[previous chapter] [start from the beginning] The funeral home understood Nathalie’s predicament and made it very easy to reschedule Amanda Toussignant’s service to accommodate the fact that her husband was now also dead. They expected the family to want a joint ceremony and had prepared accordingly. Amanda’s body had already been cremated so it was easy enough to leave her remains on a shelf in the backroom until such time as the family figured out what to do with Marcel’s.

It was a good thing, the funeral home coordinator remarked to herself as she passed the backroom spot on which the pile of ashes formerly known as Amanda sat unceremoniously, that families never saw what happened behind the scenes at a funeral home. They might have second thoughts about paying so much money considering where the bodies ended up sometimes. It gave a whole new meaning to the term “cold storage,” for sure.

Fortunately, the coordinator told herself, family members were usually too distraught to think about much of anything, which made her life a great deal easier. You just had to learn how to guide their decisions to your best advantage. It usually wasn’t very strenuous. Nathalie, for one, was having great difficulty making decisions, and her brother really wasn’t helping. He seemed oddly paralyzed. Again.

“But Jeff,” she said to him on the phone two mornings after the nurse had found their father dead, “we can’t just not get this organized. I know Mom wanted to be cremated but Dad never really made it clear what he did want. I guess he figured he’d died before her and she’d know what to do. In any case, the funeral home is prepared to do anything we want, but they need to know soon. What should we do?”

He didn’t know. He thought she should decide. He couldn’t cope. She resisted the urge to tell him what a dweeb he was.

“Well, then, we should have them both be cremated and put their urns together in a crypt. I hope they won’t mind.”

“Nathalie,” Jean-François said, “they’re dead. How could they mind?”

****

They finally had the service for Marcel and Amanda Toussignant on Friday, a little over two weeks after Amanda’s death. Jeff and Nathalie couldn’t agree on whether to have it in church or not, and in the end they decided to just have visitation at the funeral home without the bodies present (they’d been cremated anyway, so there was no hair and makeup job to look at, which the residence ladies silently lamented), then Nathalie said a few words and that was that.

She felt uneasy about the decision to have visitation without bodies. It was like having the worst of both worlds, as far as what her parents had wanted. Amanda thought visitations were unduly ghoulish whereas Marcel had always found them a very necessary evil, since it allowed friends and family members to go through the grieving process together before sending off the souls to heaven (here’s hoping) in a proper funeral mass. What the children had settled on was neither a real visitation nor a proper funeral, and in a weird way Nathalie felt like it was wrong to disrespect their parents’ wishes, however reluctantly.

Not that they would care, being dead as they were. Or so Jeff kept repeating. But Nathalie wasn’t at ease. Still, she dutifully prepared the best eulogy she could, and read it at the funeral home in front of about 24 people, most of whom already had a foot in the grave.

“Dear family and friends of my parents,” it started, “thank you for being here. It is good to see you. I only wish we hadn’t needed death to get us together. Of course, we were all shocked by my mother’s death. It wasn’t like her to leave like that without any kind of fuss.”

Small ripples of mildly uncomfortable laughter went through the room.

Nathalie smiled. So far she was managing to get through her text without crying. “When someone dies there is always a sense that you wish you’d had time to say everything you needed to say to them. I feel no different. I had more things to say to my mother, including sharing with her the progress her grandchildren are making each and every day. But that won’t happen. And for that I’m sorry.”

She was crying now. The assembled respectfully gave her time to regain her composure. A few dabbed at their eyes with tissue. “But I am comforted by the fact that she did not appear to have suffered, and of course by the fact that her devoted husband is now with her.”

There were a few more tears, which she was surprised to find she could stifle a touch more easily now that the end of her text was in sight.

“Yes, Marcel had to leave us to follow his wife. That’s how devoted to her he was. I hope that wherever they are they are happy together, and are finally able to travel without having to bother with keeping track of their bags.” She smiled. She was proud of that line.

“Thank you again for being here. I know it would have meant a lot to them.”

Jeff didn’t say anything. He just sat there while Nathalie eulogized their parents, staring at his feet. The nice ladies from the residence felt bad for him. They assumed he was crushed with the pain and shock of losing both parents so suddenly.

They assumed wrong.

****

It’s not the sort of thing you think about very often, but death brings with it considerable amounts of paperwork. After the ceremony was complete and their parents’ urns safely together in a crypt, Nathalie and Jeff had to settle the accounts with the nursing home. And here they had another shock, but of a different kind. They were taken aback by the coldness of the proceedings, which contrasted greatly with the care and attention the residence had taken when her parents moved in five years ago.

You always see those advertisements for old folks homes, especially in front of their main building. They have grandiose names, beautiful facades, manicured gardens and a giant picture of an elegant lady, full of vim and vigour, someone who obviously had options and clearly chose this one for its sophistication, smiling contentedly at the camera. The image you get is one of peace, tranquility, dignity. You get the feeling this residence is the equivalent of sending your elderly relatives to a long-term resort where, in the pleasant company of other reasonably independent residents, they will while away the years in pleasantries without having to worry about boring chores like cleaning, laundry, cooking, or lawn mowing.

They always offer tours. Nathalie had been there when her parents took it, and she remembered the sales pitch given by their guide, who had evidently learned it all by heart. The tour was meant to inform, yes, but mostly to impress. They emphasized the hair salon, the elegant common room with the baby grand piano, the lovely dining room, the chef’s credentials, the front desk with 24/7 security, the garden and patio, and just generally how pleasant and relaxing life at the Résidence was for such sophisticated residents as yourselves.

And to be fair, it was a hell of a lot better than what her parents would have got if they’d just gone to a bare-bones government-run nursing home. Yeesh. The money the Résidence took from Nathalie and Jeff was a lot, but at least living there was a mostly humane experience, not at all like being stacked in a home where you’re lucky if you get one bath a week and the staff leaves you in dirty diapers for hours on end.

But for all the elegance and sophisticated level of service residents got at the Résidence des Érables, it was quite a different story when it was time to dispatch a dead customer and clear his or her belongings. Oh boy was it cold. First of all they had the bodies removed right away, which is understandable enough in a group home, but what had Nathalie galled was how they’d rushed her to get her parents’ stuff out of their rooms.

“We need those rooms empty for the cleaners by the end of tomorrow,” the administrative person in charge of such things had said matter-of-factly without so much as looking up from the binder in which she kept track of her cleaning operations. “Do you want to take care of that yourself or would you rather we did it for you? We offer that service to bereaved families, there’s an extra charge of $350 per room.”

Nathalie struggled for a second or two to find her breath. “Uh, OK. Well, I haven’t really thought about what to do with… well, I suppose there isn’t that much stuff, but their clothes and books and photo albums and things…”

Poor Nathalie was standing there, fighting back tears, with nobody to comfort her except this cold administrative wretch of a human being whose only concern was to have those two rooms emptied, cleaned out and rented to someone else by the end of the week.

“Like I say, we offer that service if you want it; it’s quick, easy, and we try whenever possible to recycle or donate what can be salvaged, so you don’t need to feel guilty about just throwing things out.”

Which, at the moment, was the last thing on Nathalie’s mind.

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