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(Steve Adams for The Globe and Mail)
(Steve Adams for The Globe and Mail)

I went to the funeral of a man I didn’t know Add to ...

The Essay is a daily personal piece submitted by a reader. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

I am not a fan of funeral homes or funerals – but then again, who is?

I don’t work at one and I certainly don’t go visiting for the sake of visiting.

I am, however, no stranger to funerals. I’ve attended a number over the years for lost family members, close friends or neighbours who were really more like acquaintances – you know, the “Hi, how are you? Fine, thanks and keep walking” kind. There were also clients I knew only from a business perspective, and loved ones of colleagues with whom I had worked.

Loss and funerals are a part of the circle of life.

Then there was Evan. Or rather, Evan’s funeral. This one was different.

Evan was a man I did not know. He was a stranger. I had never worked with him, nor could I say I really knew his family. And yet, here I was, along with my sisters, planning to attend the service intended to celebrate his life.

Evan’s funeral was scheduled for a Saturday afternoon and I was given about a week’s notice to prepare.

Prepare – what an interesting word. I wasn’t sure what I had to prepare for, but I found myself grateful for the time.

I tried to answer the question: “Why was I drawn to the funeral?”

I told myself one story, and others a different one. Perhaps I wasn’t even sure about it myself.

I wondered about what I was going to wear and, of course, hair and makeup. I wondered whether I would be noticed, and if I actually wanted to be noticed or preferred to blend into the woodwork. There were many questions but few answers.

Saturday rolled around pretty quickly. Was I prepared? Who knew?

We arrived a few minutes early – just ahead of the visitation that preceded the service. I took a deep breath, grabbed my tissues and walked through the door, not knowing what to expect.

We were not the first; the room was surprisingly full of people milling around, and yes, we were noticed.

A sense of unease came over me. I didn’t feel comfortable. I asked myself what I was doing there, and, of course, I told myself that I shouldn’t have come. What in the world was I thinking?

I wondered how I was going to survive the experience, and yet somehow knew that I would.

I soon spotted the photo display set up as a pictorial of Evan’s life. It was filled with smiles, trips and occasions. And of course family, and friends.

At first I scanned them all quickly, thinking and perhaps even hoping that something or someone would stand out, that there would be a confirmation to say: “Yes Debbie, you should be here.”

It didn’t happen. I tried again, this time slower, photo by photo. I studied, I paused and I reflected. I even tried to look deep into the photos as if to generate feelings of some sort.

Then, the realization: There were no feelings and they held no meaning. I knew they were not meant to, and yet I was surprised.

So, what next? I couldn’t just stand there. I looked around the room again and knew what I needed to do. I had to see him. He was, after all, the reason that I was there.

I walked over to the casket. It was open and there lay the man who had brought us together that day. I searched my memory in the hopes that there would be something there to show that he was who they said he was. I looked inward, but there was nothing. Looking outward, I saw a man I did not know, whose journey was at an end.

I was glad for the tissues, as they soon filled with my tears – tears for time lost, never to be reclaimed, experiences never lived and others never shared.

There I stood, realizing that I could have passed him on the street without knowing who he was. It was more than just a remote possibility – it might very well have happened, as I discovered we had spent a number of years working just down the street from one another. Perhaps we’d even shared public transit or a local lunch spot.

Lots of “perhapses” and possibilities, all amounting to nothing. The past had come and gone.

The last moments of the service were at Evan’s final resting place. A spot that he had chosen in preparation for the day he knew would eventually come, when his journey would end. It was next to his wife’s and her son’s (his stepson). We were given a rose and asked to lay it on his casket. We each took our turn and laid the flower. It was somehow very final. The end.

That day, a chapter closed in my life and in the lives of my sisters. A chapter that may have had a clear beginning and end, but in which the pages representing over 40 years in between were blank. Never filled and never to be filled.

For me, the truly sad and most poignant time in the day was remembering how I was 5 the last time I saw him. Except his name, then, was not Evan. It was Daddy.

Debbie Ristimaki lives in Pierrefonds, Que.

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