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Digging into heavy earth

tl;dr: I found my dad’s grave online today. I talk about that, tell a bit of story, and then repost the obituary that my mother wrote him in 1995.

So, a funny thing happened to me today. I found my father’s grave online. Yeah, that’s a thing that can happen, I guess.

I was googling my name to check on what pops up these days and then went over to the images search on Google. At first it didn’t even register. My father always went by his middle name, Jeff, and not his first name of Irvin and the caption of a grave stone read “Irvin Jeff Phippeny”. But, it slowly dawned on me exactly what I was looking at, and I went very cold inside.

My father died of cancer when I was 19 years old. It was April of 1995, and his death kicked off a whole adventure to get him back home. It was vitally important to him that he be buried on the reservation and in the family plot. He was pretty much penniless at the end, living on social security disability; and the cancer took its time. He had several months to contemplate the end. He would beg whomever would listen to get his body back to the family plot. I lot of people said yes, but only my mother really stepped up after he passed. She made all the arrangements, and she figured out the plan.

He died in Puyallup at the Good Samaritan Hospital and the graveyard is just outside Pocatello, Idaho. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a good two days drive. We drove the whole way there with a Uhaul trailer in tow — his body inside a glorified cardboard box with mothballs — personally bringing his last remains to their final place of rest. We broke down on the way and my mother fixed a leaking radiator hose with plastic bags and chewing gum on the side of lone highway in the dead of night. There were scraps, drunken encounters with the police, the shooting of guns and drinking of champagne by his grave, and a lot of thinking. All and all, I’m sure the old man wouldn’t have had it any other way.

It been 23 years now since we put him into the ground and said good bye. That family plot is so far out into the country, I didn’t know if I would ever find it again. To see a photo of it and get GPS coordinates today was just surreal.

As all children of departed parents, I often think about my dad, Irvin Jeff Phippeny. I really wish that he had gotten a little more time to see that kind of human being I grew into. When he died, I was a lost punk of 19. I’m sure that he would beam with pride, if he were still with us, and exhaust everyone with boasting stories about his son in Berlin, Germany: linguistic genius and computer wizard. The old man loved to exaggerate. Where ever you are dad, I’ll never stop missing you.

“Memories of you I will always keep,
God saw you were tired and put you to sleep.”

Here’s the obit my mom wrote him. I don’t totally agree with it, but it’s still a powerful piece of writing and it seems fitting to throw it back out into the world:

“Irvin Jeff Phippeny
I AM A BANNOCK INDIAN My forefathers were warriors. Their son is a warrior. I have danced my last warriors’ dance with death. I am a dinosaur in the 20th century. I am a man caught between two worlds. The world of my ancestors and the world of the white man. I have mourned a lifetime for the loss of my people, my culture, my religion and way of life. They have vanished as snow before a summer sun. There are no full bloods left in my tribe. I am a breed and my only son’s blood is even more diluted. I pray to my mother, the earth, that my war with the white man dies with me and my son is spared my pain. In my sorrow, O Great Spirit hear my cry, reunite me with my people and heal my heart, from this pain of separation. Let the memory of my tribe become a myth among the white man. For the white man would rather study the past than be present for the flash of the firefly in the night, the breath of the buffalo in the winter time or the beating of his heart in the silence of the dawn. Graveside services and interment will be at Lincoln Creek, Fort Hall Indian Reservation, Idaho.”

Pub Date: 4/27/1995

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