by Nicola Finch
I came to an understanding when I was quite young, that grief and loss were part of life. My mother grieved the death of her father. I knew into the depth of my being that her grief was a big part of who she was and that she had a magnificent capacity for love.
My mom's dad; Harold Fletcher, wore a beguiling smile in the little black and white photograph that sat on my mother's dresser. And that was all I knew of him. That photograph and her stories.
Harold died from a brain tumor when my Mom was 16. He was her whole world.
As he neared death, they drove him into the hospital. I learned that Harold asked to be propped up on his last trip past the lake he loved, and they hadn't done that. They were worried it would cause him pain.
Harold was buried in a graveyard on a hillside in the Okanagan Valley. He was buried with his feet pointing uphill, and this forever disturbed my dear mom.
The theme of the story was regret.
I learned at a young age that death and disposition can and often should be done differently. I didn't grow up on a farm. Our family wasn't big on pets. My experience of death and grief was a visceral thing and it was allowed to exist. It came to the table and we heard its stories.
Generational grief woven into family stories is akin to learning from your mother how to make pastry or a decent loaf of bread. It's all about repetition and memory.
I remember the deaths of my granddad, my uncles, my Nana and my grandmother. I remember sitting at the kitchen table when my mom opened a letter bordered in black, she joked that it looked like someone had died. It was news of the death of her best friend who died on the other side of the world.
I remember when my teenage sisters boyfriend was killed in a car accident.
My brother took his own life when he was just 29. I was 26. Michael's suicide was my Munch moment. A shock of primal, overwhelming horror. His death was my Scream.
Michael was the shining star of our family of seven. He was extremely intelligent, quick witted, funny, passionate, a talented writer and artist, absolutely fucking gorgeous, and our best beloved. When he took his own life it ripped our hearts out, broke us wide open and none of us would ever be the same.
We would do our initial grieving together as a family. We cleaned his blood-soaked apartment together. We sorted his belongings together. We made the phone calls. We wrote his funeral service. My dad built his firstborn and only son's pine box in the underground parking of the apartment building that he and my mom managed. We strapped that long tall coffin on top of Mike's lime green mini and delivered it to the funeral home. We tucked precious notes and little gifts in the pine box alongside our beautiful boy. We sent our invitations and delivered the service. We sang the songs. We sent Michael into the fire. He came back to us as bone and ash. We sewed small leather pouches to share his ashes, to keep some. We hired a boat and scattered most of his ashes in English Bay.
My mom died when she was 58. She died quite peacefully in hospital in a private hospice room. My dad holding her face, whispering words of love and kissing her as she took her last breath. We took her home and held a wake. Afterward, I rode 260 miles with her body to deliver her to the crematorium where her son; my beloved brother had been cremated.
My dad was 73 when he died at home in his own bed. My sisters and our families were with him to the end and his three 'girls' bathed and dressed his body for cremation.
But there is no memorial. No single place to go to visit the memory of my beloved brother, or my mother or my father.
That's my impetus for this work.
To reclaim death as an honoured part of life. To inform and educate around end of life issues. To ease the shock and horror of sudden death and make anticipated death a little easier to navigate.
And to create a beautiful place of remembrance. A Natural Burial Ground. A Stone Barrow. For my family and for yours.