“Are you sure you want to? It might be hard. They’ll be devastated, the ones who love you the most.”
“I know, Dad. Not everyone who loves me will be there; you won’t be. Some people go out of duty, not love. I’ve been to funerals because I had to go, not because I loved the person. I’ve been to funerals when I’ve disliked the person.”
I wasn’t sure why I wanted to see my own funeral. Did it matter who came and who didn’t? Was my worth weighed by the number of people who made the effort? Did it matter who said what, whose heart broke, the amount of tears shed? I knew the handful of people who loved me: I’d felt their love and knew they’d miss me. I wanted to see what songs they picked and see who looked upset.
I wanted to know who’d take care of my cat. Out of everything, that’s what concerned me the most. I’d always thought my son would take the cat: he had a soft spot for him. The cat wasn’t easy to love; he was as unfriendly as possible. He only liked me, and, in turn, I liked him. He ran away from everyone.
If my son didn’t take him, he’d be in trouble. Who would adopt an old scaredy-cat?
“I want to see what songs they put on. And find out who’s getting my cat,” I said.
“Songs and cats. Important things, eh?” Dad smiled at me. I smiled back, well, I think I did. Can you smile when you’re dead? I was glad Dad was here.
“I don’t think it matters how many people come. It depends on all sorts of things. Some people outlive everyone they know. Some people are young, or famous. Everyone wants a piece of them, like the Berlin Wall.
“Which one do you want to go to?” Dad asked.
“Which one what?”
“Which funeral? The one for this life you’ve just left, or one of the other ones?”
“How many are there?” I obviously looked shocked as Dad started to laugh. I’ve missed him laughing for the past 37 years.
“An infinite number. One for each life in every universe and every cycle. If they have funerals in that particular universe. They don’t in all of them.”
“Dad, you’re doing my head in. I’m getting used to leaving one life and going to my one own funeral, and it’s hard enough to deal with. But you’re saying there are an infinite number of other lives and other funerals and non-funerals and universes and cycles?”
“Exactly. Each universe has an infinite number of parallels and each universe is cyclical … it keeps repeating over and over again,” he said.
“So this will happen again?” I asked. “I’ll live and die and be discussing with my dead Dad whether I should go to my own funeral or not? To find out what music they play and see who looks after my cat?”
“You’ve got it. It’s your funeral,” he said.
It was outside, taking advantage of the sunshine, in a field. I briefly regretted not living on such a day. I couldn’t be alive for my own funeral, hardly anyone managed to be. You’d have to fake your own death or be missing, presumed dead. The grass seemed greener and the sky bluer than before. Whiter clouds, a sunnier sun, vivid and vibrant. Everything seemed brighter, perhaps it was or perhaps my eyesight was stronger, or perhaps I was giving it my full attention at last. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
George Michael was playing, which was good. I’d wanted some classical music because it was, well, classy. But I’d listened to and loved George Michael for many of my years on this earth in this universe. I hoped they’d put Last Christmas on even though it wasn’t Christmas. I loved that one. Not very funeralish though, but neither was Faith.
“Happy?” Dad asked.
My face dropped as I saw my daughter. She seemed lost and unhappy. I would miss her so much. I tried to comfort her, but I couldn’t reach. “You can still talk to me,” I wanted to tell her.
I was in her heart, I was always there with her. I thought my most powerful thought and I think she felt it a little.
Her tears lessened.
I could see my son, he was crying, too. It wasn’t nice. I made my way towards him but couldn’t quite get there.
“I’m here, I’m here, I’ll always be near,” I thought as hard as I could. I wished the thought into his brain. I don’t know if it got in.
My ex-husband was there. He looked genuinely sad. His girlfriend stood next to him. She was trying to look sad. She wore sunglasses so that you couldn’t tell if she was crying or not, but I’m pretty sure she would not be crying for me. She was one of those people who came because they had to, not because they wanted to. I made an effort to be grateful that she had come to pay her respects, but I wondered if she had come to gloat or to make sure I was really dead.
I resisted the urge to count the number of people there. There were people I had forgotten about, people I hardly knew, and amazing people I’d been lucky to know. Funny, clever, happy people. I was thankful for them, and for those who couldn’t come. Dad squeezed my hand. Over his shoulder I could see my grandparents and lines of ancestors behind them. If I turned my head I could see time stretching forwards and descendants ahead of me. I was a cog in an enormous system.
My ex-husband was talking to our children, about my cat. He was offering to take him. Please no, not with his girlfriend and their dogs. My son said that he’d look after the cat and my daughter did, too, even though she doesn’t like cats. The cat would be okay. Relief.
“Let’s go to another one.” Dad’s voice caught my attention.
We landed in another field on another sunny day. It could be a cemetery trying to look like a park, or a memorial garden. The flowers were enchanting. I didn’t recognise the music playing. It was nice. The people were different. Dad was there, at the funeral. He was older than he’d been the last time I saw him. He cried. “It’s okay, Dad, I outlive you in another life.” I wanted him to know. I swear he looked straight at me.
My son and daughter were both there, with their families and my granddaughter. She was perfect; I marvelled at her. I wish I’d met her in my lifetime. She had been an egg in my daughter’s womb for all those years, even when my daughter was gestating in me.
All along, she was there, and this was the first time I’d seen her. I longed to hold her.
Dad stood beside me. He was younger again. People swirled around him; backwards and forwards in time; around him above and below. As though time didn’t matter. Ancient beings met with yet-to-exist beings in circles and spheres and the shapes joined together to make more complex shapes that started and ended at the same place but went on forever.
“Are all these people our relatives?” I gasped.
“No, we’re all connected, either related or in other ways. In a life you connect with many. Big connections and small connections. A shared smile, a glance in a traffic jam, working together in an office, walking past someone in a park, someone you once spoke to, someone you helped, someone you harmed.
“The connections have their own connections, so everyone you connect with connects you to everyone they’ve ever connected with. It continues, we’re all connected.
“Everything is connected.”
“I wish I’d got to be with you for longer, Dad, in my last life. I wish I’d seen my granddaughter, she looked magical.”
“You’re with me now. You’ve glimpsed the wonder of your granddaughter at your funeral in another universe. These things exist and will exist again.”
“You sound so wise. Are you sure you’re my Dad?”
He laughed. “Yes, I’m your Dad.”
“Why did you leave so early, from our last life, my last life?”
“A mistake. I’m sorry. People make mistakes, over and over again. People do great things and stupid things and sometimes we leave before we should. Before we’ve finished. When there are things left to say and do,” he said.
“Dad, I’m sorry I let you go. Sorry I didn’t stop you. Part of me knew, I should have done more,” I said.
“Now you’re making me feel bad. Don’t feel guilty. It wasn’t down to you. It was me: the circumstances of the life I was in lead me to the path I was on. The path ended early. I took the path. I regret it. In other lives, I walked a different path. Turned a different corner, got older. Met my grandchildren.
“Whichever life I had, in every single life, the best part of my life was having you. When you were two years old and you’d get up and come downstairs and watch me make breakfast. That was the best moment of my life, of all of my lives.”
“You always made the best breakfasts, Dad. Toast and marmalade and tea. I loved your breakfasts, you made me feel looked after.”
The best moments of my life were spent laughing. With my friends and with my family. When the kids were small and they started making up their own jokes. I can’t remember the jokes – they weren’t even funny – but they were so delighted to make them up and laugh and laugh their heads off. One of the jokes had something to do with a Jaffa Cake. I wish I could remember it.
“The great Jaffa Cake joke. It will be there as long as there are Jaffa Cakes.”
We were back in the field. They were planting a tree, for me. The tree could be there for years, or it could die young.
There is nothing as lovely as a tree.
“Can we stay here and watch the tree grow?” I asked.
Dad stood on one side of the tree and I stood opposite him. We held hands around the tree, circling it. We must have stood there for a long time; the tree grew tall and wide. Children climbed the tree, dogs cocked their legs up the tree, and leaves came and went. Someone buried a pet next to the tree and marked the spot with a small wooden cross. People sat nearby and ate picnics in the summer … others sheltered from the rain when it was stormy. Lightning struck and set fire to the tree, but it managed to survive and keep growing. Lopsided and weathered, but still standing in this world.
Birds slept in it at night and insects and creatures made it their home, or came to eat the insects. An owl made a nest in a hollow high up and hatched its egg. The baby owl plopped from the nest and made its way into the world. A bench appeared with words carved in it, in memory of someone who’d always be remembered.
People sat on the bench and admired the view, enjoying the shade from the tree and the comfort of the seat.
“It’s time to go now,” Dad said.
“I like it here, do we have to go?” I said.
“Yes, it’s time. You can stay a little longer if you like but I have to go.”
The familiar feeling of missing my Dad washed over me. This time I knew I’d see him again next time around. Over mountains high, through rivers deep and valleys low I knew he’d be waiting for me.
AUTHOR DEB THOMPSON
Originally from the UK, Deb works for Te Whatu Ora / Health New Zealand in Canterbury as an analyst. She enjoys reading, writing, pets and spending time with her family. She is married with two adult children and has lived in New Zealand for 11 years.