For boomers, it’s getting into planting season, metaphorically speaking, when we’ll start burying our contemporaries more frequently. My friends and I have already buried our parents (most of us) and one or two friends. I suppose we’re lucky it’s just a few. My old friend Barry, whose house I helped build, came from a high school class about ten years before mine, and it had lost half its number by the time I knew him, ten years later, Some to Vietnam, of course (he was American), but most to drunk driving on the backwoods roads in the remote corner of Vermont in which he grew up.
I’ve buried my parents-in-law and my parents. My parents-in-law both had lovely little funerals at the family plot, in a little country churchyard high on a drumlin in rural Ontario. We (my wife and I, and all her family) have plots together under the branches of a maple tree, with a sweeping view of southern Ontario, backed by the shimmer of the lake in the distance.
My own parents, while both regular churchgoers (my father was a choir master and organist) were both firm non-believers, to the point where neither wanted a funeral or, in fact, any memorial at all. My mother had too many friends for that to happen, though, and we had a bang-up party in Niagara that I’ve described in another blog. When my father died, however, he demanded no funeral, no memorial, to be cremated (like my mother) and the barest of bones of a notice in the Globe and Mail. I was charged with writing his obit (as I had with my mother’s) and made sure both mentioned their service in the war, their rank, and were illustrated with photos of them in uniform.
As a result, we had no marking of the passing of my father, other than a round of phone calls across the country. His ashes and my mother’s still sit in their urns on youngest sister’s mantelpiece, and I think they’ll probably stay there. In fact, my father forgot to pick up my mother’s ashes from the funeral home before he left Nova Scotia for good to come to Niagara. Youngest sister had to send for them. I asked for a portion of them to sprinkle on Lake Ontario, on the shores of which my mother grew up, but youngest sister seems determined to leave them in their urns.
Actually, my mother would often speak enthusiastically of sprinkling her ashes on whatever body of water she happened to be living on at the time. In the Eastern Townships, it was the top of Foster Mountain, overlooking Brome Lake; in Vermont it was over Lake Champlain and in Nova Scotia it was over the Minas Basin. So far, she remains unsprinkled. My father had no such fancy notions, he didn’t care what happened to his ashes.
So I come from a long line of unadorned death rites, whereas my wife comes from a long line of pretty elaborate funerals. When her Uncle Ted died, there was imported heather decorating the pews of the tiny church on the hill, and Scots bagpipes on the sound system; her mother was wheeled out to Frank Sinatra singing Fly Me To The Moon. When my brother-in-law died prematurely, as a Catholic, he was massed and sung with full pomp and buried in a bulletproof bronze box lowered into a concrete-lined bunker.
Up the tree-lined road to the top of that drumlin in southern Ontario, in summer, the breeze usually keeps it cool under the shade of the maple tree. The caretaker is painstaking; the grass is always cut, the stones are always legible. My old grammar teacher is planted there. The tiny clapboard church was rebuilt entirely at the expense of my wife’s Great Aunt when the old church, there since the area was settled, burnt.
The Anglican Church wasn’t opening new churches at the time, especially in remote country churchyards, and they tried to persuade Great Aunt Dot not to rebuild it. But Dot had money and planned to be buried there and was damned if there wasn’t going to be a church for the service. So, the Anglican Church consecrated is first new place of worship in Ontario in decades. The little church is mostly used for box lunches served at summer funerals (there aren’t any winter funerals) and as a place to get out of the rain. All the best funerals are held outside on sunny days with the cows looking over the fence from the next field.
I have my funeral instructions in my will. Play Bob Dylan’s Forever Young, Leonard Cohen’s Bird On A Wire and the Grateful Dead’s Ripple before the service, sing the two sailors’ hymns; I Feel The Winds Of God Today and Eternal Father Strong To Save; be buried in a pine box, wrapped in a sheet, with no preservatives so I can feed the grass, in the one piece of property I own free and clear, with a box lunch for the mourners.
The people being buried in the little cemetery now aren’t really locals. They’re the diaspora of the settler families, now living in cities and towns across Canada. But they come home to be planted after they’re dead, That’s what I want. I have no roots there, I’m included by marriage only, but when I die, I want to be planted on top of that remote, sunny drumlin and feed the grass. That makes me feel better about my end every time I think about it.