I watched in amazement as the family fell apart. I wasn’t surprised by my mother’s reaction – even though she had declared many times that she was going to leave him and wanted a divorce. In the end they were a couple of months short of being married for 50 years. It was my siblings that surprised me so much.
When it became obvious that no one was going to take the responsibility of arranging the funeral, I gathered my strength together once more and headed off to the funeral home. The funeral director was kind and I marveled at his capacity to deal with grieving relatives. I kept asking him if I was doing okay as I blew my nose at unexpected moments. The fact that his body was lying somewhere in the same building kept popping in to my mind and all I could see was the way he looked at the end. Like he was sleeping. I kept thinking he was sleeping inside a coffin somewhere behind me in this huge building.
I had to make all the decisions about the funeral myself and I knew I would be judged on everything I did. I picked out a picture for the front of the little memorial leaflet that reminded me of the country around our tourist resort in Sudbury. I knew my mother and brother would see why I had done that. Then I picked out music that I knew my mother loved – pieces she had played at church. When it came time for me to sign the cremation papers, I hesitated. I had chosen cremation as I knew they didn’t have any plots arranged and I thought that we could perhaps spread his ashes on the farm that he loved so much. But still, that image of him sleeping kept popping into my head and interfering. In the end I scribbled my name and prayed that I wouldn’t be criticized for my choice. Then, as Dad had been a Sergeant in WW2, the director and I arranged for a piper and a honor guard from the Legion.
I was not alone with my tears as the bagpipes wailed Amazing Grace. The sound filled the entire building and reached down inside our hearts. My mother smiled at me gratefully as we sat behind our curtain and watched the Honor Guard march down the center aisle with quiet dignity and pay their respects to my father’s remains. When the minister called on anyone to come up and give their thoughts on my father, I rose and headed to the podium.
“As most of you know, my father was not an easy man to get along with. But because of him, we have all become the people we are today. His strength and determination made us what we are.”
I sat down again knowing I had not been able to say exactly what I meant. But everyone who sat in front of that curtain nodded when I said he was not an easy man to get along with. Behind the curtain was a different story. When I got up the nerve to look over at my mother, she was glaring at me. I knew I would be hearing about it later.
We held the reception at the big blue barn. I had stayed behind to collect the picture of my father and to receive the urn that my brother had made and that now held my father’s ashes. ‘N’ and her husband took me for a drive in the country. I sat with the urn on my lap and screamed that I wanted them to take me to see John’s ex-wife so I could show her what life was all about. When I had regained my composure, they took me back to the barn and the reception.
Cid was serving tea and cake and making the rounds and doing all the right things for me. My siblings and mother were like wooden dolls as they listened to condolences and sipped their tea. When everything finally caught up to me, I lit the fire and collapsed on the couch, finally drifting off into sleep. The heat from the fireplace soon cleared all the visitors and I awoke to find Cid washing china teacups and putting away the desserts. He took us all out for supper and afterwards took me home and sat with his arm around me. I snuggled into his shoulder and inhaled his smell and tasted his lips that offered the condolences I really needed. When I was calm again – he made the long drive back to Edmonton.
The sister who had called repeatedly from Toronto? She didn’t come to the funeral. But two days later she was calling again insisting that she get her share of the farm – then and there. Mom handed the phone to me and I set it aside and ignored the words that came from the earpiece.
I thought his death would be the end and the beginning of so many things in my life – but I was wrong.