We all say goodbye in our own way.
Al died too soon. He was born in 1942. If cancer had not quietly eaten away at him, then burst into full and frightening control, he would have been checking his calendar for the day’s events and planning where to take his wife, Chris, for Sunday breakfast. Instead, several hundred friends and family members were setting out on a Saturday morning to celebrate his life.
Robin drove since he had the honour of playing the piano for the service and needed to be there early. I decided to walk. Al spent the last decade of his life walking 10 km. nearly every day, always starting out at 5:30. Walking to the service felt right.
My walk was shorter than Al’s, from the waterfront to the First United Church. I looked up to see how the sky was marking the occasion. Clouds were sending hands high, as if holding Al’s spirit for all of us to see.
Dog tree was dragging his limbs. The City people had cut away his dead limbs. He felt lighter, though he knew one day they might cut him down. But today was Al’s day, and Dog tree was feeling sad.
The flowers at Waterfront Park had heard whispers that friends were going to wear Hawaiian shirts to the service. They did their best to look colourfully Hawaiian.
Al loved his Hawaiian shirts. He would not have wanted us to show up looking as if we were going to something somber.
Seed pods were forming on the small trees beside the casino. Al would not walk by when they turned orange and scattered the promise of new life, but they figured he might look down from somewhere else and be pleased to see them.
The flowers beside GioBean – where some of Al’s friends, and occasionally Al, gathered for coffee on Friday mornings – beamed their brightest hues.
Even the umbrellas beside the restaurant shone their Hawaiian best.
Bear lifted her head to see if Al noticed the bright show her flower friends were putting on for him.
The city held a day-long celebration, closing the main street. They called it a Block Party, but we knew it was a farewell.
The City had painted rainbow colours on the street, in anticipation of Pride Week. On Saturday, as I walked by them, they looked Hawaiian to me.
Outside the grocery store near the church, flowers were competing to look their showiest for Al’s goodbye gathering.
Bee did what bee does best, busied himself ensuring the next generation of flowers.
And then the walk was over. I walked into the church and sat in the nearest vacant pew, near the back. I looked around at the many loved faces, all come to show their love for Al.
The celebrant said the service was the best he had ever presided over. There were lots of tears, but there was laughter too and even applause. Al’s family had carefully crafted the story of the man we were there to honour. Family members and dearest friends each added chapters to the tale. Everyone there knew how lucky we were to have known Al and to still have Chris here with us.
We gathered in the church hall to share the wonder of the words and music that had filled our hearts, the stories that had told us more about the man we knew and loved.
Later, Robin and I sat on the deck, watching the sun’s rays reach through the clouds. They were a benediction, a ray of hope casting light on our sadness.
We will not forget you, Al. Thank you for being husband, father, grandfather, uncle, brother, friend to so many of us.