By Karen Wyatt MD
The email arrived today, just as it always does, 5 days before my mother’s birthday: “It’s time to order flowers for Margaret!” The florist that sends this reminder has been in business in my hometown for over 100 years and has provided flowers for every birthday, wedding and funeral in my family for as long as I can remember.
I search through the available bouquets featured in the email: Sunny Siesta, Fields of Autumn, Country Sunrise, Butterfly Effect. I think Fields of Autumn is perfect, with orange lilies, green hydrangeas and yellow dahlias. Mom will love the colors and the wild, just-picked look of the arrangement.
But this year marks the fifth year that I won’t be sending mail order flowers to Mom; the fifth birthday when I won’t be calling her and hearing about her special celebrations with friends; the fifth year since her death, when I mark her birthday by lighting an orange candle in a private celebration of my own.
Each year when the email reminder arrives I feel a familiar twinge of pain and loneliness as I imagine how Mom’s face would light up when she opened the front door to receive the flowers I’ve chosen for her. I can see her placing the bouquet on her kitchen table, near the window where she always looked out to watch me play in the park across the street.
I wonder why the florist doesn’t know that Mom has died? They provided all of the flowers for her funeral, including the casket spray she had ordered and paid for several years before her death. I’m sure some people would be upset about the automated emails they send every September, but somehow I’ve grown to cherish them.
Choosing a special birthday bouquet for Mom is a long-held ritual for me and it’s one of the last connections I have to our relationship. There’s an indescribable emptiness that occurs with the death of the only person who loves every school photo of you, including the ones with missing teeth, pigtails, and geeky glasses; when the only person who would save your report cards and crayon drawings in the bottom of her lingerie drawer is gone; when you can never again feel the relief that comes from the sound of her voice calling you “honey” over the telephone.
Mom’s belongings, the special treasures that she had gathered over her lifetime, were sorted and scattered within a few months of her death. And her house, where I spent my childhood, has been remodeled by its new owners. The kitchen window no longer exists and the bedroom where she died is now unrecognizable. The cabin in the mountains where we used to camp and fish is now the playground of some other family. There is no longer a physical place that holds my memories.
But in my imagination Mom still opens the front door for the deliveryman and claps her hands with joy over the Fields of Autumn bouquet he holds out to her. She still clears a special spot on the table where the sunlight will show off the orange and yellow blossoms and arranges the attached card so that everyone can see who sent her birthday flowers. She still sits patiently in her reclining chair with the telephone in her lap, waiting for my birthday call. And I still whisper “I love you Mom,” as I celebrate the fact that she was born on September 23rd – born to live a life of love and to one day be my mother and raise me to be a mother as well.
So this year as I study the floral arrangements available to order and choose the perfect flowers for Mom, I have one lingering hope: that the florist keeps sending my reminder email every September. To them I say: thank you for still remembering my Mom’s special day, for helping me maintain my last remaining tribute to her and for the way my face lights up with joy each September 23rd when I see the orange and yellow colors of the Fields of Autumn bouquet.
About the Author:
Dr. Karen Wyatt is a hospice and family physician who writes extensively on spirituality and medicine, especially at the end-of-life. She is the host of End-of-Life University Interview Series and author of “The Tao of Death” and the award-winning book “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying” Connect with her at karenwyattmd.com, on Facebook at fb.com/KarenWyattMD and on Twitter @spiritualmd
I recently stumbled upon a clay crafter named Sherri Evans. Sherri is a funeral director and embalmer with a fantastic ability to custom craft clay into anything. Here’s some of her work:
She even does personalized faces. You can send her a photo and she’ll make you into clay.
Aren’t these little fluid pumpers the cutest things you’ve ever seen?
You got your miniature Duotronic with embalming fluid and without it. AND, you got your embalming table:
I absolutely love highlighting the gifts and creative endeavors of funeral directors.
If you want to buy some of Sherri’s work, you can contact her at her Etsy site. The embalming machines are by special order only, so you can contact her through Etsy or via her personal Facebook page. Because Christmas is coming and we all need a little most cuteness in our lives.
By Karen Wyatt, MD
As a hospice medical director I’ve been to a lot of funerals, but only one of them has been labeled “perfect” in my memory. Over the years I have made it a practice to attend the memorial services for as many patients as my schedule will allow, usually to show my respects for the deceased and to offer support to the family, but sometimes to comfort my own grief.
Some patients manage to work their way into my heart so deeply that I miss them desperately when they are gone. The funeral is a place where I can grieve side-by-side with others who also loved the departed person for their own special reasons.
Ralph was one of those unforgettable patients who left me with an aching heart when he died. He was actually a homeless man—or “hobo” as we used to call them—who camped out by the railroad tracks and had ridden the rails most of his adult life. When he was stricken with kidney cancer he was admitted to our hospice for terminal care, which we provided to him in a seedy basement apartment a social worker had found for him several months before.
We expected to be taking care of Ralph for about two weeks—his kidneys were failing and he was not a candidate for dialysis. But Ralph surprised us all by living for an entire year, which was nothing less than a miracle in our eyes.
During that wondrous year Ralph discovered he had a talent for drawing and produced extraordinary sketches of places he had seen on his railroad travels across the country. Each time we visited him he would show us his latest drawings—at first in a spiral notebook with lined pages; then on a sketchpad given to him by a staff member.
Ralph was an amazingly talented artist who didn’t realize his own abilities until the last moments of his life. But then, through an awe-inspiring act of grace, his death was postponed long enough for him to create a portfolio of work before he left this world. He was also a kind, humble and generous man who stole the hearts of everyone who came to know to him, creating a “portfolio” of relationships, as well, during his last days.
When he died, Ralph’s body was taken to the county morgue and eventually cremated after no next-of-kin could be located. We learned that his ashes were to be spread in a “pauper’s grave” with no service or ceremony to mark his passing from this world. In a hasty staff meeting we decided to claim Ralph as part of our own “hospice family” and retrieve his ashes so that he could have a proper burial.
The following week, on a beautiful sun-splashed day, we took the cardboard box of Ralph’s ashes to a riverside park just outside our city where he used to love to go fishing. As an afterthought I had stopped by his apartment building earlier that morning to mention our little memorial service to his neighbor Greg, in case he wanted to join us.
When we arrived at the park we were surprised to see a group of 13 people already gathered at a spot beneath a beautiful old cottonwood tree. Greg was there and several staff members, but I didn’t recognize anyone else in the group. We later learned that they were all residents in Ralph’s apartment building who had gotten to know him over the past year, just as we had done.
Silently Greg and one of the other men dug a small hole beneath the elegant old tree. Then we opened the box and gently sprinkled Ralph’s ashes into the gaping cavity where he was welcomed back to the Earth and its elements.
We stood in a circle around the grave, spontaneously holding hands. Then one young man walked forward, sprinkled a handful of dirt onto the ashes and said tearfully “I will always remember Pops because he taught me how to fish right here at this very river.”
Next a woman pushing a baby stroller came forward and said, “Pops always had a smile and kind word for me, even on my worst days.”
One by one, each person in the circle sprinkled dirt over the ashes and told a story or offered a brief remembrance of Ralph. We were touched to hear his neighbors all call him “Pops” and to recognize that he had played a grandfatherly role to the other struggling inhabitants of that decaying old apartment building.
There was no music, no sermon, no liturgy that day—just an unplanned outpouring from an unlikely ragtag collection of people whose lives had all been touched by a homeless man with a huge heart. The tears and the love flowed freely for this simple person who had lived such an inconspicuous life and there could not have been a more appropriate ceremony to mark his death.
There were 4 things I learned about holding the perfect funeral that day:
- Keep it simple to allow for spontaneity and surprise.
- Make it authentic by avoiding canned sermons from strangers—encourage loved ones to speak from their hearts.
- Reflect the life of the person being remembered by planning the kind of event he or she would have been delighted to attend.
- Share the joy of a life well-lived with both laughter and tears.
Ralph had been given more that his share of difficulties in his lifetime, but had managed to create a unique work of art from the broken pieces of his existence. And his simple little funeral had been a perfect reflection of his free-spirited ride through this world: heartfelt, authentic, and spontaneous. To be so loved and so remembered at the end of one’s days is truly a blessing—may we each be so fortunate when the time comes for our own farewell.
About the Author:
Dr. Karen Wyatt is a hospice and family physician who writes extensively on spirituality and medicine, especially at the end-of-life. She is the author of the award-winning book “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying.” She hosts the popular online interview series End-of-Life University. Connect with her at karenwyattmd.com.
Pat Stocks, 94, passed away peacefully at her home in bed July 1, 2015. It is believed it was caused from carrying her oxygen tank up the long flight of stairs to her bedroom that made her heart give out. She left behind a hell of a lot of stuff to her daughter and sons who have no idea what to do with it. So if you’re looking for 2 extremely large TV’s from the 90s, a large ceramic stork (we think) umbrella/cane stand, a toaster oven (slightly used) or even a 2001 Oldsmobile with a spoiler (she loved putting the pedal to the metal), with only 71,000 kilometers and 1,000 tools that we aren’t sure what they’re used for. You should wait the appropriate amount of time and get in touch. Tomorrow would be fine.
This is not an ad for a pawn shop, but an obituary for a great Woman, Mother, Grandmother and Great-Grandmother born on May 12, 1921 in Toronto, the daughter of the late Pop (Alexander C.) and Granny (Annie Nigh) Morris. She leaves behind a very dysfunctional family that she was very proud of. Pat was world-renowned for her lack of patience, not holding back her opinion and a knack for telling it like it is. She always told you the truth even if it wasn’t what you wanted to hear. It was the school of hard knocks and yes we were told many times how she had to walk for miles in a blizzard to get to school, so suck it up.
With that said she was genuine to a fault, a pussy cat at heart (or lion) and yet she sugar coated nothing. Her extensive vocabulary was more than highly proficient at knowing more curse words than most people learned in a lifetime. She liked four letter words as much as she loved her rock garden and trust us she LOVED to weed that garden with us as her helpers, when child labour was legal or so we were told. These words of encouragement, wisdom, and sometimes comfort, kept us in line, taught us the “school of hard knocks” and gave us something to pass down to our children.
Everyone always knew where you stood with her. She liked you or she didn’t, it was black or white. As her children we are still trying to figure out which one it was for us (we know she loved us). She was a master cook in the kitchen. She believed in overcooking everything until it chewed like rubber so you would never get sick because all germs would be nuked. Freezing germs also worked, so by Friday our school sandwiches were hard and chewy, but totally germ free. All four of us learned to use a napkin. You would pretend to cough, spit the food into it and thus was born the Stocks diet. If anyone would like a copy of her homemade gravy, we would suggest you don’t.
… She was preceded in death by her loving husband Paul (Moo) Stocks and eldest daughter Shelley (Stocks) Milnes and beloved pets Tag, Tag, Tag and Tag. All whom loved her dearly and will never forget her tenacity, wit, charm, grace (when pertinent) and undying love and caring for them.
Please give generously to covenanthousetoronto.ca “in memory”. A private family ‘Celebration of Life’ will be held, in lieu of a service, due to her friends not being able to attend, because they decided to beat her to the Pearly Gates. Please note her change of address to her new place of residence, St John’s York Mills Anglican Church, 19 Don Ridge Drive, 12 doors away from Shelley’s place.