My brother, who was six years my junior, died suddenly, in Montreal. He was in ill health from a young age and lived long past the doctors’ medical prognosis. Growing up in our family life expectations were, for the most part, governed by an ancient feudal standards. The eldest son was to inherit everything while the remaining siblings would have to fend for themselves in the world. According to my parents’ wishes, if the eldest boy died first then the next male child would inherit everything. We were all schooled in these proceedings from the age of six. The girls in the family were expected to marry and produce offspring, with their choice of possible career being given little or no thought.
Consequently, there were feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness residing in all of us. These feelings very much colored how we dealt with each other as adults. For many years, I had very little contact with my siblings. The occasional phone call was about all we could manage at the time. Real or imagined slights often took on immense proportions and meaning. We had all grown into extremely judgmental adults, especially when it came to family members.
In the later years, I tried to keep regular contact with all of my siblings. By then I had learned the important lesson of not accepting every little comment as a personal attack. Communication became much easier for me. So it was that my brother and I were in almost bi-weekly contact, when I received the news of his sudden death. To say that I was in shock is putting it mildly. I was on auto-pilot for the next twenty-four hours, packing making arrangements for my pets and my temporary house guest, and scraping together enough money for the plane fare from Prince Edward Island to Montreal. My cousin, whom I had not seen nor spoken with in years, met me at the airport. He was so kind, and we so comfortable together as he ferried me around the never-ending city detours.
I had thought that, since my younger brother was the executor and sole heir to the older man’s estate, he would be the one to make all the arrangements. I found out that absolutely nothing had been done. Of course I had to go into fix-it mode (a habit acquired from raising four children). To the hospital to claim the body and collect the personal effects, to the funeral home to make arrangements for the cremation and to compose the obituary. No one had the funds available to make the immediate payments, but as the result of some kind of premonition, I had just transferred all that was necessary to my bank account. What I failed to realize was that my account was restricted to a daily limit. Well, I tried to figure out how to make the payment – perhaps transfer the money to a credit card, or pay them in daily installments. However neither plan would work. The funeral home would not even accept an e-transfer, only cash or credit card. I can’t remember a time when I have ever felt so frustrated!
Finally, through installments, I was able to pay everything off. The final day when we went to collect the cremated remains, I made the last payment. My sister stated, “We have come to ransom our brother”. The shocked look on the undertakers face sent me into a fit of giggles .
My brother’s final wish was to have his ashes scattered on his farm, which he loved so much. So a 2 1/2 hour drive led us to this destination where, once again, nothing had been planned. To my surprise, there were almost one hundred people. Everyone had donated food; and it was definitely a mix-and-mingle kind of gathering. For two hours, not one person came forward to offer their condolences – not one. However everyone had a story to tell that demonstrated how much my brother meant to them. I realized then that this was his family, and what an amazing family it was! And what a privilege it was for me to have met them all! Through this time there were a few tears and much laughter. It was truly a Celebration of Life!
As I said, nothing had been planned in advance. It was the first time that I had ever experienced such a celebration. Suddenly, it occurred to me that we had not scattered the ashes. And how does one do that, I wondered. Again as if on auto-pilot, I gathered everyone present around a tall pine tree in front of the house. I announced that the container of ashes would be passed around the circle, and each person could speak whatever their hearts moved them to say before taking a turn to shake loose some of the ashes.
That was an intensely emotional time for all. I was so moved by this image of my brother that I had never witnessed before!
My youngest sister, my younger brother, and I were standing around with a few of the guests. I walked towards my brother to let him know that there were still some ashes remaining. Looking down I noticed that not only was the lid of the cylindrical container loose, but the inner tube was slightly raised. No problem, I thought. I would just fix that inside the house. Younger brother noticed the raised lid at the same time. His hand raised, and before I could shout “No!”, he smacked the top of the container firmly. My mouth had been open. Startled, I inhaled. A severe coughing fit ensued. Then I laughed when I realized that coughing wasn’t going to help. It was too late! From then things seemed to be happening in slow motion. I stared at my brother whose many feelings wrote themselves across his face – shock, horror, fear, embarrassment! Suddenly I became aware of some helpful woman beating on my chest in a futile attempt to clear the fine coating of grey from my black jacket. I couldn’t help it as a loud laugh erupted from me. My brother’s response was, “Now you can truly claim that your brother will always be part of you.” Just for a second, I swear that I could hear laughter coming from above!
There was a man present who had been a friend of my mother’s (I was to learn this later) and a good friend to my deceased brother. He had a sad but calm air about him. After most of the guests had left, he called me over to ask, “Have you received any messages?” He seemed to need to hear something from me, but I couldn’t help but wonder why from me. There were two other siblings present. I had never been asked such a thing before, and I wondered how he knew about my inner self. I was truthful when I answered, “To receive an actual message, if that was going to happen, I think I would have to be alone and quiet. But I can tell you that my predominant feeling right now is one of joy and peace.” Those words surprised me most! The friend just smiled and nodded.
So, my brother’s funeral – Celebration of Life – was a seriously transformative experience for me. I had so much work to do on myself – shedding my pre-conceived ideas of others, letting go of the demands of ego, opening myself up to the expressions of love that are all around me. What an exciting journey I have been on ever since!