Thursday, April 24, 2014

Death: The Final Frontier

I drive past Camp Hill Cemetery quite regularly in my travels around Halifax, and as a minister, I have occasionally presided at graveside or committal services there. Camp Hill Cemetery is the second oldest cemetery in Halifax, the final resting place for many of the city’s elite; you can read more about it hereI have frequently promised myself that one day I will explore it a bit. 

This past week, between a doctor’s appointment and meeting a friend for lunch, I had the opportunity to do so. And in doing so, I made two discoveries: the middle of the cemetery is made up of concentric circles, almost as if it is laid out in the shape of a Celtic Cross. Given the Scottish history of Halifax it is quite possible that this is the case. 

The other was this unique headstone. It looks like a window frame in a church, but with the centre removed. I wondered if this was purposeful or had the centre part fallen out some time in its history? What message does it convey? 

Most headstones are very solid, as if to say, “I was here and here I am and this is the end!” This one on the other hand seems to invite one to ponder what is on the other side. Its very openness invites one to be drawn into the mystery that is death. Its unique shape had me pondering life and death and life again. I believe in life after death, even as I have no idea what that life may be like. The curved shape and the tree or flower like opening seem distinctly feminine. As much as it looks like a window, it invites me to pass through it like a doorway. What lies on the other side? What lessons does the other side have for us?Whatever markings were on it are long since worn away by wind and rain and salt air. Does it mark a woman’s grave? A man’s? Its placement close to the centre of cemetery tells us that it is one of the earlier graves.  Whoever you are and wherever you are, blessings on your continuing journey.

And that’s my window on God's world. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

My Father's Ashes

It’s been two months since I wrote a post. Two months that have been demanding professionally and personally as my congregation and I dealt with a number of deaths, including the most recent one, that of my father two and half weeks ago. My father’s death was sudden and shocking, his body unexpectedly succumbing to the effects of throat cancer and radiation.

His wish was that following cremation, his 
ashes be retained by our mother until her death, and then they be interred together. 

This is a birdhouse that I gave my parents a number of years ago. They had a collection of birdhouses from the utilitarian to the whimsical hanging in the trees at their home outside of Windsor, Nova Scotia. This one never housed birds, it was kept inside, I am not sure why. Now it houses my father’s remains. We decided that this was an appropriate container for them, although I have since discovered that many people wondered whether he built houses in his retirement, not realizing it was a birdhouse. 

My mother has a special spot for his ashes in their TV room; it’s on the table on which this birdhouse sat since they moved into their apartment. Sitting alongside it is a small, decorative hummingbird lamp, hummingbirds are important to my mother and the candle that was used as a Christ Candle during his funeral. 

It's been a long, cold winter here in Nova Scotia, the first one my parents have spent here in about 15 years, my father was reluctant to make the trip this year. They have a second home in Florida, where they quickly made friends, got involved in their mobile home park association and enjoyed an active social life and appreciated the sun and sea. After talking with her children and receiving assurance that we would not feel abandoned, my mother decided that she would go to their Florida home for a couple of weeks. However, she also said that on some level she felt as if she would be abandoning her partner of 57 years; and so I asked her if she would like one of their children to take them while she was away. 

And so, his ashes have made their home with me for the past week; they sit on a small table in our open concept living/dining room and so are part of the ordinary landscape of our home. Despite knowing that his spirit/soul/presence is not contained in that box, there is some sense of his presence nonetheless.  

My mother will be home next week, his ashes will go back to her apartment as she begins the process of building her life without him. I wonder how much emptier my home will be. 

And that’s my window on God's world.