Yesterday, I received an e-mail from my friend K. “I wanted you to know that my dad died last Wednesday morning. We have been doing ceremonies for him and will be having a memorial service next thursday. Say a prayer and remember the person that you spent some time with at the cottage.”
I’d thought of K. in the last weeks. I don’t remember when, but it’s not unusual that some train of thought will lead to her. She was my group leader on a program called Canada World Youth from 1989-1990 where a group of young Canadians and Ecuadoreans spent time in farms in Canada and then small villages in Ecuador. She became a friend immediately, and we kept in touch for years after with love and intensity. We had an ability to connect with each other, and I think valued our kindred spirits, two people who value friendships.
I’ve lost touch lately though. I’ve been noted by many friends as the person they know with the strongest ability to maintain contacts with people, and this is probably true, but I’ve been faltering for years. The ties sever in tiny ways. The ability to maintain a sense of connectedness over a long period of time wanes, especially if you haven’t seen them for years. Though e-mail means people can burst back into your lives for short periods after many years, I miss that magical, strange time of my early twenties when I travelled across Canada regularly, and somehow managed to SEE my friends occasionally, wherever they were.
Still, I felt the same connection as always when I called K. this morning, though it’s been a few years since we saw each other at my book launch in Toronto and neither of us have been very good at e-mailing since. She’s doing well, all things considered, and is busy with a gentle storm of ceremonies and activities; the memorial service is soon. Her dad was Indian so they’re having the ceremony not at a funeral parlour (“my friend says they always smell of that death perfume, whatever it is, embalming fluid or something else, it always smells the same”) but at the Aboriginal Resource Centre at the university where K. teaches. Her students are helping out and rearranging the furniture. K. closed the office for ten days and is treating herself well while she grieves. They lit a fire for her dad at the sunset after he died and kept it burning for days and days. She cut off her braids, her long hair; it’s the first time it’s been short in decades.
I remember the weekend at the cottage, though only vaguely, it comes back to me in a more visceral way: the smell of wood and damp, a colour: a forest green, though was it fall instead and I’m making this up? I remember how much I liked observing the relationships between every one who was there: K.’s parents, K., W., D. – was there anyone else? – deep bonds of care. We ate well. Walked in the forest? Canoed on a lake? K. told me she found a photo of that weekend: K., D. and I all had long braids of dark hair on our backs, and then the light of her father’s white hair. I think of myself as slightly unformed then: a wilder, brighter energy, different neuroses than the ones I have now, probably less damaged but at the same time: more dramatic.
“Have you got friends around?” I asked K. “It’s good that the ceremonies and people are keeping you busy, right?”
“Oh, we never lack for activity around here,” she laughed, and that’s what I remember of K.’s father, and family, and K.: people laughing, making food, drinking wine, sharing in good company. And here is a prayer in form of small thanks that I met that kind man. And here is a prayer in form of request that the world bring comfort to K. when she needs relief from grieving.