The Rev. Lawton Posey: My dad's 'Final Suit' wasn’t what he expected
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It was in October of 1984 that I drove down to South Carolina to visit my parents, who lived in the Presbyterian Home in Summerville. They had lived a long time there, and my father was 94 years old. My mother, somewhat younger, was just 80.
Daddy was in good spirits and in relatively good health for his age. He had slowed down considerably, and his vision was undergoing changes from arterial hardening in his brain. All in all, he was remarkable. As a young man he had worked as brakeman and conductor on the Southern Railway. Later, he performed various farm-related jobs that involved management skills, mechanical agility, and the ability to ride a horse with his collie dog mounted on the saddle. Later in life, after the Depression, my father worked at various jobs until he was hired by the Navy Yard to be a member of the civilian fire department. In his uniform, he was so very handsome.
All of that was years before. He had been retired for almost thirty years and enjoyed life.
My visits were often quiet affairs, with conversation about things happening in The Home and about his earlier life. I wish now that I had asked more questions.
The conversation on that October day took an interesting turn.
"Son," he said. "I need to talk about a suit."
Daddy was a natty dresser, so I figured that he needed some new duds so that he would look good at the Sunday services.
"What kind of suit?" I asked.
His answer was quickly made. "A funeral suit," he said. Did I detect a twinkle in his bright blue eyes?
Leading him on, I asked, "Whose funeral?"
I don't remember exactly how the conversation ended, but surely I assured him that the proper arrangements would be made when the time came.
A month later, a large blood vessel in his abdomen leaked, and he fell to the floor. Soon placed in an infirmary bed, he was visited by my mother who told me that Daddy looked tired, and then seemed to fall asleep.
When I arrived at the Home, I immediately checked his closet, and there was the suit. Marked "Final Suit," it was a light tan summer suit. However, when he was placed in the coffin, he was not wearing the "Final Suit," but rather a blue blazer and checked pants. Nobody looks great lying in a long box, but Daddy looked OK. I guessed that the staff at the Home felt that he must wear a darker color, since it was autumn.
The "Final Suit" and his other things were probably sent to those who might need something to wear to church, or a wedding, or a funeral.
I have often told this story to others. For me, it was emblematic of Daddy's rather practical approach to life. He loved life. The old time church hymns were much favored, and he sang them with gusto. He rarely talked about the specifics of religion. He had grown up in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and in later years he joined up with the Presbyterians. The only time I ever heard him pray aloud was when I attended his Sunday school class, where in a rather strained and uncertain voice, he thanked God for a nice day.
I believe, in my heart of hearts, that he did not fear death. He may have feared becoming a total invalid. Death had its sting, as Paul the Apostle wrote in First Corinthians 15:55, but this imperfect, sometimes tempermental man had made his peace, and in a couple of hours after his fall, he closed his eyes for good.
We do not get to choose the manner of our deaths, do we? We may have a varied lot of understandings about the nature of death, and the Life Everlasting. Perhaps it was his great age. Perhaps it was his inability to watch his beloved daily baseball games on TV. Perhaps he was just tired after all that work.
Surely his blue blazer suited him. Each time I wear the same sort of jacket, I think of him, and hope that when it comes my time, I shall be at peace, as he was.
Posey is a retired minister who lives with his wife Bridget in Charleston. Email is firstname.lastname@example.org