Saturday, March 13, marks one year since my wife’s death.
Originally, we planned to have her memorial service a week after she died.
Joan had worked with our minister at the time to plan a service that reflected her preferences.
In the 15 years she spent working at the United Church of Canada’s national offices in Toronto, the most inspiring was as an administrative assistant in the worship portfolio. She developed a deep appreciation for the church’s sacraments.
Even though it is not normally included in memorial services, she wanted to have communion at her service.
She couldn’t have anticipated that the day after her death, the province would go into COVID-19 lockdown. First, restricted numbers in any social gathering. Then, no gatherings at all.
Somehow, I thought that the new rules would not apply to anything as earth-shaking as Joan’s death. We would have a service at our church, regardless.
Grief tends to over-react that way. After my mother died, I remember feeling astonished that buses were still running.
In those first weeks of social isolation, we didn’t know how to have a service with no one present.
One year later, we’ve learned a lot about holding virtual services. So my daughter and I felt it was time to have a service for her. Even though we still can’t gather all her friends together. And we still can’t join in singing the hymns she chose.
We wondered how much we dared deviate from her plans?
Is Joan hovering overhead, watching us to ensure we follow her last wishes?
Before my father’s death, we asked him what he wanted for his memorial service. “Do whatever you want,” he said wearily. “I won’t be there.”
I find reason and emotion are at odds.
Tradition says that there is a soul, distinct from the physical body. The body ends, but the soul carries on.
Reason balks at that distinction. We are embodied souls.
All that makes us unique individuals depends on the combination of body and spirit. Our minds need sensory input from our bodies; without bodies, our minds cease to function, even to exist.
Once we are gone, reason says, we are gone. Period.
At the same time, I’m sure I’ve heard Joan’s voice inside my head when I’ve been working late at my computer: “Are you almost finished?”
And when I hear of another old friend’s death, my first thought is still, “I must tell Joan.”
I woke one night, and felt someone get out of the other side of the bed, shuffle to the bathroom, come back and climb into bed.
I almost called out. I felt – there is no other word for it – a wild exhilaration.
I was conscious enough to know I was not dreaming.
I was also conscious enough to know that if I opened my eyes, there would be nothing to see.
So is she still here? Or isn’t she? In the end, it’s immaterial.
A lot has changed over the last year. If she’s not here anymore, it doesn’t matter whether we adhere to her wishes. And if she is, she’ll understand why we had to make some changes.
Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country.