“The timing of death, like the ending of a story, gives a changed meaning to what preceded it. “

3 Dec

She was predeceased by Wilfrid and Mona in the great polio epidemic of 1918-20

Vlad was known far and wide as his major goal was to make as many friends during his lifetime as was humanly possible.

There was lots of work on the farm but she always insisted Johnny and I go to school.

He was predeceased by a daughter Tracey

Don was a very modest man who quietly went about his business of looking after his family, neighbours and community.

Ruth was most proud of her family. Her love was unconditional and her family loved her dearly in return.

The infant son of Amy and Roger, of Vero Beach, died on the day of his birth Oct. 13

At age 17, Dick joined the army. He enlisted in Picton on May 31, 1940 and served in the United Kingdom and Central Mediterranean area for five-and-a-half years. He was awarded the Canadian volunteer service medal Italy cross class 39-45 star and the defence medal Italy star.


If I pick up a paper, I’m drawn to them. The memories, the moments, the tiny 4 word fragments that open a door, a window into a life, somewhere I’ve never been, can’t touch. I mouth their names, dusty and flowery, Beryl, Audrey, Harold, Dick. Solid names, the names that were once those of the grandparents I knew around town, those who gave me cookies, pats on the head, chastisement.

I read the stories, printed, inscribed. Run my finger across the print much as I’d run my fingers over grave markers, finding some connection beyond this flimsy obsession with death. Lives lived, lives not started, lives cut short. The old, the young, the merry and wise. The surprise deaths at 102. The unfairness of a bald 8 year old staring back at me with a smile.

I have never seen what they’ve seen. I will never live as they have lived.

After my mother died, I read them in earnest, noticed a rhythm to their power. Smaller towns, like the one I grew up in, they read as poorly written, but quietly powerful monuments. The deitrius of lives-the card games and the lawn mowing, the ways in which we say “It was simple and it was long. It was a good life. They were good people.” Bigger places, smaller write ups, unless you were popular, or famous or invented a potato chip.

It was like I could run my fingers over the words, and feel them, as I would gravestones in the cemetary my mother was placed in. I’d run down the length of it, watching the years pass-1989, 1975, 1956, 1915, 1850…I’d sit in the shadows of lives lived, their markers barely whispering who they were at 16, dead in childbirth, buried with their daughter, or 24, dead in a war they didn’t create. The words in paper-they substitute for those pieces of granite, marble, plain slate.

These simple lines of text, 4 or 5, a paragraph written in grief by a wife or a son, or written earlier by the dead. If you close your eyes you can trace it back, past the canasta they liked to play now, past the garden they puttered in, a life left bored after being rendered redundant. If you look silently, you can see them, dancing in their youth, their feet flashing, sweat glinting on their faces, reflecting joy. You can see them standing young, next to new cars, warmed by a late spring sun as they wait for their lives to start. You can see them holding their first borns, awed by the miracle they brought forth. You can see them playing jacks, marbles, eating snow in the back while their mother’s looked on, unaware of the futures that exist.

Conversely, the children’s, I see the lives they won’t live, the lips they won’t kiss, the children they will never meet, the histories they will never know. Hope, formed into a body and made pure, dies a little in those ones, their parents writing those more horrible of words and thoughts, their dreams condensed into a few lines, so sterile, the life not opened to live.

But love-of all of these love rings clean, like bells on a wedding day, those days of hope and wine and beauty. You can feel it, seeping through into you. It’s not the fleeting love of a summer romance, or that of a child-it’s the firm love of a family, a history, a people, behind and around that comes through and into me. I tear up with the thought of those left behind reciting my strengths, recounting my days, my lovers, my moments.

The sacrifice, the pain, the love, the joy. Lives condensed into snippets, things left out. Memories of myself, a daughter on a line in someone else’s story, fleshed out by “Donations to the Cancer Society”. A life lived, and left behind.




2 Responses to ““The timing of death, like the ending of a story, gives a changed meaning to what preceded it. “”

  1. BipolarLawyerCook December 3, 2008 at 4:43 pm #

    There’s a wonderful book called The Dead Beat about the art of obituary writing– it’s wonderful, talks to different obit writers and English v American styles, etc. Very sensitively and interestingly written.

  2. sweetsalty kate December 3, 2008 at 6:37 pm #

    this was so poignant, Thor… I loved this. I hardly ever get my hands on a paper these days but when I do, I always peruse the recently departed – almost as if to make sure the world is at rights. (88 – I get it. 76 – sure. 56 – hrrmmph. 43? WTF, universe?)

    And then I always think, “that was somebody’s baby” and my heart tangles itself into a pretzel.

    This was so beautiful.

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