“Heaven just got a little more dapper.”

It’s been a helluva week, friends. An emotional roller-coaster with thrills and chills and hairpin curves, deep plunges into darkness and peaks so high that Heaven was at eye level. But throughout the heart-stopping ride, my family and I have been surrounded by love and light. Truly.

We were all with DooDaddy when he drew his last breath. My brother flying in from Vail, my sister driving over from Memphis. There were sweet songs and precious stories, laughter and tears. Unexpected visitors appeared like the night nurse from Independent Living who hadn’t seen Dad in months. He stood there with eyes overflowing and bid an emotional farewell to our father.

“We had lots of good conversations,” Adam said. “We talked about my wife, my children, my house. You don’t know what a remarkable person your dad is.”

Oh, but we do.

Only when Mac Bower, beloved grandson, apple of DooDaddy’s eye, arrived and held his grandfather’s hand and told him goodbye, did our patriarch leave this world. He lived just long enough to see Kentucky break its 31-year losing streak to Florida. It was glorious.

We are bereft but at peace, knowing DooDaddy is reunited with Gmamma in paradise. No doubt she asked him what took him so long. Then they toddled off together to the heavenly bridge table, where he took his seat as her partner, the angelic foursome finally complete. His hands no longer clumsy with arthritis, shuffling like a boss. Gmamma keeping score.

Near the end of his life, my father could no longer walk or care for himself. Finally, he couldn’t swallow. Or even breathe. He was in respiratory failure. But he was steadfast in his gratitude. Always thankful. Counting his blessings. Friday night I drove straight to Shannondale from the airport with my heart in my throat. Dad was gasping for breath, like a fish out of water, but the first thing he said when he awoke to find me there was, “Thank you for coming, sweetie.” I sat with him as he grasped at nothing, clearing invisible spiderwebs around his head. He greeted strangers I couldn’t see and kept saying over and over again, “Thank you. Why, thank you.”

DooDaddy left before his voice left him. That charming conversationalist, who was never at a loss for words, could barely speak above a croaky whisper, but he was spared the final indignity of muteness. His last solid food was Domino’s pizza, the week before with Mac and me. His last meal was breakfast on Saturday morning. I spoon-fed him his favorite sunny-side up eggs – but without the requisite sausage crumbles. He threw me a little shade for that, because Food Matters A Lot.

Dad’s half-sister Marynelle miraculously called the day Dad died, before sweet Stephanie, the hospice nurse, administered the morphine (pronounced “mor-PHINE” in The Doo’s Southern drawl). I held his flip phone to his ear. He struggled with his words but smiled when she told him she loved him. I took the phone and walked into the hall.

“Laura, I didn’t know till I read your book how Randy felt abandoned,” she told me. “My mother would have loved to have taken him in. How different all our lives would have been.”

I got a text Sunday morning after Dad died. A friend had had a visitation from my father in her morning meditation. She said he would not cross over till after all the festivities, “in true Doo style.” So, we celebrated him and cried and remembered him and clung to each other and to all of you. Your texts and calls and messages, your Facebook posts, the orchid love, the gorgeous “Southern” arrangement from Anne and the Flower Guild at First Church. So fitting.

Felt the love BIG TIME from Team Tombras, especially #TeamLori. There was even a visit to the Mermaid Cottage from a little mermaid, who charmed my family like a siren from the rocks. Lolo had us in stitches for hours, cuz she’s funny like dat 😉

Libby, your Bundt cake sustained us. As did the wine, dear Barbara and sweet Patrice. And your honey-baked hugs, Kris and Angelia. Malinda, you’ve been with me for the whole journey.

There was profoundly meaningful Reiki from Caroline. A walk with Becky, my childhood friend and Dad’s devoted volunteer caregiver. More wine. And Co-Colas in wee glass bottles. Platillero hugs and prayers, which are extra powerful, because Nona lives on in her children, my cousins.

Katheryn and Jerry, you took in my sick son to make room from my brother – words are inadequate for all your many kindnesses. Lizzy D., you are my constant. Did I mention wine? Homemade pimento cheese and lasagna, croissant love, chocolate, cake, Ham’n Goodys, dog toys, thoughtful cards, kind words, more wine and even a bottle of Dalwhinnie in the mailbox from an old friend.

Seeing each of you in the receiving line at Mann’s. Friends of Dad’s from Watson’s. John P. Carter. Rotary. First Pres. Coldwell Banker Wallace & Wallace. Downtown. Shannondale. Friends of mine from Sequoyah. Webb. UT. Edfinancial. Tombras. Yoga. Old Knoxville (pun intended). So. Much. Love.

Eileen, just back from Brevard, reverently arranged the music my father had carefully chosen for his funeral, rounding up opera singers like a mini-maestro and orchestrating the perfect musical send off for DooDaddy, who loved opera and appreciated the exquisite nuances of trained voices. A cappella. God’s glory expressed through the artistry of earthly angels.

And when the day finally came, our well-intentioned pastor (bless his heart) sang loudly over the world-class soloist during our father’s favorite hymn, “Here I Am, Lord,” turning it into a singalong. I could hear Dad whispering, “Now, sweetie,” in my ear. I said a silent prayer in the sweltering sun for patience and tolerance, because Dad (and God) would want me to. I listened to the pastor’s words about treating the corporeal body, Dad’s remains, with reverence and solemnity. And I exhaled anger and inhaled gratitude. For my father and his life well lived.

When we got to the gravesite, the Keeling family plot, so peaceful and perfect, the pastor accidentally dropped Dad into the open tomb, like a bungled football in the end zone. So much for reverence and solemnity. It was surreal. Dad’s urn spinning like a dreidel at the bottom of the gaping red-clay maw. I half expected to see DooDaddy rise from the grave in a poof of ashes, perhaps a cloud of dark smoke like a genie from a bottle. The rest is a blur. Several grown men lay on their bellies in their suits reaching down, down into the cavernous cavity to right the urn. Yes folks, it’s deeper than you think.

But just as DooDaddy always rose to the occasion, my family and I walked out of the cemetery with our heads held high into the loving arms of Emily and Abner, David and Judith and dearest friends, Bob and Diana, who hosted a farewell luncheon for our father, just as they did for our mother. And it was Perfect. In. Every. Way.

Franklin Randolph Mansfield March 24, 1930-September 8, 2018