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The Changing Skies
Contemplating a life well-lived
My father’s ashes are in the overhead bin. They have to be put into carry-on bags only. It’s a rule.
I’m above the clouds, and below I can still see that blue, blue ocean. Isn’t it strange that so many adjectives that describe the colour blue — celestial, azure, cerulean —seem trite? I’m searching for the right one. The skies outside my oval window reach down to the sea, creating a circle of cyan, white and turquoise, enveloping this flying machine. I am untethered, floating.
I admit that the notion of my dad residing in my luggage above me, if only for six hours, elicits an alternative universe kind of chuckle, and it’s possible it might have done the same for him. Hard to imagine that dignified, elegant man in this situation. Then again, not sure I ever thought I’d be here either.
After dying on an island in the Caribbean, Dad might have, in heavenly hindsight, looked somewhat askance at the laws regarding cremation in Barbados. Government approval is required (patience is a virtue), and the road can be bumpy. Suffice it to say after three incorrect death certificates and botched timing for the virtual cremation (we didn’t get to see it — mixed emotions), black humour became a prerequisite to getting my father home to Canada.
A family holiday with this extraordinary 95-year old led to him breaking his hip, and complications from pneumonia killed him a week later. I had to return to the island for said ashes. After I visited the funeral home where I collected both Dad and his death certificate, he resided for three nights in a metal suitcase in my bedroom, and his presence and absence let memories dance.
As often happens with those we love, bit by bit, their stories transmute into family legend. The day Dad was skating on a pond in his native Norway and fell through the ice. Once rescued, hot pea soup was the cure, leading to a lifelong love of the stuff.
Watching with his friends as the Nazi soldiers occupying his town ate chocolate bars, spreading butter on them, when they themselves had so little to eat. Unable to attend school because of Nazi educational restrictions upon Norwegian youth — when the Germans lost the war and left his country, he completed two years of missing high school in six months.
The bridge champion who earned his way through college by taking more tricks than he lost, inhaling the skills that served him so well throughout his lifetime — strategic planning, discipline and problem-solving.
Leaving his country to visit his uncle, who escaped occupied Norway and trained at Toronto’s Billy Bishop’s air grounds to fly for Britain’s Royal Air Force. The war hero settled post-war in Toronto, thus permitting his nephew to visit and find a new and equally beautiful country with opportunities for growth and romance.
That this man of conscience, this beloved parent who was unfailingly courteous even as his dementia gnawed at him, who loved and was loved, is now reduced to ashes in a box, in a suitcase, in a luggage bin, on a plane, is just plain bewildering.
Death comes to us all — I have no quarrel with any god that Dad’s great heart stopped fighting. It was time. But does his Norse soul continue the adventure? Will he reunite with those he loved? Will he be there for us? Or will he just fade away and be forgotten like Viking warriors of old?
My plane is preparing for the descent into Toronto Pearson. The skies are dark now.