Everything Pedde

   S J Pedde Canada  S.J. Pedde

Final Goodbyes... an Encore

Dear Zachary:

On December 19, 1998, you and I stood side by side in the vestibule of the Christian Life Assembly, a church in Port Colborne, Ontario.  Behind us, in rows comprising immediate family first, then more distant relatives, then friends of the family, stood another fifty or so people.  Before us, in an open casket, lay my father, your Opa.  As everyone watched, your little hands, the inexperienced and innocent hands of a six-year-old, turned a crank that lowered the lid of the coffin until Opa’s resting visage disappeared from view, never to be seen again.

I involved you in that moment and in that act deliberately.  I wanted you to understand the finality of death, that family and friends need to be appreciated, imperfect as they might be, while they were still walking and breathing and living among us.  As you concentrated with solemn efficiency on the task at hand, I marvelled at your poise and composure.

You and I had had numerous discussions about death before that winter day.  I always thought it prudent to prepare you in advance because, on the day you were born in 1992, Opa was already eighty-seven years old, less than a month away from his eighty-eighth birthday.  Oma had turned seventy-eight three weeks earlier.  I wanted you to be prepared, however distant the eventual demise of either Oma or Opa might have seemed at the time.  Longevity, on both sides of my family, is common, almost expected.  Your great-great-uncle in Alberta just turned 101 years old and still lives by himself.  He voluntarily surrendered his drivers licence when he turned 100. 

But no-one lives forever.  Oma and Opa didn’t.  I won’t, and neither will you.  Parting with loved ones is always difficult, even when they die in their nineties or later.  Losing Opa was difficult and we all still miss him, very much.

I never really felt that I was able to say proper goodbyes to Opa.  In the final weeks before his death, his thoughts became jumbled and he often didn’t know where he was.  The lucidity that he enjoyed well into his 94th year vanished in the last months of his life.  When he died, your Oma, your aunt Wanda and I in the room with him, he expired in a foggy, drugged sleep, unaware of what was happening and who was with him.  We had all been expecting him to die and no-one was surprised when he did, but I never really had a sense of closure.
Two nights ago, I had a dream.  My dreams are often long, complex affairs, wandering hither and yon through landscapes both real and fanciful , my neural synapses firing away merrily, agitated neurons trying to create order from the chaos of my daily life. In short, my dreams are often weird.

In this dream, Opa was lying on the floor of our kitchen.  I was kneeling beside him, listening to him talk.  I knew, in the dream, that he had died years earlier, but there was nothing at all troubling or disquieting about the dream.  I knew that Opa had come back so that we could say proper goodbyes and it was a happy, rather than a sad scene.

In the dream, Opa was younger, vital, his beaming face emanating some sort of quiet goodwill.  I basked in his presence and was thrilled to have the opportunity to see him again.  I bent over him and kissed him, and I could feel his tears, tears of joy, not sorrow as my face touched his.  I embraced him and held him and I knew that he knew I loved him.  After some time passed, I straightened and listened as he told me a story.

The story Opa told me was of a man who lay dying, his two daughters present at his death bed.  The man had made all of the usual preparations in advance and all that was left were the goodbyes, the tears, the sadness and, inevitably, healing and acceptance.  No-one spoke.  Somehow, the man noticed that he had a single dime in a pocket somewhere on his person.  As a fair man, he felt that he should give the dime to his daughters but, there being only the one coin, he could only physically hand the shiny token to one or the other, not both.  He made his choice.  He reached out and put the coin in the hand of the nearest daughter.  Immediately, as the chosen daughter’s hand closed over the coin, the other daughter wailed and complained of the father’s favouring her sister and neglecting herself.  She didn’t wait to see if the father might instruct that the one daughter give a nickel of her own to her sister, balancing the endowment, rather she set about screeching, moaning and generally deporting herself in a thoroughly disgusting fashion.

That’s all too typical of human behaviour, Zachary.  Somewhere, somehow, someone is about to die, and family and relatives who were always ‘too busy’ or who lived ‘too far away’ to visit, gather around, like vultures, and wait for ‘their share.’  If any slight is perceived in the distribution of assets, rifts among siblings or other family members appear that may never heal.  What is that all about?

Opa and Oma were always fair, obsessively fair.  But even if they had favoured one of my siblings over another, what right would any one of us have to complain?  Any property of the parents belongs to the parents.  The kids had little or nothing to do with the acquisition of any assets and have no more ‘right’ to anything than would the postman or the garbage man.  You would be surprised to discover how many times parents have slaved away for years, scrimping and saving, making every sacrifice so that their children could live a better life than they did, then die and leave a fortune behind for the kids to squander.  All the things that the parents felt they couldn’t afford suddenly appear, but in bigger and better versions, in the homes and driveways of the children.

Don’t get me started.

Let’s get back to Opa.  After he told me the story of the man and the two daughters, he seemed tired and I knew that soon he would take his last breath.  He and I were at peace, and I waited patiently, close beside him.  Finally, he took an exaggerated breath, convulsed and lay still.  He was dead, again.

I gazed at him as he passed on, then was startled by a sound off to the side.  I turned just in time to see a tall pile of colourfully-wrapped gifts, piled one upon another, topple and fall to the floor.

Now what could that possibly mean?

I don’t know.  I also don’t know what any of the rest of the dream meant.  Probably nothing.  What I do know is that when I awoke, I felt a sense of peace and closure that I hadn’t felt about Opa’s death before.

Now, I’m waiting to see what will happen with Oma.  She was a very religious woman and not long before her death in 2002, she told me that, if Jesus let her, she would come back to see me somehow, to tell me what it is like in heaven.

Now that should be interesting.

Value us, your parents, Zachary, while we are here.  Value your relatives, your cousins and aunts and uncles.  Family and friends are precious and we often don’t know how important they are to us until they are gone.  Then, it’s too late.

I know that at least as far as Oma and Opa are concerned, you remember them at their best, not how they were in the last days of their lives.  They loved you, Zachary, and I know you loved them too.  On that December day, when you lowered the casket lid over Opa’s worn body and watched with me and Mom as the funeral attendants and pall-bearers lowered him into his grave, you helped us bury a tired, depleted body.  Opa himself still lives on.  His genes are part of us.   Our memories of him sustain us.

And that, Zachary, is life.  And death.