Goodbye Daniel

It is said that funerals are not for the dead but are an event wholly for the living – a way to mourn, celebrate and accept the passing of a loved one. And the people who attended the funeral of Greg’s uncle Daniel most definitely did all of the above.

If I had to come up with one word to describe the event, I’d have to say “Toronto”. Not that Daniel, or the event to celebrate his life, was all about civic pride, but rather that the event and the people who attended it represented everything that is good and wonderful about this city. Daniel was the hub for people from so many different cultures and walks of life to come together. Coming from a family who are Catholic and having lived for some years as a monk, Daniel moved to Toronto in the late 70s when he accepted that he was gay. I’m not a religious person, so I can’t speak to what compels a religious type of spirituality, but his dissatisfaction with the Catholic church and their stance on homosexuality provoked Daniel to explore other religions and methods of spirituality, and with that, other cultures.

He planned the service himself before he passed. Held in a United church and encompassing prayers from the Dominican friars from the University of Toronto (he worked as their personal chef for many years), it also included passages from the Koran, the Torah, and the Tibetan Book of the Dead as well as meditation and other prayers and hymns. One of the Dominicans sang the most beautiful a capella version of Ava Maria I’ve ever heard. After the service the reception included Indian sweets like jalebi and burfi – Daniel had always dreamed of going to India so Indian sweets were a perfect fit.

Daniel had been cremated and his urn was placed on the dais with a rainbow flag, some of his artwork, a chef’s apron and various other things that were meaningful to him.

The people there to honour Daniel were also a diverse group, ranging from pierced and tattooed guys from Toronto’s gay community, ladies he’d taken art classes with, and friends from various music and meditation classes. Long time friends, neighbours and people he’d attended church with made up a good section of the almost full congregation. When the time came for people to stand up and talk about their memories of Daniel, there was even a guy who had met him on the subway. Daniel had the down-east gift of gab and would talk to anybody. And he was so charming that many of them became friends.

At the reception, guests were encouraged to go through a collection of knickknacks and artwork and take away something that reminded them of Daniel. He was a bit of a packrat and the other uncles who came to take care of his estate and pack up his apartment couldn’t take all of it back to Summerside with them. While this seemed like a bit of an odd thing to do, it had been Daniel’s wish that his friends have something to remember him by, and people stood around the table full of stuff, talking about when he bought that candleholder, or the day he took those photos or made that painting. It was actually a great idea that connected Daniel to those he loved one final time.

On a wholly personal note, Greg and I have both noted the relief and closure that the funeral provided us. Having lost 3 meaningful people in our lives (the dog is too people!) in just over a month, inadvertent aspects of the event allowed us to mourn those we lost all at once. Daniel of course, was represented the most. But that gentleman who stood up to speak about how he had met Daniel on the subway? He was vision-impaired and was attended by a large German Sheperd dog. I had been doing fine up until he came in and sat down in the front pew, but when the dog sat down in front of me, I couldn’t help but cry for Bowie and think about how much I missed him.

The tattooed guys, although I never spoke to them other than to hand them some cards that Daniel had made, also played a role, representing Peter Christopherson of Coil, who had passed away in his sleep 2 days before Daniel died. Besides being fans of his music and videos, Greg considered him a friend and we both thought of him as a colleague from our music days when we had signed the band to our record label, only to have Peter’s partner (in work and life) die suddenly as we were working out contract details.

Likely none of them know what their presence meant to us that night, but all of the weight – of mourning one death and waiting for another, and then having another thrown in there just to make a superstitious 3 – has been lifted. We’re still a little shell-shocked, but the worst of it seems to have passed.

After the funeral, Greg’s two uncles, his cousin Brent, and the urn of Daniel’s ashes came with us down the street to a pub. Fittingly, there was a final Movember fundraiser for prostate cancer going on and we all lifted a glass and toasted a wonderful brother and uncle. I had nabbed a menorah from the memories table – Daniel had been so excited when he bought it – and given that it was the first day of Channukah, we lit a candle. It sounds like the beginning of a ribald joke – 3 Catholics, an agnostic, an atheist, an urn holding the ashes of a multi-faith observer and a menorah go into a bar… Daniel would have had the perfect punchline.