02 November 2005

Uncle Pat's Wake.

It wasn’t that we didn’t have plenty of warning about Uncle Patrick’s demise; he been telling us for years that he wanted to die. His wife of five decades, a wretched, dour harridan named Fiona had tormented his days with Götterdamerungish admonitions and a ferocious intolerance of ethanol. It was only his staunch Catholicism that kept him from committing murder, suicide, divorce, or indeed, the trifecta.

Since he and Aunt Fiona were without issue, he doted on us children; all the more so, since we would pilfer booze from our parent’s liquor cabinet to ease his pain. So when the call to attend his death bed came, we were quick to respond.

“Gather round the bed, you little bastards” He wheezed. “And put the bottles under me pillow.”

We did so; mine a little light from the cab ride over. I don’t think he noticed.

“Yer going to throw me a wake, Right?” Well, duh!

“And yer going to do me another favor.” He announced, with steel flashing in his rheumy eyes. We said nothing.

“I’ve left the old cacklebox enough money to live out her days, but I’ll be damned if she’ll get a penny more. I’m taking the rest with me.”

“Well how?" Iasked. "You know she’ll search the coffin when she finds the money gone.”

“Aye, so you’ll wait until they’re throwing the clods on the coffin an then you’ll bung these packages in.” He waved vaguely at three stuffed manila envelopes and made us swear an oath to follow his wishes.

Well, true to his words, he snuffed it that evening; the last of his liver washed away with our gifts of cheap booze. We decided to hold the wake at my place, since the house was pre-disastered, it would not suffer unduely from any wakely mayhem.

And I must say it went smashingly. The undertakers delivered Uncle Pat to the neighbor’s house, and it was a few hours before we noticed him gone. Luckily, the Bishoffs tend to dementia, and had spent the time pressing (literally) cakes and tea on the nice, if shy, "bed salesman". We got him back, propped him up on the saw horses, and picked up where we had left off.

Before too long, the suggestion was made that since he was already mucked up, we could save trips to the wheelie bin by loading up the coffin with empty drink cups and plates.

Well, the next morning came, as mornings after will. We struggled with our hang-overs, while the undertaker’s lads struggled with the coffin. We’d had to scrunch Uncle Pat’s legs up a bit to get all the trash in there, but we done it. I'd even managed to squeeze in a couple of dead car batteries and a worn out tyre. Now, I just had to get through the mass. Quite frankly, I envied Uncle Pat that morning.

For a change, mass wasn’t too bad. True, I fell asleep during the homily, and whilst quietly trying to relieve some cramps during silent prayer, I let out a six note bum-trumpet flourish that would not have been out of place in a John Phillips Souza march. Fortunately, I was standing next to Aunt Fiona, who is deaf and passed it off as her doing.

Eventually, we stood by the grave while the other mourners left. When Aunt Fiona finally took her leave, we threw the envelopes on top of the coffin and watched the grave diggers fill in the hole.

On the way home we stopped for a pint or two, drinking in silence. After ten minutes or so, my brother spoke.

“I’ve got something to confess.” He said guiltily. “I donated Uncle Patrick’s money to the Salvation Army. They do great life-saving work, and the money would have otherwise just rotted.” His eyes remained fixed on his beer.

Then Sis spoke up.

“I donated the contents of my envelope to the Shriner’s hospitals for children.” She confessed. “I hate to think of those poor, sick kids suffering. Besides. Uncle Pat won’t need it where he is going.”

I sat there stunned. I was absolutely appalled at my siblings' disdain for Uncle Pat’s last wishes.

I’d thrown in a check for the full amount.

And that's the way I likes it.