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…the flower petals flow downstream

June 18, 2018

June 16, 2018

After carrying my parents’ ashes for over thirty years, I wished them goodbye again this morning. It was a sense that the time had come to release their earthly remains back to the world.

I am poised between the ages of their passing: dad at 52, while mom left us at 71. A dear friend and mentor, Robert Evans, gave me the vase I have been carrying them in. Robert’s kindness helped me through the time of mother’s passing and it was in the lake near his cottage, six months after the funeral, when I felt my spirit let her go from my heart.

I turned 52, which was a year filled with trepidation. There was a similar feeling on the one year anniversary of my heart attack – it is good to have passed those dates. Over the years since his death, I’ve written to my father numerous times with personal questions. Sometimes there was a benevolent feeling that came to me as those emotions were expressed.

Today, my questions to him would be about songs. He died young and hadn’t sang and played guitar often during our time together. It still seems he sang more than me. He must have had a fabulous memory because he learned everything by ear without the aid of tape recorders. In contrast I naturally drifted toward the “security of written music”. I would ask him what he loves to sing about and what makes a great song.

His guitar playing life was cut short for a while by an industrial accident, which removed the tops of three fingers below the nail line of his left hand. Assuming he started playing when he was 18, he could only have sung and played for 12 years before this enforced stop. There were two or three times that he borrowed an instrument. It is with great fondness that I reflect on those serenades when he sang to me for hours. At family parties I remember him singing and playing for what seemed the whole evening. Even though those finger stumps looked too wide to fit between the strings, he managed somehow and sang with joy and gusto as the whole room joined in. Dad passed away while I was in my first year university a few months after I turned 18.

I would ask my mom about the times when her dad doted on her before he died. She hadn’t yet reached her teens. Under the umbrella of that affection her dreams and hopes would have been optimistic. I remember her singing in the kitchen as she baked fresh biscuits in the morning. She introduced me to the joy of picking and eating fresh vegetables off the vine, and explained to me how my father preferred the home made ketchup to be quite spicy.

Leaving her in Toronto, I went to study in Paris, learning French and new ways of looking at the world. Returning to graduate from the University of Toronto, we lived together until I left to start my own life. We met regularly for dinners going to interesting little places that were opening up on College Street between Dufferin and Lansdowne.

flower petals in bowlThis morning we burned some sweetgrass and sage to honour the first nations of this land. We added some herbes de Provence to honour my distant paternal French ancestry and black tea to honour my mother’s English heritage. We cast flower petals on the river to give us a visual metaphor for the flow of ashes and to create a target for our prayers.

We also brought the dog, who, danced in the water with glee. Unknowingly, she functioned like a sacred clown, contrasting the somber atmosphere with unbridled joy. It is good not to be stuck in one emotional sphere.

Later today, we will listen to You’ll Get Used To It, an old Wilf Carter song that I remember dad singing to me at least twice. We will also listen to a goofy song: Today Is The Day We Give Babies Away With a Half a Pound of Tea. Mom sang this to herself and always smiled when she got to the part, you just open the lid and out pops a kid.


Goofy, somber, gleeful and serene.

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