I was 12 when I first attended my first funeral. We had a friend at a nursing home and Mr. Crawford lived next door. We would go and visit our family friend and see him each time where he was quite nice to all of us, often giving me some money for candy and to get a coffee for my mom.
When he died, we went to the funeral chapel where his family went on at length about how horrible of human being he was and what a bad father he had been. We just listened but I was shocked when the minister started his eulogy with, “He was a very bad man”.
When I became a pastor, I did a lot of funerals. Some of them were celebrations of life, others were horrible to perform and yes, I buried some really bad men over the years. Each time I tried my best to respect the person and life that I was burying while keeping some sense of reality of the life they lived.
In the work I do now, our clients die very young. The drugs, violence, lifestyle and alcohol takes it toll on your body. Toss in HIV/Aids/Hep-C or cancer from the smoking and you have a really low life expectancy. I have helped more than one mother clean out a locker in a shelter where the only thing she has left of her son was a pair of jeans, a jacket, and really nothing else. I have always found myself hoping that there be something of value in there, a watch or a something of value for the parent to hold on to but there never is. Many tears have been shed by family members during those times.
In most situations I find myself boxing stuff up and realizing that for the most part, no one was going to come get it. Months later my janitor asks me what I want him to do with the sealed box. No one has come to get it.
Every couple of months I hear that a client that I had worked with has died. In each and every case I fire up my computer and Google their name. I search The StarPhoenix’s obituary website and I scour the internet to find out if it is true. I rarely find anything. Over the next couple of days I generally run into a member of the Saskatoon Health Region or the Saskatoon City Police and ask them. In every case I get the same reply that they have died.
They often die alone. There is no media coverage, no obituary, no will, no assets, and to be honest, almost no one cared. Many colleagues just block it out like it doesn’t exist. The file is closed and they are done. Death has never bothered me, neither does the grieving process but in these cases I find myself not sure what to do. The idea that someone has lived their entire life and there is no trace of it left seems wrong to me.
I guess as a blogger and a writer, I find myself in a situation where I write to process. After a sleepless night last night thinking of a couple of people that I had known well that had died, I came in early to work to write something, anything about their lives as I saw them. Of course I never know what do next. I tweeted this morning that I was struggling with his and it resonated with people but I don’t know what to do next.
Is the best way to mark one’s life to have a service provider eulogize them? My first encounter with one gentleman was when he assaulted Wendy with a bottle of Listerine she wouldn’t sell him in about 1998. Of course the other part of that story is that he would beat her at cribbage all of the time when she helped out at a drop-in centre. Do you tell the stories of abuse, residential schools, the people that they hurt.
One of the people that recently deceased was a women that I wrote about two years ago in The StarPhoenix. She had AIDS at the time, was pimped out by her boyfriend and was high for every single interaction that I had with her over seven years. At the same time I appreciated every single strung out conversation we ever had and I was saddened and sickened when I would see her beaten and bruised. It’s weird but I miss her.
They had a legacy with me and we have a bunch of stories that shaped me that are too bizarre to write here (somethings are only funny if you know the person)
The world doesn’t stop for death. When you die, people come together, tell some stories, each some sandwiches, sing some hymns, and drink some coffee. I am not asking the world to stop, I just think they should have some form of legacy.
In Toronto, they have a homeless memorial. In Saskatoon we have a walk to remember those lost in the sex trade but at the end of the day they were individuals that lived and died in our city, it would be great if they are remembered as such. The question for me to figure out, what is the best way to do that.