Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"Bury Me At Sea" 7

“Bury Me At Sea”: A Father’s Final Voyage 

A WW2 Navy veteran’s request becomes a son’s great adventure 

 [Doug Harrison, with Effingham Division, Halifax 1941]

Previously on Bury Me At Sea...

Had I been a wiser, braver son I might very well have turned to my father and asked how he felt about not being buried at sea, or what factors helped him choose the one over the other. But I wasn’t that son. While he was alive we never discussed the matter again.

After his death, however, it came up - and not out of the blue - one more time.

*  *  *  *  * 

The Impossible Is Possible (continued) 

With his decision made, plans for mother’s interment went ahead without any hitches, and she was buried at the Gordon Walker Cemetery on Quaker Street, Norwich in the spring of 2001, mere steps away from the remains of her childhood church.

For the most part, my father’s life and my own went on day by day without hitches as well. He kept busy with several activities at Parkwood Hospital, London (his last place of residence) and I kept busy with several of my own pursuits. And, as in the past, our lives generally intersected on Saturday afternoon at one o’clock. I’d drive to Parkwood to pick him up for coffee and a ride in the country and he would be waiting at the door, looking for me.

When we travelled together the atmosphere inside the car was warm, comfortable. Our first stop was always the same, a coffee shop at Commissioners and Adelaide two blocks from the hospital. We sought out and arrived at interesting destinations by slowly zig-zagging along backroads - south and east of London more times than not - and as the car meandered so did our talks.

During one we discussed selling the family home in Norwich. He made the final decision to ‘go ahead’, so I went ahead, sold the house, paid the final bills (with the help of my wife) and passed along the proceeds as he desired.

[19 Washington Avenue, Norwich 1917]

While involved in the process I made a significant connection.

Upon seeing the house for sale, Mr. and Mrs. Byle, my father’s next-door neighbours, decided to buy the house for their daughter. I was as happy as a clam to sell the house quickly to people known to the family, especially my mother and father, and I was astute enough to set one informal condition.

“Mr. Byle,” I said, “Someday you’ll likely think about tearing down the old barn, and when you do, I want you to call me. I’d like to have some of the lumber from the inside walls.”

He agreed to call. We shook on it and we both filed away the agreement in the back of our minds. But I’m ahead of myself.

During another ride, after the sale of the house, my father told me a form of cancer had returned to him, and that he wasn’t going to fight it again.

“I can’t bear to go through any more operations. The cure is worse than the disease,” he said.
On that day, the implications of what he said seemed clear and I struggled to find encouraging or comforting words to fit the moment. I muttered something about how he at least could make his own decision with a clear mind (“That’s a lot more than others can do,” I said) and that I was proud of him for talking to me about it.

[Doug and Gord stop long enough for a photo together. 1969]

As usual, more details were sparse, slow in coming. My brother and sisters likely know more about his actual condition then, and I’m sure the health care system is sitting on a tonne of informative medical files related to my father’s various aliments, but at the time we just drove on together, eyes on soothing countryside, down another road, around a corner and down another road, and around another corner and down another road.

My father died, none too peacefully, on February 3, 2003 in his room at Parkwood Hospital, less than two weeks after our last car ride together. The ground at his chosen burial site in his hometown was frozen and plans were made for another spring interment. During preparations, not one word or any thoughts concerning burial at sea were ever discussed.

I told my four siblings I would build a box for his cremated remains because I had the perfect lumber - but not, as things turned out, the perfect set of plans - on hand in my workshop.

More to follow.

Link to Bury Me At Sea 6

Photos by GH

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