TUESDAY, March 30 – Do you suppose these people practice? Probably. In front of a mirror, no doubt. Or sitting opposite each other. One plays the widower and the other does her best to exude understanding and to imagine herself in a period ‘which is still so difficult, since it is not that long ago.’ In the end she gets down to business, since a funeral parlor is also – indeed, above all – a business.
I give her a C minus. Barely a passing grade. A professional. The corners of her mouth turn down, making it difficult to conjure up a friendly, natural smile. Her posture is stately, but without a trace of warmth; especially, when this woman, who represents the funeral directors, opens her mouth.
‘And, Mr. Overdiek, how are things now? Still difficult, I assume. It’s not that long ago.’
Emotionally, of course, we already had a 3-0 lead. Two kids, young widower. You can’t lose. As we walked in, Eamonn had already whispered that he ‘would never want to work here’.
We graciously accepted the offer of a glass of water. And then… how does one act in these circumstances? I had to think about this. In view of her sepulchral voice, I couldn’t very well make light of things, but I didn’t feel like echoing her ‘it is indeed not that long ago, so you’ll understand…’
Sander beat me to it. ‘Things are better. A lot better.’
Confusion on her face. I did my best not to laugh out loud. ‘Especially compared with October.’ Only a short time ago, true, but nevertheless.
The kickoff’s been taken.
Now for the paperwork. Receipt. Declaration that the urn does indeed contain the ashes of Jennifer Mary Overdiek-Nolan. The boys’ reaction was electric. That’s not Mom’s name and they were right. Jenn was proud of her own name, which she retained after we were married, and for us it was only natural that the boys would bear her name.
Why are offspring always given the father’s name, anyway? In the States my name invariably came out terribly garbled. Moreover, Sander was the first grandchild on Jennifer’s side of the family. In short, no big deal. Although it did lead to some consternation in the weeks immediately after the cremation. People saw Sander and Eamonn Nolan, with my name above theirs. Were the boys from a previous marriage? No, Jenn was simply making her point, posthumously.
Did we have any further questions, inquired the tight-faced woman? Well, yes, a few. We’re planning to take the urn to the United States where the ashes will be scattered and we’d like to take a look inside. We’re also thinking of an ornamental container of some kind for the children with some of her ashes inside. The woman’s face had obviously not yet reached its maximum degree of rigidity. (Eamonn later described her as creepy).
She clearly regarded our questions as too much of a good thing. Surely we realized that the urn was sealed and could not be opened, since that would invalidate the declaration for export to another country. As far as the jewelry was concerned, we should have mentioned that beforehand. There are rules for things of this nature. My head began to spin. How are we supposed to solve this problem?
Sander did it for me. ‘If I understand this right, the urn is our property. So we have a right to decide what we do with it. We’re entitled to open it if we want to.’
The lady was stunned into silence. And so was I.
She excused herself and returned with a senior colleague, who was not only familiar with the rules, but also knew that there were ways of getting around them. The metal urn had to be exchanged for a synthetic one, so that we wouldn’t have a problem going through customs. We could make our choice of jewelry and some of the ash would be reserved for later. As far as she was concerned, the problem was solved as it was for us, as well.
The booklet with jewelry samples didn’t amount to much as they were tacky and cheap-looking. But, then Sander caught sight of the miniature urns. That might just be an idea. Eamonn agreed, and they each selected one. Then Eamonn said I ought to pick one out, too. I wasn’t too keen on the idea, but for him it was perfectly logical. ‘Because there are three of us, Papa.’ His reasoning was watertight. So I chose one for myself.
The lady disappeared and a half-hour later she was back. One large urn, three small ones. Sander immediately unscrewed his. He’s always been inquisitive, like both his parents. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to the sight of grit, dust and minuscule bits of bone, as someone once described ‘the ashes’. But I had no choice after Sander opened his urn and showed it to me. Hmm.
Eamonn’s was differently wrapped, and he didn’t like that. He insisted that his and Sander’s ought to be the same, and mine different. So we traded and everything was fine. Eamonn hadn’t looked inside the urn because he didn’t feel the need. The lady stood there watching, and drew her own conclusions. She was smiling, though, which was something. Progress.
We were smiling, too. on the way home. ‘Well, that wasn’t as bad as we expected,’ said Sander cheerfully.
‘Hey, did you buy me a present, too?’ called the mailman, spotting us as we were walking from the car to the house. The two red cardboard boxes we were carrying could have contained large wine bottles.
‘No, they’re special presents just for us,’ I replied. Sander couldn’t help laughing. Eamonn followed with a knowing smile on his face.
At home, it didn’t us take long to decide. The three small urns were placed in front of the photo of Jenn. The large urn disappeared into the closet. The scattering of the ashes will wait until later.
The end (which Eamonn called the perfect ending).