On Funerals and Saying Goodbye

The bass will swim safely knowing Gail isn’t there to catch them.


Selina Fluty

This is the table in my Pa’s old house with the photos from the memorial, as well as the gifted bouquets.

Selina Fluty, Editor of Student Opinion

I grew up lucky enough to know my great-grandfather, Gail Fluty. He was a man I remember as being kind, even when I was a 6-year-old with a taste for the York peppermint patties on his coffee table. I remember him taking us to grab oranges from the neighbor’s tree, because the people living there let them go to waste and he couldn’t stand for it. He bought groceries for those who needed them.

I remember him as a quiet, powerful presence in my life. At least, until my dad called him every three days like clockwork, and then he had to yell into the phone for Pa to hear. He spent his last years in Laramie, Wyoming, with my grandparents across the road.

Gail Floyd Fluty passed away at 91 on April 10, 2017. He was buried on Good Friday, four days later.

When my family and I stumbled onto the plane early the Wednesday before his burial, I had never been to a funeral and had no idea what to expect for Pa’s. The last time I went to Laramie, I was 13 and intimidated by the great-grandfather who fought in three wars: World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. I knew he had seen things on the high seas that I did not envy. I watched the dusty city of Phoenix peel away from me and disappear into the morning sky as I looked back on the past, comparing the fractured memories of Pa and what he meant to our family.

The days in Wyoming before the funeral were surprisingly bright. I drove a tractor as a nod to the last time I visited Laramie (although this visit I didn’t get to shoot barrels afterward). I played with dogs, met about 15 people who were apparently my family members, and met my dad’s sister, who nobody except her children had seen in 24 years. During the time, we went through old photographs that my great-grandmother had saved before she died in 1996. I saw a younger version of Pa, first as a father, then a grandfather. His hair grayed but his smile didn’t fade. Then we searched through old Facebook photos, where a photo of me as a baby, my father, and Pa ended up printed out at the memorial during the funeral. There was some sense of sorrow, but it was covered by the comforting blanket of nostalgia.

When the day of the funeral came, and when we started meeting people close to Pa, very few actually wore black except for my immediate family, my aunt, and my grandparents. Two people wore cowboy hats, and one of those two wore a bright yellow shirt. Several people wore suspenders, since Pa always had them on, even when he wasn’t going outside the house that day. My cousin Kaden wore a nice shirt with jeans since he and Pa had a long-running battle to see who would dress the sharpest. Before he had passed, he told his mother that since it would be his funeral, he should look the best and Kaden wasn’t allowed to win. It was a joke, but it was still reflected that day.

During the funeral, there was some crying, but there was also a surprising amount of laughter. Words I had written on my Instagram as a commemoration of Pa were read aloud, and others told funny stories of what Pa had done. The service was light. It was what Pa would have wanted.

Then, during the burial, Pa got the military salute. Sailors shipped from outside of Laramie were there to hold the flag over Pa’s coffin, fold it up with bullet shells encased inside, and give it to my grandfather. When it came time to begin to toss in the dirt, everyone threw in some. Kind words and stories were told, and final goodbyes were stated to the box in the grave, where Pa was buried alongside his wife (whom he shared a headstone with) and child. There was something uniting about the moment.

Everyone says that funerals are depressing, awkward, and boring. This wasn’t the case with the one I went to. Pa wasn’t there to see it, but there was a feeling of family. Of course, there was grief and tears, but there was also joking around and engaging the kids who were at the funeral. At the end of the day, it wasn’t sad. It was a celebration of Pa’s life.

Pa will be missed by a great many people. Gail Floyd Fluty was a man who influenced my life and how my father modeled his parenting practices. He was a staple of my childhood, even when he wasn’t living in Phoenix. He was proud, but not loud about it. Until his last moments, he was a fighter, and he was kind. That type of man does not fade into the dark without being remembered. But it’s nice to know that his funeral was not made only out of hopelessness and sadness. Instead, there was always someone smiling.

It’s what he would have wanted.

Rest in peace, Pa.