They say death brings out the worst in families. Or maybe it’s just my experience that prompts me to say that. As you can see from his photo, my dad was a kind and loving man. Even though he died in 2008, I still feel his soft, loving presence.
He avoided conflict. He didn’t like to talk about his feelings or listen to other people express difficult feelings. He kept his own grief and anger buried deep inside. One of his old friends wrote to Mom after Dad’s death, saying, “We will always remember Lorne as the quiet spoken gentleman who had the means to make you feel that he felt the very thoughts that were in your mind.”
It’s odd that I also recall Dad speaking of this same friend after a visit, saying he could see his friend was feeling stress by the tension in his jaw. This is way Dad acknowledged his friend was feeling upset. From a distance, yet observant enough to see it for what it was.
Dad’s response to his friend at the time was likely a nod and silence. Maybe the offer of a drink. Probably a change of subject. The respectful thing for Dad sensing a friend’s stress was to help him avoid it. My mother was very much the same in regard to deep feelings. I never saw her cry, not when her sister, her mother or her husband died. Mom said she “wasn’t a crier.”
Dad’s quiet death on the evening of Feb. 4, 2008, caused volcanic eruptions among the remaining family. Mom and I had sat with him all day, sensing the end was near. We knew he was dying, yet as the day wore on we knew we needed a break. We went to our respective homes and planned to return as soon as we could. That’s when Dad died, a half-hour after we’d gone.
The nurse said not to feel bad. “It’s often like that, they wait until they’re alone to die. They don’t want to upset you.”
My siblings came over from the mainland that evening. We were not close, and I think the fact I was with Dad all day rankled them. There were no tears. Hugs, if there were any, were stiff and distant. The attention of the family quickly turned to the safe topic of arrangements. The next day, my mother and siblings went to town to deal with the paperwork and arrangements that follow death. I stayed home and wrote the obituary. One of the benefits of working for the Victoria Times Colonist was free obits for immediate family members. Whoopee.
This is what I wrote, and I’ve deleted the names of my siblings to protect their privacy.
McCULLOCH, Lorne Chambers Beloved husband, father, 33rd-degree Mason and friend of many passed away at age 87 on February 4, 2008 at Dufferin Place. Lorne was born on June 15, 1920 and raised in Esquimalt, where he attended Lampson Street School and Esquimalt High. He served with the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War and after that took a job with Trans-Canada Airlines. In 1951, Lorne began work with B.C. Telephone Company. He married Evelyn in 1953 and settled in Esquimalt. In 1956, Lorne and Evelyn and (my oldest sibling) moved to Nanaimo. A year later, the family moved to their idyllic home at Boat Harbour, and the arrival of (my sibling) and Sandra completed the family. Lorne spent his free time on chores: cutting grass, tending the huge vegetable garden and chopping wood. He rarely called professionals to do repairs he could figure out how to do himself. He enjoyed hard work and the satisfaction of a job well done, even if it meant long soaks in the tub afterward to soothe his aches and pains. He also enjoyed visiting with friends, and the waterfront home proved a popular spot in summer and friends stopped by for some hospitality and maybe a swim in the bay. Lorne retired from B.C. Tel in 1984, and in the years that followed he and Evelyn drove across Canada and to the Far North in their truck and camper. They also travelled the world, visiting South America, Europe and Australia. But it was home Lorne loved best, especially Mom’s good cooking and being surrounded by family. Many thanks to Dr. Andrew Baird and the wonderful staff at Dufferin Place for making Lorne’s final years so comfortable. Lorne is predeceased by his sister Doris (August 2000) and is survived by Evelyn, his wife of 54 years’ marriage, (my siblings) and Sandra of Cobble Hill, and granddogs Rosa and Libby. A memorial service will be held Friday, February 8 at 2 p.m. at St. Philips Anglican Church in Cedar, 1797 Cedar Rd. Reception to follow. Flowers gratefully declined. Those who wish to remember him may make a donation to a charity of their choice.
When my mother saw what I wrote she pointed out that I had made an error. They were living in Victoria before moving to the waterfront. My siblings glared at me. I had made a mistake.
I don’t know if it was the toxic mixture of anger and grief, but I did the unthinkable — I burst into tears. This was the first expression of emotion I’d displayed in the 24 hours since Dad passed away. I ran from the house, and Mom followed me.
Later she’d say, “I’ve never seen tears come out horizontally before.” Such was the extent of her comfort. Mentioning a physical oddity.
God knows what my blood glucose was doing through all this. I’d been diagnosed with diabetes six years prior but it would be a long time before I’d get a continuous glucose monitor. And poking my finger to check glucose was the last thing on my mind.
The comment from one of my siblings was: “So much drama.”
At the funeral, I picked up the memorial card. It had the photo of Dad I’ve got up above. And the dates of his birth and death, but the death date was a day off. No one mentioned the mistake. One of my siblings gave a eulogy that said Dad wasn’t prepared for a third child — me — and Mom had to talk him into it.
Again, I became a drama queen. I held it together, barely, until the end of the service then burst into tears in the hallway. Nobody told me before that my birth was unexpected or unwanted. Friends, cousins and colleagues comforted me as my mother and siblings walked by to the reception hall.
So much drama.
I know now that my feelings were my truth. I know now that the fact my birth was unexpected sheds new light on the trauma I must have felt as a fetus. I was the third infant to come along in three and a half years, and the burden on my mother was immense. I’m not feeling sorry for myself here. I tell this story because it demonstrates how emotion is quashed by those who don’t want to feel it. I understand better how my body handles intense emotion.
What makes me cry now is seeing others cry. I think empathy comes naturally for many people, whether they’re seeing an emotional scene in a movie or a friend in crisis.
Those who frown and grumble about drama are trying to stomp on their own emotional response. They are the ones who need help.
And as it turned out, my mother’s death in 2016 would prove even more chaotic and painful. But that story is for another day.
Miss you, Dad.