Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The possibility of a new tomorrow

We said good-bye to Terry Pettigrew on Friday. The 58 year old man who had lived at the homeless shelter where I work for the final 4 years of his life passed away on May 31.

Over 100 people gathered in the multi-purpose room on the 6th floor of the shelter to pay their respects and to share stories of Terry's journey through their life.

It was a beautiful, moving and touching ceremony in honour of this humble man.

and in the midst of it memory tapped and I remembered.

It was March, 1997.

Cold. Snow covered the ground. Winter still clung fiercely to the land.

We were in Saskatoon. My two sisters, my daughters, my eldest sister's husband and my mother.

It was not a journey we wanted to take. It was not a place we were welcome.

My brother and his wife had driven into the front end of a semi-trailer on St. Patrick's Day. There were no remains to bury. Their car had burst into flames and little evidence was left of their passing.

Except for the tracks they'd left in our lives. Except for the pain in their two daughters' hearts. The girls were 17 and 18. Too young to be orphans. But accidents and fate don't ask first if you're ready before interrupting your life.

My nieces were devastated. Angry. Confused.

It was a heart-attack someone suggested about my brother's state at the time of death. My nieces took that to mean he was so hurt and confused by a fight he'd had with our mother -- and by my sisters' and my insistence mom not move to Saskatoon with them when they'd moved from Ontario a few months before.

They blamed us for his death. They had to blame someone. How else could they make sense of such pain?

They didn't want us at the funeral.

We had to be at the funeral.

Death is a powerful force. It strips us to the bone, laying bare our raw emotions, exposing our pain and fear and regrets and loss to the fates. It strips us and in its inexorable pull to drag all semblance of order from our lives, it leaves us exposed to the irrevocable, irrefutable truth -- someone is gone and we will never see them again. Never get them back.

I sat in the multi-purpose room on Friday and watched two sides of a family take opposite sides of the room in an attempt to keep the distance that has separated them for years intact.

But death doesn't respect distance. It doesn't have time for family squabbles.

Death only has time for itself.

In Terry's passing, four brothers came to bid him farewell, and in their appearance a path was laid for distance to be crossed, for olive branches to be reached, for families to heal.

Thirteen years ago my brother and his wife passed away in a fiery crash. It's taken time, and distance, to put out the flames of their passing, but, in time's wake, hearts heal, memory of discord fades and in its stead, the circle of love that connected us at birth joins forces with the family ties that could not be broken.

I watched a family take sides on Friday and prayed they'd find a way home to the ties that bind them, regardless of what side of the street they stand on.

In coming together in one place to bid their brother good-bye, they've laid a foundation for a new path to be taken. A path that will lead them towards eachother and away from the past that pulled them apart when a father rampaged through their lives and tore a young boy from their hearth but not their hearts.

On Friday, four brothers met and in that meeting is the possibility of a new tomorrow.In coming together in that place to remember a brother, memory stirred of the love that binds all of us through the circle that is our family. For, no matter the past, there's no time like the present to create a new path home.


Maureen said...

It takes just one moving to the other side. . .

May Terry Pettigrew's family honor his memory by closing the gap.

The story of your own family's loss is heart-wrenching.

Louise Gallagher said...

Thanks Maureen. It's taken many years and still my nieces do not speak with my mother -- but, they invited us to a wedding last summer. My eldest sister was able to attend, we have occassional contact -- so all is much better than it was.


Reflections said...

Hoping his family can bridge the gaps left there of past days to join in the grieving process... only to bind the circle as you say.

Fabulous heartfelt post!

Anonymous said...

there's nothing like a good old bridge...

S. Etole said...

what a bridge you have helped build for that family ...

Josie said...

Incredibly moving stories - both that of Terry's family and yours. It also hits close to home and gives me reason to think long and hard about a family estrangement, the concern being the turmoil that unfolds when that one is once again allowed into my life. I wish there was an easy answer.