|| S.J. Pedde
Goodbyes... an Encore
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
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
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
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
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
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.
HOME | ABOUT US | S. J. PEDDE | PEDDES EVERYWHERE
| BULLETIN BOARD
| CONTACT US