Monday, July 20, 2015
Well, that was a first for this farm. We have hosted a wedding, holiday dinners, birthday celebrations and farm parties in the moonlight. But this is the first time we have ever hosted an Irish Wake.
Sunday morning dawned bright and humid, with a severe thunderstorm watch. By afternoon, Kemptville had its first ever thunderstorm warning. Perfect. We started to think maybe Uncle Pat was trying to go out with a crash and a bang. Luckily, the storm passed north of us and we just got the tailwinds. It didn’t rain on us, and we managed to escape with one toppled tent, one ripped tarp and some overturned lawn chairs. We got the mess cleaned up before everyone arrived at 3pm, and made sure the remaining infrastructure was securely fastened to the ground.
Pat’s sister (my mom) and his girlfriend Christiane had been working on this Celebration of Life for weeks. I panicked a little bit when the guest list swelled to 50, then 60 people who would like to stay after the service for a sit-down meal. We had never fed quite so many before. We decided to dedicate the kitchen-dining area to the main buffet, turn the back TV room into dessert land and put all the appetizers with the drinks out on the back porch and tables set out on the lawn under the tent. I stood in the middle of the house and imagined the flow of a possible 70 people through the house. In the end, only about 40 showed up out of fear of the storm so it was quite comfortable.
As fitting for a man who has lived in
B.C. and Asia, teaching little theatre and
English as a Second Language, working as a radiologist, cab driver,
professional actor and performer, Uncle Pat’s guest list was quite a motley
crew. There were relatives from long ago and far away, some who hadn’t seen
each other in three decades. We worried past history might cause some drama
between a few people, to which Mom responded, “It isn’t a good Irish Wake
without a donnybrook or two.” Grandma was present of course, along with Pat’s
sweethearts past and present, a new Canadian from Mexico who was one of his ESL
students and even a psychic medium. Three
of his co-stars from a recent Ottawa
theatre production managed to get here through what sounded like a remake of “Trains,
Planes and Automobiles”.
A long-time family friend, Janet Stark, performed the services for us. We made her a little platform and affixed a gazebo on top of it. Pat’s widow Christiane decorated with Irish mementos, Pat’s favourite sunflowers and a string of Tibetan prayer flags. The Irish Catholic / Buddhist service was like none I had ever attended before, and I’m sure none I will ever attend again. We served punch, water and soft drinks before the service, and I only had to take one beer out of someone’s hand, reminding them we had to go to church first, Irish Wake second.
Pat’s brother got up with his guitar and started to sing Amazing Grace. But when the wind whipped up again, knocking the deceased’s photo to the ground and whisking the sheet music off into the pasture, he switched to something else. “These Hands” by Hank Snow was the perfect choice.
After prayer, readings and shared memories, we passed around the Irish whiskey, had a few toasts and sang a few Irish songs.
The wind ripped brother Jack’s music from the stand and caused his guitar to hit and cut his forehead. A gale thrashed at the tents, carried song, tore the strips off the bottom of the Tibetan banner and carried them skyward. It was a dramatic display. A grand finale of a life. Pat’s photo kept repeatedly falling over and having to be replaced above his urn on the stage. And then suddenly, at the end of the service, calm. A vacuum of energy, like a powerful presence had just left the room with a great door slam.
At the end of the service, the medium came up to speak quietly with some of us. She said Pat had indeed been there. She felt he went and kissed his mother on the cheek. Later my mother told the psychic Pat hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye to his 100-year-old mother. They had been extremely close in recent years, living in the same building.
Pat even performed a little miracle on his way out. His two remaining brothers, who hadn’t seen each other in 30 years after parting on bad terms, grabbed a guitar and a mic and sang a number of Irish tunes with their sister, my mother.
Rest in Peace, Uncle Pat, with the certainty of a life well lived and always remembered.
Posted by Diana Leeson Fisher at 7:00 AM