There was a body in the hospital that somebody needed to take responsibility for.
That’s what death amounts to I guess. The coldness of the situation, devoid of emotion, empty of meaning, lifeless in both a real and a metaphysical way. In one moment there are real relationships, interaction with creation around us, and then in the next – poof.
But that’s not the case, though, is it. It is not the case to those left behind, grieving that the relationship has now changed, has ended, has morphed into a one-sided arrangement. Emotion is still present, holding the living captive, empty to those on the outside looking in, but screaming in agony, locked in a cage on the inside.
And, somewhere in the midst of this chaos, one is expected to pull their shit together and plan a funeral.
Or, in my case, two.
It is not really clear to me – even now – after so many years have gone by – why the responsibility of planning my brother’s funeral was on me. For one, he was married – albeit they were separated, but still legally married – and had only been married for less than a year. Two, there were my parents, his mom and dad. Why was it left to his brother to take care of everything?
So I adapted like I had adapted over the years growing up. I ended up fragmenting emotionally – dissociating in an attempt to care for myself while dealing with this mess. And it was a mess. A young man in his very early twenties does not think about one’s mortality and consequently make plans for their demise. No, death was never talked about – mocked perhaps on a Friday night over a few beer while getting stoned – but never really talked about.
That leaves the financial mess to be figured out by the lawyers of different financial institutions, which drags his pseudo-wife into the picture – good. She chose to not participate in how the funeral should go, what should be done with his body, and such, which meant that it was left for me to think about my own mortality, imposing a strange mixture of what I would like for myself along with some guesses as to what he would have liked.
I turned to my pseudo-pastor for help. He offered me comfort and a place to share my heart, my grief, my fears. Then he wrote about my brother’s suicide in his weekly newspaper column. At the time I did not fully understand why my mother was so pissed off about that. Now, on the other side of the cult experience, I can point out a handful of issues that reeked of no integrity, manipulation of power, and other abusive dynamics. But, in the moment, I was thankful for the listening shoulder – a voice of reason in my sea of chaos.
Within ten days the funeral was planned. It would take place in the church that I first attended after becoming a new Christian. In the church that I went back to after trying to kill myself. The church that I left after the leadership would not let me resign my position. The church where my first experience of a business meeting involved two men landing punches upon each other’s faces.
Familiar in times of trauma offers a strange comfort to the soul.
We had my brother cremated. Partially because my father wanted a locket with some of his ashes stored inside to remind him of what was and what could have been. Partially because the decision around burial plots played out like a daytime soap opera so instead it was decided to scatter his ashes.
My mother retreated back to her large family – ten brothers and sisters, for her comfort. They all came to my brother’s wedding and it was a wonderful family reunion for them all and now under a year later they would be coming back to this same place to console one another, reminded of their own mortality and how fragile life can be at times.
There was only one directive from my mother and that was to have a private – family only funeral, where in particular – SHE couldn’t be in attendance or anyone in anyway connected to HER.
This meant that although I was now planning two funerals, one of them needed to be a secret funeral.
This is how it played out. On the day of the funeral all of my mother’s family arrived at the church and parked their vehicles around the back of the church – out of sight. We then had the service and as soon as it ended, all of my mother’s family were moved out of the sanctuary, through the back doors, through to the back of the church where they slipped into their getaway vehicles, and headed down a back alley back to my parent’s place where the consoling would continue.
My father stayed behind, along with my wife and myself to be present for the ‘real’ funeral, where my brother’s wife, other relatives, and community were to attend. No-one knew that another service had just happened and so the second service went off without a hiccup.
After the service we gathered up my brother’s urn and headed down a very familiar, dusty, dirty, and windy road bordering the city and running along the base of the mountain where they had found my brother’s body only a few days earlier. We weren’t stopping there, we travelled further down the road to a spot that held special meaning for me. Stopping at the roadside pull-out at the top of the cliff we got out of the vehicles and walked to the edge of the cliff.
We scattered his ashes in silence and I wept as I watched them fall to the secrets below.