all so well. I think the reason for the frequent surprises was that he was so quiet most of the time. He was always thinking. He never stopped learning, and never stopped teaching. Only a couple weeks ago I called him while he was taking an on line class for work and he told me about a “creation of the universe” article he read, and then proceeded to tell me, again, the proper way to mow his lawn. He had so many strong feelings, but would hold them inside unless he thought it was important. This led to everything from my mom not finding out she wasn’t buying his favorite brand of tea for over ten years, to anyone trying to convince him that we needed to save the planet being barraged with a giant pile of facts figures and words I don’t want my daughter to know that he saved up for just such an occasion.
Because there was so much going on inside his head there were always hidden layers. Very few people knew he liked the song “Beautiful Dreamer” but even fewer knew it was because of its use in the film “Mighty Joe Young.” Some knew his favorite Disney movie was Bambi, but far fewer knew that as a kid some people called him “Thumper” because even then he was always asking questions. He gave me a couple of wonderful surprises that took my whole life to uncover. They even eclipsed his occasional displays of a never before used talent, like when Dad, who has been known to forget punch lines mid joke, got up at Tony’s birthday party and delivered an amazing stand up routine about learning to surf fish that brought the house down.
I was definitely surprised when I found out I followed his career path. One of the few things Dad got overly excited and animated talking about was solving problems with computers at work. They’ve been in his blood pretty much since they were invented. Any telephone rep who tried to tell him “the computer made a mistake” would end up getting surprised by a whopping technical lecture. We all said the best he looked when he was in the hospital two years ago  was when he was calling work  to tell them, “Don’t touch anything; I know exactly what’s wrong.”  It may be because of this that a large number of friends and relatives, even after 20 years of engineering school and work assume I do, “something with computers.”  Recently whenever I’d talk to him about career advice, he’d stress the importance of being close to home, being there for, and supporting my family, and enjoying what I do. And I realized that as a kid, that’s all I really knew about Dad’s job, and that the details of what he did there weren’t the important part, just that I wanted to be like him in the important ways when I grew up.
Dad was a great brother and uncle and a great friend. He was always ready for a poker game, or to do a tax return or clean a refrigerator. [or just spend quality time.] He was also a wonderful husband and partner to mom. The two of them raised a family that is really close.  I don’t think people comprehend how close a family they built. The last time the 4 of us went to Disney World together, Kim and I were both in our twenties. We spent almost two weeks together. Really, on all the rides, attractions and all the meals. We stayed together the whole time, because we wanted to just like every other vacation. Who does that? We do, we wouldn’t have done it any other way. We even have family conversations about comic book characters and events, although Dad’s main contribution to those were, “You know these people are fictional, right?” However, he excelled at tracking down entertainingly bad movies for us to watch together. While I was away at college, and I’d call home, mom often said “Did Dad find a movie for us to see when you get home!”  (It was always “US” even if they watched it first alone, it didn’t count unless we saw it together.) The McGinley New Years Eve party continues to be all of us, over at their house, watching stupid movies together from our vast library. (Actually that’s pretty much any time we get together, except on New Years we pause the film to watch the ball drop) As close as we were there was always room for more. The Up the Lake crew, and Jesse, who Dad always called their “.5 son”; he acted like a “Dad “ to them all. And of course Rosa and Dave were both welcomed into this craziness and treated as their own children. 
Based on all this I was always convinced that what he was truly best at was being a Dad. He was as proud of us as we were of him. His office and wallet were full of a history of family pictures all our lives. From advising Kim and I about family and homeowner stuff, back to starting out in our adult lives, college questions, going to all of Kim’s sporting events, helping us with homework, taking us on trips. All the way back to stumbling though Moose Juice and Goose Juice over and over again no matter how many times we asked…  There’s no way I could imagine that he could possibly be better at anything else than being a Dad. But he had a really big surprise in store for us. Over all that time, with all the love and care he gave us, it turns out there was something he was even better at.
Being a Grandpa. 
I could never repay him for everything he gave me, all I can do is try to give my daughter the same love support and examples that he gave me.
Thank you for everything Dad. I love you.

No comments: