I really don’t know very much about funerals and have not been particularly invested in learning more. Of course I have attended more than a few over the years and will no doubt have to attend at least one more. But attending -whether involuntarily, or from grief- is different from understanding them.
The idea, is fairly straightforward: it’s a venue for grieving a loss, and at the same time celebrating the effect that the recently-departed had on those attending the ceremony. It is for the benefit of the living and not the dead, obviously, which accounts for the varieties of rituals enacted.
The options, in and of themselves, are welcome, I guess, but far from being helpful, do little to simplify the process. No longer a question of which coffin to choose, or whether to opt for a ceramic or metal urn to hold the ashes, it seems that the age-old bury or burn quandary has evolved into a highly nuanced labyrinth of choices -environmental concerns certainly not the least of these.
Of course, even after death, I suppose you still have some responsibilities -you never really retire.
I had kind of hoped that my kids would take care of things when the need arose, and yet, for some reason, they felt I should have a say in the matter. But I have to admit that it is considerably more difficult to reckon with things that will be completely out of my control, not to mention that I will, too… if I’ll still count as an ‘I’ when I’m probably not, that is.
“What do you suggest?” I asked my daughter, when she visited me one evening, hoping she had done some of the preliminary work on the matter.
“Daddy!” she italicized, and rolled her eyes. “It’s about what you want.”
I shrugged and attempted a wry smile. “I won’t be a me at that point, so I hardly think…”
“Daddy,” she interrupted with italics again, and shook her head in frustration. “I’m being serious. You have to tell me what you want done with…” She suddenly realized the insensitivity of talking about the then-no-longer-me like that.
She tried again, obviously embarrassed. “Couldn’t you just put your wishes in the will?”
I attempted an eye-twinkle, but to tell the truth I’ve never been very good at that. “I have, sweetheart. You and your brother each get half… Not of me, though -of the estate,” I added quickly, thinking it would be best to clarify.
She flicked her eyes at me and then called them back, only to send them scrabbling around on the floor. “Anyway, Daddy, you aren’t that old, and you’re still running and biking, so I mean why are we even talking about this?”
I shrugged and admitted it was the guys at Tim Hortons that had been talking about it.
Her eyes suddenly returned to her face and widened. “Timmies -the coffee shop, you mean?” She seemed surprised.
I nodded pleasantly at her interest.
She smiled and summersaulted her eyes this time -my daughter is big on ocular gymnastics. “Is that what you guys talk about when you get together?”
I nodded again. “Old guys anyway -especially if one of us dies.”
Her eyes turned to fried eggs on dinner plates. “One of them died?”
I smiled and followed that with a modest shrug. “It happens…”
She shook her head slowly, as if just realizing that I hung around with old men, or something. “Was he…” -she struggled for the right word- “was he… ill?” She said the word in a semi-whisper.
It was my turn to shake my head. “No, he fell off his bike -a stroke or something.”
She sent her eyes to my face again, but this time they lingered, flitting about my cheek looking for a place to land. “Fell off his bike…? Was he in traffic?”
I had to chuckle at that, much to her surprise. “No, George hated the outdoors -too cold, too rainy, or too hot… Depended on his mood I think.”
“But you said…”
“Gym,” I finished the thought for her. “He belonged to a health club.” My face brightened. “He got a good deal as a senior, he told us. Said he wanted to die healthy.”
“So…” She hesitated for a moment. “So how’s he… uhmm… What are the arrangements for him, do you know?”
I nodded once more. “Memorial service on Friday.”
“But…” She blushed and looked away for a second. “How’s he…?” She took a deep breath and continued. “I mean what are they going to…?
“Burned or buried, you mean?” I thought I’d better interrupt before she skewered herself again.
Her face turned a deep scarlet. “Daddy!” My daughter learned about italics from the nursery story books I used to read her, and she never let go.
I shrugged, and attempted another twinkle. “I think he wanted to surprise us.”
I could see she was getting frustrated with my evasions, so I realized it was time for a confession. “Actually, the guys have been debating the pros and cons of different methods for some time now.” I sat back in my chair to reminisce. “I’m not sure, but I think George said he was in favour of a sky burial -like in Tibet,” I clarified when I saw the confusion on her face. “Very eco he thought…”
I could see she was still puzzled. “They also call it ‘bird burial’ he said, because the body is placed on a mountain top, or wherever, so the vultures can recycle it.” I shook my head slowly. “I can’t see his wife going for that, though.”
My daughter was speechless for a moment. “But you’re not thinking of…”
“No, no, no, don’t worry about that.” I thought about it for a second. “Probably illegal here anyway, don’t you think?”
Her eyes just dinner-plated again, and stared at me.
I smiled disarmingly and stroked her hand. “But, come to think of it, one of the guys -I think it was Jason- came up with a good idea.”
A weak smile passed across her face then disappeared. “What… wolves?”
I had to laugh; my daughter can be really humorous when she puts her mind to it. “No, but I can’t say we ever thought of that… Actually, I could go for the tree planting thing, come to think of it. And it’s probably legal…”
Her face looked doubtful. “Probably?”
“Well, yes, I’m sure it is. You’re allowed a fair amount of leeway with ashes, I think.”
“So you take your -sorry, my– ashes and plant them in the dirt as if it were fertilizer along with a tree seed.”
She was silent for a time, obviously thinking about it.
“Apparently it doesn’t affect the DNA of the tree, or anything…” I figured I’d better tell her that.
She stayed silent, studying my face as if it were a book -well, maybe more to see if I was just kidding her.
“And the tree grows normally -no green photosynthetic hands popping out instead of leaves, or anything…”
She started to laugh. “So we’ve solved the problem, eh?”
I started to smile. “I guess we just have to talk about these things, don’t we?”
Suddenly, she reached over and hugged me. And as she was leaving that evening, she did something I’d never been able to do with any success: she twinkled.
So I guess it’s all settled now -I can get on with my life.
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