They Say They'll Bury You Tomorrow ...

My Dad passed away 1 year ago, on March 6, 2014.  He was in Montreal, Canada.  I was in Doha, Qatar.

This piece is a re-take on a post I'd written last May, on the day before they buried my Dad on the North Shore of New Brunswick (almost 3 months later, on May 25, 2014).

For those of you who've been following along, my Dad passed away at the age of 84.  Those who didn't know him might have called him an old man.  To me, he was a beautiful man.  He was a vibrant man.  He was what the French call ''un bon vivant''.  He knew how to sing, how to laugh, how to live, how to love, and he did it all so very well.

I miss him.  Every day.  But I've chosen to honour him by living my life.  By singing corny songs to my Kiddo.  By loving everything and everyone I can every single day.  By laughing as much as I can.  

I love him.  I will always love him.  But I'm trying not to cry for him anymore.  Some days it's hard.  But I tell myself I will LIVE for him, because he would have expected no less.  If you're an expat, and you're grieving, know that you're not alone.  It's hard, and it sucks, but carry on.  LIVE for the person you LOVED.  In the end, nothing else makes sense.

I wrote the poem below on May 24; writing it released me from the black cloud that had hovered above my head for the previous three months.  It was the piece that released me from a lot of the pain and the powerlessness.  

I removed the poem from my blog a few days after initially publishing it because it had caused some confusion; I'd also included a reference to Johnny Cash in the initial post, and readers thought the poem was a Johnny Cash tune.  It's not.

The poem was a result of the following:

  • Because of the extreme cold and frozen ground in Northern New Brunswick, burials cannot take place in the winter.  
  • As a result, coffins are placed in a shed-like structure, or holding vault, until the ground thaws enough to make it possible to dig.  
  • It is a process that extends a family's pain.  
  • My Dad was laid to rest on May 25, 2014.
  • I couldn't be there for the burial.
  • But I knew that no grave would ever hold him down.

This poem is for my Dad, who was there for every shit moment in my life.  Who am I to assume he's not here for the shit moments when I miss him so much?  Just 'cos I can't see him doesn't mean he's not right here.  Right?

They say they'll bury you tomorrow, 

now that snow has finally gone. 

They think the earth will be forgiving, 

as they shovel on the mound.

They've mistaken soul and spirit

as they drop into the ground. 

The flesh that housed your being,

a soul without abound.

They think it makes a difference

that your frame they'll now entomb.

They think that's where you'll lay,

like a child within the womb. 

They've mistaken hallowed earth

for a place that really matters. 

When where you really lie, 

is in our hearts all left in tatters.

Your presence it still lingers, 

and your voice still rings so clear. 

Your body will be buried, 

but You, you are right here. 

I won't be there to say farewell,

over here is where I'll be. 

But you won't be there either. 

You'll be right here next to me. 

Je t'aime Papa.  

The Last Goodbye - through the eyes of an expat (Part 3 - The End)

I landed in Doha on Thursday, February 27, 2014.  I'd mercifully slept on the flight; this made the 1-hour wait at customs bearable.

 Landing in Doha ...

Landing in Doha ...

My flight was two hours early.  Since Smilin' Vic hadn't checked the flight status online, this meant no exuberant greeting party at the airport for me.  That was ok.  I was truly beyond caring.  The last goodbye had depleted me.  I waited about twenty minutes outside the airport for Smilin' Vic and Kiddo to show up.

When they finally rolled up, the first thing Kiddo said to me was "You look so sad, Maman."

I decided then and there that I had to smarten up.  My Dad wouldn't want Kiddo worrying about me.  I put on a happy face.

We got home, and I unloaded the clothes and gifts I'd brought back for her and Smilin' Vic.  They had wine and candles set up and ready for me, and we spent a few hours catching up as a family.  

Then we put Kiddo to bed and I proceeded to get toasted.

Not a nice thought, eh?  That I would land after three weeks from home and get drunk on the first night back ...  

But let's be frank, getting drunk's not that foreign to expats.  Amazingly, it's probably more common to expats living in the Middle East than to expats anywhere else worldwide.  And I guess I figured "If ever there was a time to get loaded out of my gourd, tonight's the night".  Having said my last goodbye and all, you know?

I'll admit I was sloppy.  Cried all the tears I'd kept bottled up inside and then some.  Expressed my anger at the world and allowed myself to shout out "Life's NOT fair!",  and "Only the good die young!"

I got Smilin' Vic to YouTube "The Highwaymen" and just about every song Hank Snow, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristoferson ever sang.  And I listened, and I drank, and I cried like a baby.

I slept until about 2 p.m. the next day, while Smilin' Vic carted Kiddo around to a school festival and a birthday party.  I woke up with a head that felt like led and a true sense of despondency.  But I soldiered on;  took a shower, prepared a nice supper for Kiddo and Smilin' Vic, laid off the booze, and steeled myself for the workweek ahead.

I returned to work on Sunday with greetings of "how was your vacation?" and "did you get to go skiing?"

I'd just spent the last three weeks in a nursing home with a father who could no longer walk, barely whisper, no longer sing.

I wanted to punch everyone in the face.

Instead I smiled and replied "it was just a tad too cold for sports".

I carried on for five full days.  Sunday to Thursday.  

Smiling.  

Wanting to punch everyone in the face.

On Thursday, March 6, 2014, I left the office at 17:05 and headed for the parking garage.  As I got into my car, at exactly 17:09, I heard a 'ping' on my phone.

It was a text from my sister, my mentor.  It read simply "Dad has passed away."

 Gone?  Never!  He was invincible...

Gone?  Never!  He was invincible...

I drove home numb.  Apparently I called Smilin' Vic.  By the time I'd gotten home, he'd arranged for my flight back to Canada for the very next morning.  Seven days after having returned to the Land of Sand.  Fourteen hours mid-air.  Just in time to reverse the jet lag.

I didn't have to make a new list for Kiddo's school activities and lunchbox contents;  they could use the one I'd prepared for my last trip a few short weeks ago.

Upon arriving home, I proceeded to drink half a bottle of wine, type out and send two projects with "next week" deadlines to my boss, throw half my closet haphazardly into a suitcase, and inform Kiddo just before bedtime that I wouldn't be seeing her for the next week because Pepere had died and I had to fly out really early the next morning.  We'd talked a lot about the fact that he would die soon; she was sad, but 8-year-olds are amazingly resilient.

Keeping busy kept the tears at bay.  Everyone always says you should be prepared for these events as an expat, but I'm strangely glad I hadn't packed my bags, bought an open-ended plane ticket or thought the whole thing out that much.  The busy-ness halted the insanity.

I boarded my 14-hour flight the next morning.  I landed in Montreal.  My sister and brother-in-law picked me up.  I spent the night at their place, and the next morning we got in the car and headed out on the 9-hour drive halfway across Canada, headed to my father's birthplace and final resting place.

I gazed listlessly at the rolling, snow-covered landscape as we drove along silently.  I typed out my Dad's eulogy in the backseat of the car.  I held my sister's hand while her son and husband listened to music in the front seat.  And her and I ... well, we cried our fair share.

But we laughed too.  Quite a bit, actually.  It felt so good, on those last miles home, just being with family.

We spent the next few nights in a small motel in my Dad's hometown; all my siblings and me, a few nieces and nephews.  We mourned at the funeral home during the day and celebrated my Dad at night as we all congregated in my room.  We had a huge pajama party.  We laughed, we cried, we told stories.

 Family Pajama Party.  Studies show that a Best Western double bed can hold 10 grieving family members ... as long as they're laughing and willing to forego comfort.

Family Pajama Party.

Studies show that a Best Western double bed can hold 10 grieving family members ... as long as they're laughing and willing to forego comfort.

We stood together as they closed the coffin.  We cried together.  We held each other.  We supported each other.

We sat in the front pew as my sister read the eulogy with the voice of an angel.  We gathered with extended family in the church basement after all was said and done.

We got back in our cars the next day and headed back to Montreal.  And I boarded a plane a few days later.

Away from the pajama parties, away from the solidarity, away from the familiarity, away from my Dad.

Back to Doha.  Back to Qatar.  Back to normal.  The 'new' normal.  

Back to work.

If anyone at work asks me if I went skiing, I think I might just punch them in the face.

 Goodbye. God Bless. I love you.  

Goodbye. God Bless. I love you.