Guest column: Emotional pain of losing parent ... - Windsor Star June 12, 2021
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Emotional pain of losing parent hits different during age of COVID-19
My 96-year old father died recently. I was busy looking under the bushes for our garbage bin — the men on the truck continue to find unique places to deposit the empties — when my iphone vibrated.
I didn’t take the call as bin retrieval is a serious business. The call rolled over to text.
The message was short and to the point. “Dad has gone! It happened 10 minutes ago.”
He had been recovering in a Manotick senior’s facility near Ottawa following surgery a week before. Dad, a Second World War vet and former Windsor optometrist, had been rushed to hospital when he couldn’t get out of bed that morning. The hospital admitted him and less than an hour later he was gone.
The phone vibrated again. It was my wife. She had heard and was leaving work immediately.
It was long drive to my brother’s home near Ottawa. Along the way I received texts of regret from my cousin who lives on a boat in San Francisco Bay. His sister, a teacher in Berkley texted her deepest regrets and suggested we soon talk on the phone.
The rest of my family, all in the Ottawa Valley, wanted me to post information on the funeral arrangements.
By the time we passed the Big Apple (a Highway 401 pie factory that has a roadside electronic sign giving a running total of how many pies they have sold) I had received emails, voice mail and texts from a niece in Keswick, a second niece in Gatineau.
My older brother Facebook messaged me to tell me I am the co-executor of my dad’s estate, along with my stepbrother (his mother, my father’s second wife had passed just five weeks ago).
Arriving at my brother’s home at 2 p.m., there were hugs all around, except from me — I kept my distance and my mask on. We had a family meeting 40 km from the hospital where my dad had died.
I didn’t see his body. The hospital was sympathetic, but as they say, “Covid Rules.”
Working both the old-fashioned telephone and four different smart phones we were able to arrange for my father’s transport to a mortuary, we hired a funeral home and made a stab at writing an obit.
I was given a print-off of my stepmother’s will.
It was 7 p.m. when we headed out the door to return home. We split the driving while our new age Cadillac annoyingly read out my incoming sympathy texts.
At 9 p.m. while I drove past the Big Apple, I noted they’d sold 100-plus pies since my dad’s death. The next day was depressing. The grief caught up with me.
I fought with my University of Windsor online blackboard and cried into my laptop when I couldn’t log on to my first class of the summer semester.
Meanwhile, my older brother had posted a death notice on Facebook; the likes, and sympathies and prayers roared in — many from people I have never heard of. Meanwhile, the funeral home had already grabbed some online family photographs of dad for a memorial page. The mortuary sent me an email confirmation my dad had been cremated. My sister-in-law went to an online catalogue and picked an urn.
In the afternoon, the Anglican Minister who has jurisdiction over the cemetery in the ghost town of Clontarf (don’t bother trying to locate it) where my mother (my dad’s first wife) was buried, sent a Facebook message to me that Ishould stay off consecrated ground when my dad’s urn was placed in my mother’s grave. When my mother passed away 26 years ago, the whole town came out.
Pictured above: l-r - Russ Weir, Jack Weir, author Stephen Weir and Bruce Weir. Picture taken at Jack Weir's 95th birthday.
The village choir sang the funeral service; the town laid on a flatbed trailer to take the flowers into the bush. Motorists pulled off to the side of the road. Men doffed their hats. It was a two-hour open coffin affair. I couldn’t look at my mother, I cried for two days straight.
During COVID-19 lockdown, death is easier to handle than it used to be — even when it is your father because it is all online.
I wasn’t allowed to see his corpse; instead I saw happy memory pictures online. I didn’t have to accept weeping condolences from neighbours or distant relatives that haven’t talked to me since the last family death. It was all done by email.
The cost of my dad’s death is not going to break us — online media make all things faster, easier and cheaper. No embalming. No coffin. No processional hearse to the grave site (urn is in my brother’s car).
It has all been so easy because this is the age of the information society.
The funeral home, the mortuary, the online and newspaper published obituary were all located by our smart phones accessing online media provided information.
The convenience of it all doesn’t make it any easier on my soul.
Crying on my keyboard will never replace standing bedside beside a dying father and saying “I Love You.”
Stephen Weir is a semi-retired communications expert who resides in South Walkerville and is enrolled as one of the oldest part-time students at the University of Windsor.