Last April, about six months after my dad died at the age of 96, I met someone whose own father had passed away at 97. I said something about how, when a family member’s over 90, you always have an unspoken awareness of their mortality.
She agreed, but added that for her, there was also a feeling that her father had always been there and would always be. Not a logical feeling, but a true one. When my grandmother died, two years after my grandfather, I remember my dad saying, “Now I’m an orphan.” He was 59.
All my siblings, as well as my mother, live in metro Detroit. All of us went to Nova Scotia last month. The main purpose: to have a memorial mass for those who couldn’t come to Michigan for his funeral, to celebrate Dad’s life, and to bury his ashes in his beloved Cape Breton.
I find I don’t have a lot of patience with people who talk about reaching closure as if it’s a stop on the subway. I suppose they mean well, but I can’t help hearing an implied timetable, a hint that you should define some point and then get off the emotional train.
No, when I say “closure,” I mean a kind of rethinking. It’s figuring out how to continue your relationship with the person who’s died – and fitting that with your other relationships.
I’m managing. I couldn’t say when, but one day, a few months after Dad died, I had been feeling sad about his absence from some event taking place. I stopped and asked myself what was going on. The feeling cleared itself up: “He would have hated to miss this.”
And then he was there: I could picture him sitting the way he did in his last few years. Often quiet because of his growing deafness and fading vision; bubbling and beaming when someone sat close enough to engage with him.
I don’t idealize him. He wasn’t the best dad in the history of the world; he was simply the best one I had. The memorial service down home helped me see him through the eyes of old family friends, of cousins and second cousins and their children. Unlike other family names in that small place — the local paper once had five editors, all named Macdonald — for a long time there was only one family in town named Ferguson.
And the people who gathered at Stella Maris church on a warm Saturday in July are working on the latest chapter in their relationship with the one Hughie Ferguson they’d known all their lives.