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The Funeral

The Funeral

David Richards

david-richards-funeral.png

Distant from the shoulder of the highway, past the dried furrows of farm land, was a stand of trees, their branches bare with approaching winter and windswept pruning. They were cast in silhouette, for behind them the sun was setting. The twilight appeared as if it were cracking to pieces as it sank to earth. Why wouldn’t there be an operatic drama on the horizon? I took it as a tell-tale sign of things to come.

My expectations were further supported as I listened to the weather report on my drive in. It was apparent to me that, over the next two days, Cliff was going to have a spectacular wake and funeral, typical. Death in autumn had a glorious poeticism about it.  Stark, the ground littered with leaves, their vibrant colours fading to brown and, if the weatherman was correct, slightly overcast. If at the burial there was a haunting cry of a wolf in the distance, I would consider usurping the moment and jumping into the grave myself. The opportunity might never present itself again. Intended or not, but most assuredly intended, Cliff had outdone himself.

Each decade brings with it a tide of change for the generation passing though. For my peers, the twenties were the time for marriage and children; the thirties were the time for divorce, with both Cliff and I taking our turn. Now in my forties, I expected it to be a relatively quiet ten years, a respite of sorts during which I would quietly begin to pay out an ever steepening tariff to pharmaceutical firms for aging. That was why I was surprised to hear that he had passed away. Initially I felt that I had won this final round, but then it occurred to me that I could never surpass this funeral. At best I could only emulate it.

Alone in the car, I began to think about the troubling prospect of a me-too funeral, for the only thing left in the face of the triumphant romanticism was martyrdom which, even if I could seriously contemplate, I felt to be in bad taste.

Alone in the car, I began to think about the troubling prospect of a me-too funeral, for the only thing left in the face of the triumphant romanticism was martyrdom which, even if I could seriously contemplate, I felt to be in bad taste.

What had been so unusual about Cliff’s passing was the suddenness of it. He was by all outward appearances a healthy man who engaged in life head on. Active and athletic he had always been at the top of the squash ladder during our university years, a fact he never let me forget, even as the master of ceremonies at my wedding reception. Although we had drifted apart geographically over the years, my thoughts remained with him. What has Clifford accomplished lately? I would never have to speculate for too long as he would call me frequently with updates.

When I took the Brock Street off ramp from the highway into Whitby, the town of our childhood and his impending burial, it occurred to me that I owed him a debt of gratitude. Had it not been for our rivalry I would not have achieved all that I had. In a squeamish epiphany I suddenly realized that it was over and because of that felt an enormous emptiness and, strangely, a loss in confidence; still on the wire but for the first time without a net. I wasn’t sure my successes would have as much meaning in the future.

While pulling into the parking lot of the funeral home I wondered, in the end, where had our competition, friendly as it was, gotten us? Was I happier for it? Part of my identity was rolled up into it; perhaps a significant part. We did not divorce our wives. We atoned for the infidelity we both had committed by marrying outside our relationship. It was staggering to fathom.

The funeral home was typical Clifford. Had it not been a commercial repository for death-related paraphernalia, one could have easily imagined it to be the residence of a judge or surgeon. At the doorway I was met by former classmates and equally emotionally invested mourners as they were leaving. Candice, his wife, was managing well, but my attention was not on her. I was focused on Cliff lying in state. For I knew then, above all else, I would have to upgrade my casket.

 

All rights reserved to David Richards

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