"This is my father, the greatest dad in the world," said Amy Williams as she gestured towards her father, beat writer and philosophy professor Jean Antoine Morrison.
The open casket Williams pointed toward was placed in front of the font within the large sanctuary of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Chapel Hill last Friday, Oct. 3. A folded American flag was placed near Morrison's serene profile.
The small gathering of roughly 45 family members, friends and neighbors bore witness to the quiet liturgy of a man whose energies could either surge brilliantly or brutally, depending on circumstance, but always with an unbridled fervor. But more importantly, it was also honoring how he rediscovered his daughter after a painful and often brutal history, spending the last three years together in Chapel Hill.
Williams' early relationship with her father was the subject of her first film, The Morrison Project, an unflinching personal documentary that was shown in Chapel Hill this May and is now winding its way through several film festivals in New York.
In it, Williams examines her family's tenure in New York City's East Village in the 1960s, when it was largely a poverty-stricken, Puerto Rican neighborhood. Morrison worked on a novel, and dove head-first into a lifestyle punctuated with a drug-induced, sex-fueled mad rush of ideas. Morrison's energies turned volatile after one of his lover's husbands beat him to the point of being brain damaged. In the resulting fallout, the only two copies of his novel were destroyed and he began beating his six children regularly--on top of the beatings the children received in the neighborhood.
Each of the six Morrison children began relationships with drugs, and Williams left home at 15, eventually marrying and raising a family. As Morrison aged and needed supervision, Williams decided to care for her father eight years ago, became drug-free shortly thereafter, and documented her family's past with The Morrison Project.
It's often said that funerals are more about providing closure for the deceased's loved ones than anything else. Yet Williams' reflection at her father's liturgy was less about finding closure than it was honoring the healing she and her father had done after he came under her care. She had found closure already, and all that was left was an immense gratitude for forging a real relationship with her father when she had the chance.
"He taught me to be emotional about everything. He gave me that," Williams said during her reflection. "I'm proud to say that he was my father."