Coffin Confabulation



Etymology: L, con + fabulari, to speak

The fabrication of experiences or situations, often recounted in a detailed and plausible way to fill in and cover up cognitive impairment or memory loss, which may be caused by alcoholism, especially in people with Korsakoff’s psychosis; head injuries; dementia; or lead poisoning. Also called fabrication.

Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, 8th edition. © 2009, Elsevier.

My father did not have any teeth. After he left Texaco we could not afford insurance and the dentist became a luxury. I suppose that drinking Pepsi  morning, noon and night and smoking two packs of cigarettes a day contributed to his teeth falling out.

Daddy was not a vain man. He did not care about what people thought of him.

At our engagement party my father did not wear his teeth. My father in-laws best friend, Oliver,  asked him, “Where in the hell are your teeth?”

My father reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his false teeth and said,

“They are right here.”

My father was instantly accepted by my father in laws tribe. My husband and I both grew up in alcoholic families that lived outside the mainstream much of the time. Daddy fit in and so did I.

a week before my wedding my father called.

“ I need to ask you a very important question but first I want you to know that I love you honey and I would do almost anything for you.”

My father loved us deeply and was an unusual man for his generation. He had been a handsome football playing, intelligent, hooligan in high school. He was a man of the 50’s in so many ways. He was also easily emotional. He told  us often how much he loved us. He would cry when he said it

Regarding his question about our wedding I said, “Go ahead Daddy; just say it.”

“This is the thing honey, I can only do one of two things at your wedding; I can either wear a tuxedo or my teeth. I can’t do both.”

I opted for tux because I knew his false teeth were painful and truth told, I knew he wouldn’t wear them anyway.

That was Daddy.

Daddy did not care what he wore.

On the day my father was to be cremated, we delivered the coffin we had built with love to the funeral home early in the morning.

We had taken Mommy to the mall the day before and she had chosen an outfit to wear to Daddy’s funeral. I had forgotten my shoes in the rush to get to Mommy; I bought beautiful Tahari pumps; Come Fuck Me Shoes. We were ready.

Once the coffin had been delivered, we returned to the house to get ready, My sister, Carrie and I gathered Daddy’s clothes. Daddy always wore levis and a blue workshirt with boat shoes. When he was building furniture, he wore jeans and a Hanes tee.

We had his clothes ready to go. The mortician needed Daddy’s clothes.

We took the clothes to the living room and were putting them in a bag when Mommy came in the room carrying Daddy’s suit, dress shoes and dentures.

We had discussed the night before what Daddy would wear on his journey; it was a sure bet and the entire family had agreed. Daddy always wore the same thing. This was another easy decision; building the Coffin and what Daddy would wear. Easy.

Mommy threw the bag of clothes on the floor and said;

“Your father always wore one of his suits and this is his favorite. Bill would want to wear his Florsheims. I have packed his favorite tie also.”

We were stunned. We tried to explain to Mommy that Daddy never wore a suit and that the decision had been made.

“Your father ALWAYS wore a suit.” was her response.

There we were again; caught in this weird place with Mommy. We did not have any idea at the time what  the hell was happening.

Andrea, Carrie and I went into the office. We discussed what to do. We realized that this funeral was not for us and that Daddy would want Mommy as comfortable as possible. The suit it would be.

The last time, the only time, Daddy had worn the suit, was at Andrea’s wedding; one of the happiest days in our family history. There was that.

Seeing Daddy in a suit in the Coffin we had built with love was an odd thing. Mommy insisted that we prop daddy’s dress shoes on his  edge of his feet.

The rest of the family hid his beloved things under his body: his Denver Broncos knit hat, his cigarettes, a can of Pepsi and photos of all of us. Mommy would never know that we had sent Daddy on his way with supplies. When she looked in the Coffin all she saw was her husband, with his dentures in and a suit on. She was satisfied.

When we looked in we saw an empty shell that had been a man we all deeply loved. Daddy was gone and we were left to pick up the pieces. We had NO idea that day just how many pieces we would end up gathering.

Wernicke – Karsokoffs Syndrome. Alcoholics Dementia.

Pieces. An awful lot of pieces that will never again be a whole.

~ by Step On a Crack on October 29, 2011.

14 Responses to “Coffin Confabulation”

  1. What a generous response to your mom’s wishes. It says so much about your heart. Your dad would be proud.


    • Hello There! It is amazing how often I make decisions based on WWDD What Would Daddy Do. He was not a religious man and would say he was not spiritual: He also walked the walk of a man of faith. I miss him so much and have to remind myself that I am Bill Winkel’s daughter. He lives on in the ways I choose to live my life. Our decision says more about my dad than it does about us I think.

      Mommy was so obviously confused too. It was painful to watch this play out in the early years without a clue why she behaved in such odd ways. Now we know. Thank God for sobriety.

      xxx Jen


  2. I wish i’d know your dad better. I love the denture stories… Good memories of Your fine loving man. Andrea is a miracle. I hardly knew her, and i’m so proud.

    You raised a wonderful family. I’m glad your mom could pick out a suit, and shoes.

    Thank goodness for your dad and your Andrea …

    xoxoox mel


    • Amen Sister! Without my family I would be a mess. Mommy loved to shop and that is why we took her to get an outfit. We thought it would bring her out a bit and it did while we were in the mall. She chose a beautiful Eileen Fisher outfit. in WHITE which is very odd as Mommy only wears black. She approved of my shoe choice and that made her happy too. We do what we do ehh? xxx Jen


  3. Beautiful.
    Every single act weighed against love, carefully measured to fulfill all the requirements of fairness.
    Such a blessing.


  4. Jenn, Paul and I were talking about the intensity and power in your posts. I mentioned how I find myself looking for them, the next chapter in a book you can’t put down. I sometimes forget I was there for most of it. You have helped greatly in Paul understanding our Winkel ways. Thank You. Some how we are grower stronger and closer with your words. You, as always, are helping your family and Strangers. Thank You! I Love you to the moon and back.


    • Don’t make me cry ok.. You made me wear mascara, remember?

      I miss you. I love you. I always have and I always will.


      • Hey hey now I tried for 20 years to ‘make’ you wear mascara. Trish is the miracle worker who convinced you. Not me. Plus fair to say I’ve shed more tears because of your bb (brilliant blog) then you my comments.
        however I am again thankful to the end. Through. Your holding my hand through….not around. But guess what I’m holding yours also. And this time we will make it all the way through to the beginning. We will not be dissuaded by bullets. This time there will be no bullets.
        Ok the beginning is near let’s go… not long now….


  5. I am so fortunate to be able to read your beautiful stories. You are living your life with thought and respect for others.


    • Oh, GD. Thank you a million bazillion times. I can’t tell you how much you stopping by means. Maybe you know. I think you do and that is why you are here. Angel Woman. Friend.

      Peace. Jen.


  6. Another beautifully written piece, technically, emotionally, and spiritually. You have such a gift of possessing a stirring message and knowing how to communicate it so people listen and remember it. You really should think about collecting these family stories for publication.

    Don’t stop!


    • Dear Al,

      I was JUST thinking I don’t see how to continue. Thank you my friend. Writing, as you know, it shows in your writing, is a powerful transformational tool. Good times, bad times; writing helps make sense and hold what is precious. Even the pain is precious.

      Wow. See? Writing brings truth to the fore right? If I stop I will be left with the pain and it won’t appear as precious.

      Damn. Keep going is just like ‘keep coming back’ isn’t it?

      Thanks again, Al. You did it again. Do you charge a therapy fee?

      Best to the Mrs, jen


  7. This is a big part of why I don’t go to funerals anymore – it is often not about saying goodbye to the person who’s died

    but about survivors who try to re-image the deceased into how they would have liked them to have been

    or make the service about their comfort and beliefs

    regardless of the average of all the survivors or the deceased’s beliefs

    like losing someone isn’t bad enough unless someone is a drama queen who thinks they are the only one who’s lost the person or lost the most


    • DITTO that! I have lost so many people the last 6.5 years and it is amazing how weird people get at funerals. I am done. I believe that when my mother passes we will all take a trip to a beach and be together Now my mom does not have ANY friends so it is easier than when there are people needing closure BUT I say spend the money on the beach and be together. Avoid the whole Mess.


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