Even the Best Parties Have to End
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, made to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…”
– Jack Kerouac
In early July, I was in Ottawa with my family for our Mom’s interment. Her wish had been that, when the time came, all of us kids and our families return to her hometown of Ottawa for a vacation around Canada Day.
And what a vacation it was. Canada Day on Parliament Hill was a hoot…and hot! But right before the fireworks began, the skies opened up and we all got drenched.
The interment was at Pinecrest Cemetery the next day. There were 20 of us – family and friends – all gathered around my Grandparent’s grave, where my Mom was to be laid to rest. After the Minister spoke, we all watched as two of my brother’s, George and Doug, gently lowered our Mom’s urn into the ground. My heart broke open and the tears flowed; the circle was complete.
My eldest brother, Pat, had been standing across from me on the other side of the semi-circle. Although us four kids hadn’t planned ahead of time specifically who would place the urn in the grave, when George and Doug stepped forward to do so, it felt right. Afterwards, both Pat and I remarked on how beautifully it had all just…unfolded.
After the interment, we all went to the Chateau Laurier for a delightful reception lunch on the Terrace. We drank Manhattan’s, reminisced, got caught up with extended family – all on my Dad’s side – and laughed the afternoon away. My Mom was an only child but had made sure we stayed in touch with our Dad’s brothers and their families, even though she and Dad had been divorced since 1974 – and my Dad’s family lived in Eastern Canada while we were in the West.
But perhaps it was because she was an only child that my Mom understood so well the importance of family. She also knew that people don’t stay connected without effort – hence the second farewell party in Ottawa. After lunch at the Chateau, my brothers and their families and I all went for a swim and drinks by the pool. Later that evening we went out for dinner but as we were standing on the street, trying to choose a restaurant, the skies again opened up and we got soaked.
Our week in Ottawa didn’t just honour our Mom’s final wishes; it exemplified a life well-lived…a mad mix of sadness and joy, laughter and tears, reminiscing and story-telling, compromise and collaboration, getting lost and finding our way again, sunshine and rain. Our time together was a wonderful reminder that the indelible spirit of an incredibly strong woman lives on in all of us. That fabulous Roman candle burns on 🙂
I also realized that it isn’t just our similarities and shared memories that bond us but also our differences…for that, my brothers keep reminding me, is where perspective comes from.
Of course, hanging out in a cemetery is another effective teacher of perspective. There’s nothing quite like a headstone to remind us that every party – even the best ones – must come to an end, so we better be enjoying and appreciating the one we’re at.
I don’t know when my party will end. Like my Mom, however, I do know where my physical remains will end up. In fact, I visit my final resting place every few months when I visit John’s grave at Queen’s Park Cemetery in Calgary. It’s a tangible reminder that the party will end, I just don’t know when – so I better make each day count. For just as my Mom not having siblings helps me appreciate my family, so, too, does John’s life being cut short at 32 help me appreciate the time that I still have.
However, just in case I haven’t been paying close enough attention – and taking notes – the Universe threw in yet another not-so-friendly reminder about the brevity of life. On the drive back to Timmins from Ottawa, my brother, Pat, and his partner, Mary, were in a near head-on collision on the highway and ended up in a farmer’s field. Both cars were totalled.
“We’re pretty bruised up,” Pat told me on the phone. “But it’s unbelievable we walked away from that.”
The occupants in the other car were also treated for minor injuries. The driver of the pick-up, who caused the crash by passing unsafely, was charged with careless driving.
I love my life; for the most part, my party is a heck of a lot of fun these days. If I died tomorrow, I would be okay with that. What terrifies me far more than my own death is the threat of my favourite people leaving the party too soon. I weathered the recent deaths of my Mom and dog, Soda, fairly well because in the game of life, those were fair and acceptable. Losing loved ones in the prime of life due to other people’s stupidity, however, does not bode well.
But the older I get, the more I realize that life is going to unfold the way it is going to unfold. And it won’t always be beautiful. I just have to remind myself that although we can’t always control what happens, we can control how we respond to what happens – and what lessons we choose to learn. With enough searching, perhaps there is even beauty to be found…but again, that’s where the perspective comes in.
Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the upcoming book, Barrier Removed; A Tough Love Guide to Achieving Your Dreams. Maryanne also writes screenplays and play scripts, including the play, Saviour. She is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and the Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund.