My father passed away in 2016. I don’t usually have much time for euphemisms, and so normally I would say he simply died, but in truth he did pass, slowly, slipping away from us in a cloud of confusion and dementia. He moved from apartment to hospital, to assisted living, then back to hospital, then, finally, to long term care, which is a ridiculous misnomer as no one really stays in long term care for the long term. Once the most intelligent man you could ever hope to meet, he lost his mind, to alcohol, to numerous falls and to the general indignity of getting old. As his primary caregiver, I did my best, both emotionally and financially, with support from my youngest sister. When he did finally slip away, my response was one of overwhelming relief: no more middle of the night phone calls from the Lifeline people, no more complaints from his landlord, no more endless visits to the care facility, where, unable to walk and then to talk, he would stare at me with his still bright blue eyes, wondering no doubt who I was.


It’s fair to say I miss him now more than I did then, but I talk to him often, or what’s left of him. He was cremated, and, at the urging of my mother, from whom he was separated, he had a full blown Catholic funeral, and a piss-up of a reception he would have loved to attend, but no provision was ever made for a so-called final resting place. I’m not sure if he would have cared, and, in any case, he left no money. “Aren’t you going to get a niche?”, asked my mother, trying on the role of grieving widow. “Nope”, I replied. “Too expensive, no one will ever visit it, and besides, it’s too niche”.


As it turns out, his ashes, contained in a cardboard box encased in a black velvet bag, are sitting exactly where I put them when I got home from the funeral: on a shelf in my living room. Eventually, as I cleaned out his effects, I put some objects of significance around him. Photographs of him on his sailboat and, in his youth, on his motorcycle. A Celtic cross, and a brass sculpture of a knot he used as a paperweight. His cufflink box, which we, as children, called his “cuff pock”. A portrait of his mother. And, on top of the box, his Irish knit cap. There’s a Sonos speaker for music at the end of the shelf, and a stack of books on art and architecture.     My husband suggested a decanter of whiskey, but that’s taking it too far.  We don’t use the living room all that much, but when I’m there, such as I was this weekend to decorate the Christmas tree, I always say hi. He’s there for dinner parties and fireside chats, and also for my piano practice, which I’m sure torments him beyond the grave. There are no immediate plans to dispose of the ashes, but when and if we do, I suspect I will miss his quiet, contained, velvety presence.


When I die, as I suspect I must, I think I’d like a similar arrangement. On a book shelf, out of the way, but still part of the passing show. That way, no one has to go far to visit me, or think about me, but I’ll still be around, not only collecting dust, but BEING dust. At least for a bit, then my descendants can carefully scatter my ashes either at sea or around Holt Renfrew. Their call.


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