It’s done. Finished. Finito.
My brother and I buried our father on Sunday. It was an overcast day, typical for December in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland. The sun managed to peek out for a few minutes. We also had a few drops of rain and a bit of wind. Fortunately, it wasn’t unbearable.
It had been a rough weekend. I missed Thanksgiving, the pumpkin pie. The dressing. The turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. I spent my Thanksgiving running all over Greater Vancouver meeting with the pastor, visiting the cemetery and coordinating with the funeral home. Emotionally, I was exhausted. My brother arrived Thanksgiving evening from Dubai, red-eyed and jet-lagged.
We visited friends; my brother met with his accountant. We actually had one day with no appointments so we prepared for the burial. We bought flowers for both parents–our mother already buried there, our father about to join her. I gave my brother a small booklet the funeral home had prepared in honor of our dad, Giulio. We picked up the box with his ashes along with ten small containers for us and other family members.
The day of the service, we first drove to the pier in White Rock, Giulio’s beloved home. We separated and spent our own time with our own vial and then spread the ashes over the bay. I was surprised to find a large percentage of the ashes were quite heavy and rough while a smaller portion was almost dust. I watched the majority dissolve into the water while the other ashes scattered, dust in the wind as it were. Surprisingly, the heavy ashes took about a minute to disappear. Then we left for the cemetery.
At the cemetery my brother and I sat under a tent. Six chairs were available. Only two were occupied. The pastor was ten minutes late. No bother. My brother and I placed flowers on our mother’s grave. “Paul”, my brother, stood looking at the stone with me. We both looked at the sheet of plywood covered with a swath of astro turf. The hole where our father’s box of ashes would be placed was underneath. We would place the box there after the service. We both wept at different intervals. Sometimes fiercely, sometimes quietly. Catharsis expresses itself in different ways.
As I said in my book, Paul and I were wrestling with different approaches to our father, Giulio. Giulio raised Paul to be a success, to be a man, to make it in the world. As an immigrant who suffered persecution and prejudice, he wanted his son to go further than he did. This is common in the immigrant community and mindset.
He succeeded. My brother exceeded everyone’s visions for him. And my brother continues to achieve. Unfortunately, my father never taught my brother how to feel; never taught him how to think beyond work and the almighty dollar. My brother was not allowed to grieve his mother’s death and was instructed to “be a man”. At the age of TEN.
I wrestled with other issues. My father abused me, refused to accept me, saw me as a disappointment. Initially he wanted to meet me. I have always maintained that when I didn’t materialize into what he wanted, he switched and punished me for all the shit he experienced in his life. He was incapable of emoting, incapable of accepting love. He was too weak and frightened to confront life and his demons. Instead he thrust them onto his family while lavishing onto his friends.
Yes, it was a goofy freaking dynamic. Yet, during the pastor’s sermon, Paul and I sat there, each holding a clump of roses. Each weeping into that clump at different times. I’m sure that different words impacted us differently. We each spoke of fond memories (yes, they actually existed!). I reminisced about that first meeting when I turned the corner at Giulio’s house and saw this uncommonly handsome man–my birth father–waiting for me. Paul commented on how Giulio had to be both mother and father after my biological mother died.
After a prayer and a few more Bible verses, my brother placed the box of ashes in the hole. We each threw in one red rose. Then hell appeared on earth.
It was time for each of us to throw in a shovelful of earth. Paul went first. He handed the shovel to me. I held it and fell apart. I leaned against the shovel. I sobbed uncontrollably. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t “bury” him. I couldn’t even participate. It was too final. It was too cruel. It was like I was having the last laugh after all the abuse. I wanted him back. Just one more smile. One more hug. One more argument even.
But I did it. The pastor put his arm around me and told me to take my time. And I did it. I threw a shovelful of soil into the hole. It was wrenching. Walking away I saw one of the cemetery workers in tears. But I was strangely okay. The cemetery worker placed the plywood with the astro turf over the hole and Paul and I laid the rest of the roses on either side. There was nothing left to do. We were finished.
You know, every person has good points. I truly believe that. Whether or not we choose to look for them is up to us.
My intention is to say that even those with whom we have a turbulent relationship, those who seek to do harm, have positive traits. For those in our lives who we find hard to love, it’s even harder to find whimsy, positivity, smiles. But if you dig deep, you’ll find they are there. The question is, do we want to dig deep enough? Do we want to truly let go? Do we want to be free?
I would never deign to tell someone else how to handle their pain. I can only state what happened to me. Even now, when I think of some of the things from the past about my father, I get irritated. The difference is that I rarely, if ever, think of that stuff anymore. And therein lies the rub. We can’t forgive if we don’t forget.
There’s a small container of my father’s ashes in my home. Tomorrow I will order a small urn. I will find a place of honor for that urn, a place where I can see it every day. I might not always stop and reflect, but I will remember.
The i’s are dotted. The t’s are crossed. He was my father. I loved him. I still do. I always will. That’s what matters. It’s time to move on.
It is finished.