Monday, March 3, 2008

'The Man' Tales - My Father's Funeral

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.


dawn said...

Why am I so often the first to comment? I think funerals bring out the best and worst in people and not always the same people. You can't make everyone happy, and often those who don't do, seem to have the energy to criticize those who used their energy to do.

Sweet Irene said...

Your family never ceases to amaze me with their dysfunctional actions. Now you were left to arrange the funeral of a man who didn't want you near him and for a mother who didn't like you. I don't understand how that works. I wonder if I am missing a part of my powers of comprehension.

Amy said...

I agree with Dawn. Death and funerals bring out the best and worst. I didn't cry at all at my dad's funeral. My mom let fly with the F word and my nephew decided he didn't want to come at the last minute. And we all adored my dad.

I Beatrice said...

I adored my father, who had a capacity for, and a largeness of life that I have seldom seen in any other person. But when he died, it was in New Zealand, and I was over here in England heavily pregnant with my third child.

I was unable to attend his funeral, and because nobody over here knew him, it was as if he had lived and died without causing the merest ripple upon the surface of the earth. I had to grieve for him alone, and it nearly broke my heart.

Because of this, I have always understood the importance of funerals in helping people to come together both to celebrate, and mark the end of a life. But perhaps this didn't happen for you?

Canadian flake said...

Wow you must have an amazing inner strength...I don't know how you do it.

I am sure this might not be easy memories to relive....but maybe sharing will help somehow.

Lane said...

I echo Sweet Irene. The bitterness of some of your family amazes me.
I admire your strength aims in not succumbing to that and doing what you did. You should be proud of that.

Rob Hopcott said...

Death and grieving affects people in so many different and strange ways.

I remember how badly it affected me, when my mother died.

But, at least, as time passes so does the pain and perhaps relations with your family may be easier later on.

I hope so :-)

The Rotten Correspondent said...

My father's funeral was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I wrote about it at the time but can't find it. I think I'm going to double up my efforts to find it.

You're right, though. It's not an ending. It's a whole new beginning.

Potty Mummy said...

Sounds like you handled it extremely gracefully Aims. I hope that when the time comes for me to deal with this stuff, I'm as strong.

dND said...

I admire your inner strength.

As they say, your friends you can choose, family.........!


Sniz said...

Such an interesting way you related this. Very true, very honest. Thanks for sharing it. And thanks for stopping by my blog!

Living the Dream said...

Once again, as always, brilliant honest writing. You are a very strong person and I am proud to know you, if only in this blogging world.

A Mother's Place is in the Wrong said...

Oh Lord, aims, there's always another drama to survive and another hurdle for you to climb over. How do you do it? M xx.

travelling, but not in love said...

Just horrible. At my dad's funeral my Mom just stood by the grave and said 'what do I do now?' over and over again. Awful.

And families go weird around funerals. Too weird. I guess that grief hits everyone so differently that we all just show our true selves...

Breezy said...

Good old Cid what a friend

John-Michael said...

It is gratitude that you have reminded me of ... gratitude for that moment when I had the quiet realization "I was created to be Me ... that's all! ... not the thing or person of anyone else's expectations or values." And from that time on, I have answered to Life ... and to my Self for the job that I am doing at Being Me. When I've been the best Me that I am able to Be, in any given circumstance or situation, ... I give my Self a "Well done!" And everyone else can simply deal with it (or not ... their choice.)

All of that said to say ... YOU HAVE BEEN A TERRIFIC YOU! (and I am proud to know You ... REALLY!!)

aims said...

Dawn - Why is this so often the case?

Irene - Why wasn't it already planned when it was obvious he was going to die sooner than later?

Amy - Apparently funerals will do it to many families...

Dearest B - Your story touched my heart dear friend. "lived and died without causing the merest ripple" - that made me especially sad.

CF - None of these stories have been easy to tell again.

Lane - I hope I did the right thing.

Rob - Thank you for visiting and commenting! Unfortunately time did not heal...

RC - I hope you post it on your blog. As for the beginning - well it certainly was different..

Potty Mum - I think when the time comes we all act differently than we thought we were going to.

Deborah - Isn't that the best saying?! Thanks for your comment!

Sniz - and nice to see you here too!

Hazel - Believe me - it was a hard one to write..

Margot - I don't know how I kept going...truly I don't.

TBNIL - I wondered if it was grief I was seeing - or greed.

Breezy - You said it!

John-Michael - I know that I have gone through my life trying to BE me - and if others don't like it - I've finally learned to say - ah well.

lisa marie said...

Wow. That last sentence. . .wow.

aims said...

Lisa Marie - Which sentence?

Popkins said...

Oh, Aimsy....I know I know...did I ever tell you Mom and I took a cab to Baltimore to pick out Dad's coffin...and I got in a tiff with the rabbi...some shit, eh?

But the good thing, the great thing, was he knew we loved him truly in life and appreciated him. And you done good in life for both your folks....not just lip service at a funeral. That's what's vital.

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