"Sean? Dad passed away last night."
I was on Popeye, anchored in Donald Duck Bay in the Similan Islands of Thailand when I got this call. It was sunny and mild in January in the tropics, but in the dead of winter in Calgary.
Dad had been in the grip of Frontal Temporal Dementia for at least four years. His cantankerous ways had made the disease hard to diagnose. He had moved from the home he shared with Mom (she just couldn't cope or compensate for him any more without exhausting herself) to an Elderly Care facility to a Memory Care facility. Before I left on my epic sailing adventure, I had gone to say farewell to Harry, as it was possible that I wouldn't see him again.
Sure enough, the call came. Jeff had been called by the nursing staff and was there when Dad let go of his body and his failing, disease-ravaged mind.
What to do? Fly home from Thailand? No, I had planned for this by having careful chats with my brother, mom and Dad's remaining relatives. I had been agreed that if Dad passed away, we would have a memorial for him when the most people could be there. After a few days for all of us to consider when and where and how to say goodbye to Dad, I suggested an Irish Wake. Dad had always been proud of his Irish ancestry and it seemed like the proper thing to do. He wasn't at all religious in his adult life, so this seemed like a proper way to send him off. A room was booked at the Kensington Pub in Calgary and invitations were sent out for September.
All in all, over 50 people came to pay their respects. I built a slideshow of pictures of him, from a young preschooler in front of his house in Edmonton all the way up to the last few months. The pub had a big TV that the slideshow was displayed on, so we could grab a bevvie, watch the photos roll by and reminisce. It was a great afternoon, beers were hoisted and Dad's ashes held court on the bar. I saw friends and neighbours that I hadn't seen for decades. It was really a heart-warming time.
Wakes are a chance to cement into memories stories of the freshly departed. My dad was a character that often rubbed people (including me) the wrong way, but he was true to himself and did as he pleased. I think he enjoyed life for the most part, even with all of its ups and downs for him. He certainly left an impression on everyone he met. I admire that about you, Dad.
Here is Harry's obituary, published in the Edmonton Journal on August 4, 2017.