At the risk of coming over all morbid, I’ve elected to post my thoughts about our family friends recent demise over the next couple of days. If you don’t like descriptions of dead people and bereavement, stop reading right now and pick something a little more light hearted off the sidebar.
Todays unpleasant little task was the formal identification of our friend before cremation. Just to make sure we get the right pile of grey granular dust from the crematorium on Saturday.
Mrs S and I arrived at the funeral Directors at three as arranged, and were shown into a very comfortable side room. Our newly widowed friend elected to come with us, even after she’d said she wouldn’t. “Okay, here’s the drill.” I said after we had settled on the sofa. “I’ll go in, do the formal identification as agreed, and if everything’s okay, I’ll call you in.” Mrs S and Widowed friend nodded approval and I was shown into the little side room where our old friend lay.
My first thoughts were how like a manikin he looked; all dressed and tidy in his old Royal Canadian Navy dress uniform. Patent leather shoes polished to a brilliant shine. Hair and beard neatly trimmed to match an old passport photo. Crisp white shirt with uniform tie perfectly knotted. Quite an array of medal ribbons, including (I’m told) a DSO, on his dress blue jacket with Chief Petty Officers badges embroidered on the lapels. All smart and polished, yet lying in a cheap chipboard box. The pallid waxy and mottled complexion with dark pink filmed blue patches under his fingernails. Knobble jointed fingers with fading bruises under the skin where in his penultimate confused delirium, he’d lashed out at everything. Cheekbones standing proud above cheeks collapsed into shallow bowls, mouth and eyelids open just a hairs width, and so terribly, irrevocably still. Looking like all the life had been forcibly vacuumed from his earthly husk. Which is what I was looking at. A very smartly presented shell. Not the sharply humorous and bluff old cove I first met over four years ago. Mrs S of course, has known him since she was very young, when she first came to Canada.
After a few moments checking that all was neat and there was nothing apart from the inertia of flesh, I was moved to remark to the empty room; “My, my old mate. You do spiff up well.”
After a moments considered pause I went to tell the girls it was okay to view. Leading them into the little viewing room, I let the Widow grab hold of my hand for comfort, then let she and Mrs S go and see for themselves. There were subdued tears, and a few sniffs, but the major dam breach of heartbreak had spent itself on Monday night, and this was simply a further closing of the door between past and future. For my own part I felt a smaller tightness in the throat than seeing him ekeing out his last moments on a hospital bed. Yet the last bit of grieving was still palpably there.
My only criticism was perhaps the funeral home might have improved their presentation by draping the naked chipboard cremation shell with a cloth or something. Five dollars for a sheet for him to lie on whilst waiting for his last trip through the crematorium might not have made such a difference to their margins, and made it look like they cared a little more; even if what they do is ‘Just a job’ as one of my workmates commented earlier in the day.
We dropped the widow back at her house, and Mrs S went on a short errand, leaving us to talk about her deceased husband. I recounted my own experiences of bereavement. You know, the little hallucinations the brain creates to take your mind off the pain of loss. Hearing the voice of a departed love, seeing them out of the corner of your eye in quiet unguarded moments. Even holding conversations with them just as you’re drifting off to sleep or daydreaming. The sound of their voice reconstructed from memory and used by your sneaky subconscious to spur you into a specific course of action, and how they fade, but never quite go away.
She seemed comforted, and talked about moving forward into a future of her own. The house will go of course, and she’s been packing stuff to go to the Salvation Army and local Thrift stores. I’ve seen her new apartment, with its view over the nicer end of a lake. It was to have been for two, but her husband of many years did not live long enough. Still, I wish her what joy she can find, and hope we get an invitation to lunch occasionally.
Did I mention the care home sports a very pleasant restaurant. High end Canadian care homes are more like fully serviced apartment blocks, including shops, hairdressers libraries and gyms. I believe the one our widowed friend is about to enter has a physiotherapist and full time nurse on duty.
She is moving on, and that is as it should be.