Jody offered to join me at the service for Bridie but I declined. Given my role as a care provider, I wanted to be discreet and respectful. I wanted to raise the fewest questions about our relationship. I had spoken with Ben and he let me know Doug was hanging in as well as could be expected. The work he and Bridie had done with the boys was paying off. The kids were grieving but they were not surprised, or afraid. As Bridie had wished, with Doug’s encouragement, they kept reliving that last afternoon. Shirley, the social worker from the St. Germaine team had done a home visit and the boys found this very helpful. She talked them through what a funeral would be like and gave them license to ask any question that came to their minds. Having her there had eased Doug from this tough job. Neighbors were showing up with food. A neighbor had mowed their lawn. A neighbor had collected laundry and returned it clean and folded. And neighbors, friends and family crammed the recreation centre Tuesday afternoon to say farewell to Brigit Lloyd.
I took a seat about midway into the room, on the aisle. I remembered Bridie had thought about the music. She didn’t want any songs played that might be ‘ruined’ for people later. Classical music that most of us wouldn’t remember played softly in the background. At five minutes to three, a tired looking woman walked down the centre aisle with two pre-teens and a man, likely her husband. If I were to guess, given her familiar profile, I would say this was Dianne, Doug’s sister and Bridie’s savior. The room went still and I could sense people turning. Over the heads I saw Doug, wearing a navy suit, carrying a toddler. Lynne. He took a few steps into the room and stopped. I couldn’t see what was happening but I saw him reach down, presumably to lend a hand to one of his boys who was having second thoughts.
Doug’s head disappeared from view. He must have crouched down to speak with one of the boys at his own level. When he reappeared, Doug took an unexpected left turn and rather than enter the hall through the conventional main aisle, he sheparded his family around the outskirts of the room probably giving the boys a semblance that they weren’t the centre of attention. As it turned out, he walked inches from me. I saw Jamie. His head was lowered. He was not crying but it was certain he had been. Joey, the exact image of his mother, was the one holding daddy’s hand. Both boys were wearing navy pants and light blue shirts. I noticed that both boys, and Doug for that matter, showed a band of navy at their cuffs. I looked more closely, thinking it was an armband of some kind, like the Lance Armstrong phenomenon but that didn’t seem to fit what I knew of Bridie, or Doug. It was more obvious at Joey’s wrist because his arm was reaching up to Doug’s hand. I was pretty sure I saw a green fluorescent star. Lynne was resting her head on Doug’s shoulder, her thumb deep in her mouth.
Finally, the family got to their seats beside the woman I was pretty sure now was Dianne. Ben came forward and spoke with each of them, even Lynne. Joey said something that made him smile and Ben tousled the little guy’s hair. Doug shifted Lynne to the other shoulder and shook his head at the likely Dianne who was probably offering to hold her for him. She gently stroked a tear from her brother’s cheek. Ben looked up and around the room. He said something more to Doug who also looked around at the crowd. He smiled and nodded to some folks near him. Then returned his attention to Ben, seemingly giving him the okay to get started.
Ben welcomed everyone. He recognized the overwhelming love and support Doug had experienced in this community. He spoke with such sweet intimacy about Bridie that it seemed he had known her all his life, rather than only these last few months. He spoke to the children, reminding them of their mother’s love, a love that will endure forever. Jamie was struggling. This I could see. Doug smoothly shifted Lynne to his sister’s arms and he leaned in toward his oldest boy. I couldn’t see Jamie’s reaction but I saw that Doug was talking softly to him. One of Bridie’s requests of Ben was to keep the service ‘mercifully short’. I could see her wisdom in this now. In two long strides Ben reached the guitar he had propped in its stand at the side of the room. Ben was a guitar player, a pretty darn good guitar player. And he had a nice voice too. I hadn’t realized this would be a part of the service but I was always happy to hear him sing. “Please don’t stand at my grave and weep” He sang in a clear voice…”I am not here, I do not sleep…I am the thousands winds that blow…” When he ended, the silence was deafening.
“Doug. Jamie, Joey and Lynne. I am honored to be here today as you celebrate the life of Bridie. Your wife, your mother…and your friend. Bridie asked me to sing that song to remind you that she is here, with you all, for as long as you hold her in your heart. She lives. She lives for you all.” Ben continued, addressing the mourners. “Our life is a gift. It is a gift to be lived and to be shared. At birth, we are assured of death. There is no surprise in death. Its only surprise is when it comes too soon. For Bridie it was too soon. For all of you, it was too soon.” Ben looked tenderly at Doug and the children. He returned his message to the community. “Bridie is not gone, she has simply moved from our sight into our hearts. Ben raised his hands in prayer, like a good minister. He spoke slowly and deliberately. “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. It is ever thus.” He turned. Picked his guitar back up and strummed the chorus he had just finished singing. He nodded to Doug, who retrieved Lynne and stood. His boys mimicked him. They walked together, this time taking the short cut through the centre of the room. Gradually, all the guests filed out behind them. I walked to the front, where Ben stood.
“It was a perfect service.”
“I had some tall orders.” He smiled through his obvious sadness.
“I could sense that. I’m glad she found you to pay her tribute.”
“Things generally unfold as they should.” He hesitated, remembering where he was… “They generally unfold as they should, not always.”
Doug was surrounded by people sharing their condolences. I didn’t want to intrude. The woman I assumed was Dianne approached me. She introduced herself as Dianne and confirmed who I was. “Bridie spoke highly of you.” She remarked.
“And the same of you.” I replied. “I might not get a chance to talk with Doug…” I nodded my head in his direction, noting his preoccupation. “Can you tell him the service was perfect. He did Bridie proud.”
As she turned to walk away, Joey squiggled his way between us. He looked up at me and smiled. Bridie shone through his face. “Auntie Di, he interrupted. Did you tell her we are wearing Mommy’s pajamas?”
The color drained from my face and Diane knew immediately that I understood the significance. She steered me quickly to a nearby chair and I was grateful because my legs were failing me. “Bridie was wearing the new pajamas I made her when she died.” she whispered in her husky tear-sodden voice. “She didn’t know that I made a set for everyone. Because she hadn’t seen them, the boys wanted to wear theirs under their suits today.”
“She would have loved it.” I choked back a sob.
I saw Doug once after the funeral. He dropped off a card that Bridie had prepared for me before she died. Doug had lost weight but he said they were doing ‘pretty well’. I think it was hard for him to come back here, where pain and dying took such sharp focus. I know Ben has dropped over to see him and the kids a few times. I’m glad they have his support. His one piece of ‘good’ news Doug shared was that Bridie’s eyes were seeing for a young woman who lost her sight in an accident; he wasn’t sure of the outcome of her other organs. After he left, I opened my card. It was simple. Bridie’s script was weak but her message was clear: ‘Thank you for recognizing my courage’. Is that what I did? Was that all I could do? It’s hard to quantify the impact Bridie had on my life. I am reminded of her on a regular basis. I would miss Bridie but she is alive with me still. And alive for every other person I had the privilege of meeting in my work, and in my life. My thoughts were broken by Jenn’s voice on the intercom: “Hattie, your client is here”. It is ever thus.