Canadian Funeral

We drove down to Picture Butte last Friday for the funeral of my husband’s junior father.  Over the years I have developed a rather hybrid view of funerals, first by attending hundreds of Ghanaian funerals, and more recently by attending funerals here in Canada.

One thing that comes through in both cultures is that a funeral truly speaks to who the person was.  Good people have good funerals. Those who loved others have funerals characterized by love given back.  This one was a lovely memorial to a good man. I think his language of love must have been “doing.”   There were many tributes to the things he had built and the renovation projects he had helped various ones with.  The last line of his childrens’ tribute was, “Don’t renovate all of Heaven before we get there.”

Perhaps because he was the last of his siblings, the funeral also drew out a gathering of cousins my husband had not seen for close to forty years.

Canadians do not enjoy funerals; but in Ghana funerals are designed, I think, for the pleasure of the one who has died. They celebrate the things he enjoyed in life, and have an aspect of sending him off well.  I believe Uncle Lloyd would have enjoyed the family gathering; of his children, their spouses,  grand-children and nieces and nephews at the house. I know Aunt Doris appreciated having her children around her.  We expressed sympathy but also caught up with family members and found comfort in the warmth of reaffirming family bonds.

And I renewed my acquaintance with small town mores.  You see, I’m a small town girl.  I expect to say hello to people on the street as I pass, and I expect to help strangers and to find help when I need it.  And we needed it.  We had a problem with being at the right place at the right time.  We had gotten up at 4:30 a.m. in order to make it in time for the burial.  Our Ghanaian instinct says- What’s a funeral without a burial? (or, speak it softly, without a wake, for that matter.) Isn’t that the point of it all?

I have this feeling that the time you are most sure to be late is the time you arrive an hour early.  We had been told that Picture Butte did not have a graveyard (how could that be?) and that the burial would be at Iron Springs a few kilometers down the road. So we drove to Iron Springs- a prairie whistle stop with a large Christian Reformed Church, and a school.  It made me think of a small-sized Neerlandia.

A man in his yard gave us directions and we found the cemetery a mile out of town.  No activity.  One small mound of new dirt but from outside the fence you couldn’t see much.  We met up with Wes’ mother and siblings who had driven in from Calgary, looked at the clock and went for coffee.  Came back- we were about 10 minutes early.  No activity at the graveyard, and on closer inspection no newly dug grave, certainly not one lined with artificial turf with funeral home attendants fussing around it. In fact, nobody.

We decided we must be at the wrong place after all.  So we drove back to Picture Butte.  And that’s where the small town folks did not let me down.  The waitress at the small cafe helpfully dug up yesterday’s paper and the funeral announcement, but it said nothing about the burial. She found cousin Jack’s phone number, and the number of his work place, and they in turn gave me his cell phone number.  Naturally- he had it turned off for the service.  We were given directions to the church- unlocked, but also unoccupied.

Still looking, but not wanting to bother the waitress again,  we asked to use the phone book at another business. Unfortunately neither Uncle Lloyd nor Jack listed a street address by their phone number- who, in a small town, would need to do that?  However the manager asked around and found out that one church in town did have a cemetery.  Nobody we knew was there either. Apparently they only bury their own.

Finally I said, “Let’s stop at the post-office, that’s where town news gets spread.”  The first lady leaving,  knew Uncle Lloyd but was  not too clear in giving directions to the house.  “If you go back to the main highway. . .”

And that’s where a cousin sent out to find us caught up with us.

If we’d only waited a few more minutes at the cemetery we would have met the funeral.  You only need a small hole to bury an urn.


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