A Norwegian Memorial

I write obituaries for The Globe and Mail. There’s a revolution happening down at the paper right now, in their quest to stay alive. A few days ago, they launched a splashy new design with colour spreads, glossy paper, and a smaller package so there is more seating available on the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission). My friend and fellow obituary writer, Ron Csillag, misses the stain of newsprint compelling him up from the breakfast table each morning to wash. He says the whole thing now looks like a Canadian Tire flyer. 

But I’m ambivalent. I like knowing big men’s knees won’t crowd me anymore and I like bright, crisp images but beyond that I have no firm opinions. I need more time to savour the new look. Perhaps I need to get away from blogging and dash downstairs where this morning’s paper waits for me to uncrease its folds and bury my mind in the words and pictures. While eating my toast a while ago, I did manage to catch some old snaps of Marilyn Munroe in the arms of a grizzly bear while visiting Banff. And another one of her cuddled up to Joe DiMaggio. But that was about it.  

I suppose I am, as a nouveau blogger and internet absorbee, part of the threat to newspapers and to my livelihood vis-a-vis writing. But blog-on I must and this morning it’s to tell you about an obituary I’m currently writing for the Globe.  

I won’t name names because that’s intrusive and a breach of confidentiality. But once my obituary appears–this time with a colour photograph of my subject–you’ll probably be able to figure out to whom I am referring. My subject was Norwegian born but  lived for several decades in Ontario. A few days ago, I attended his memorial service in Peterborough, Ontario.  

Hardangerfjord, Norway

I rarely meet the colleagues or families of people I’m writing about. Interviews are almost always conducted by telephone and so I miss out on the nuances, the peculiar moments that become alive in these old churches spreading echoes, where gestures between people suggest the depths of grief and attempts to recover and proceed according to protocol. 

  

I watched one elder woman plunge deep inside her gold-clasped handbag for a tiny wad of twisted tissues. She handed one or two of them across the aisle to a young man who probably didn’t expect to cry. I watched a toddler attempt to scale the pews and make of this strange place a playground. Later, a teenaged girl battened down a stray lift of hair, perhaps wondering how she looked to the one other teenager trapped up front with her parents.  

At this memorial sounds lifted me far, far way and removed from any thoughts of work. My subject’s son is a tenor who sings a full range of music from Bach to Vaughan Williams, in various languages including Norwegian, French, Italian and German. He performs opera, music theatre, oratorios, and Celtic music.   

There was also a piano and violin duet played to honour my obituary subject, who was a great lover of music and poetry. And the combined voices of a full choir spread the sounds of music to further fill the tucked-away corners of All Saints Anglican Church.  

My subject’s son sang to his father in Norwegian, a song by Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) and away in the back pew I pressed buttons on my Zoom H2 and recorded his tribute, his love, promising to make the recording available to his family in Norway. None of this will make it into the paper.  

Døyr fe, døyr frende  

Døyr sjølv det same  

Eg veit eitt som aldri døyr  

Dom om daudan kvar.  

   

Cattle die, friends die.  

 One day I too will die.  

 One thing I know will never die,  

 Is the reputation of a life well lived.

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About Nor

I'm a creative non-fiction writer, with a special interest in memoirs and obituaries--life stories, local histories with flesh & blood anecdotal details. I'm also beginning to create podcasts of people's stories and expanding their audiences. I'm a diarist, an editor, and a political activist. I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and spend days tapping keys or staining my fingers in ink.
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