I held the door open for the widow and her two daughters.
The older of the girls was about nine years old, her sister likely two years younger. The girls’ mother had a sad yet composed look about her.
I shut the door. There was a collective pause as our eyes adjusted from the bright light outside to the dim hallway before us. I heard the click-clack of the mom’s black heeled shoes as she walked on the rough stone tiles of the crematorium. A soft swish-swish as the younger girl ran her hand on the heavy plush red velvet curtains leading to the area where the cremation chambers were. There were three chambers in that crematorium.
I didn’t feel any sense of trepidation from the daughters or their mother. The girls looked around the room with genuine curiosity. Their mere presence somehow took away the weightiness of the moment. The rawness of their mother’s mourning smoothed out by the daughters’ lack of self-consciousness.
They brought a certain quality of lightness that one may not expect in witnessing the cremation of a loved one.
One of the staff from the crematorium wheeled the trolley with the casket of the girls’ dad. I saw a hint of a smile on the girls’ faces. They admired their artwork on top of the coffin. A couple of days ago, the family spent time with their dad and husband. The girls lovingly decorated the top of the casket with colourful drawings and words of appreciation and farewell. They chose crayons and marker pens carefully. They worked with focused attention. With a look of pleasure that comes from doing something for someone you love.
The family looked on as the staff moved the casket from the trolley to the cremation chamber. The chamber’s door was closed with loud, resonant CLANG! A firm sound of finality. Soon after, the older daughter announced she wanted to go out. She and her younger sister started running outside. How were these children feeling right now? Bored? Upset? They seemed to be relaxed and natural despite the unfamiliar surrounding of the crematorium.
Their mom and I followed the two retreating figures out to the parking lot. My eyes hadn’t adjusted to the light outside when the older daughter asked me: “Which of those chimneys is my Dad coming out to go to heaven?” With hands shading their eyes from the sun, she and her younger sister looked up at the chimneys on the roof of the crematorium. I pointed at one of the chimneys and said: “I think that one.”
The two girls looked at each other, smiled then waved at the sky. “Bye, Daddy! Bye, Daddy!” They called out as they skipped and jumped and continued to wave at the clear skies.
The daughters’ joyous dancing brought surprising radiance to an otherwise somber occasion.
I stood transfixed at how these two young girls transformed the ordinary parking lot into a place where the extraordinary happened. It was an honour for me to witness.
This is the first in our “Ngaio’s Stories” series. With close to 20 years of experience, there is very little Ngaio Davis, KORU founder and managing director, hasn’t seen or dealt with around diverse, mourning rituals, family dynamics or unusual circumstances. Ngaio’s stories serve to pull back the curtain on her life as a funeral director and spotlight her interactions with bereaved families.
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