2009-10-25

Family gathering

All us remaining siblings went over for our father's funeral. Even though booking our trips independently, we all ended up on the same Silja ferry—in my case after my usual struggle with their website, this time because it doesn't work well with Safari 3, so I ended up having to do a (more expensive) phone booking. Getting on the boat did not entail any security check (yet I was for complicated reasons carrying no less than two Swiss army knives in my pockets this time around).

We would bump into each other on the concourse at various times, but had different dinner arrangements and didn't think of, or feel like, agreeing on a meeting later.

Helsinki next morning was chilly and grey. Honeybuns, the Only-begotten Son and I joined forces with my sister's family and walked from the harbour to our hotel right in the middle of the city. We were too early to check in yet, but had lunch and then changed clothes in the luggage room.

We continued to the funeral chapel where we met my mother and the other guests, exchanging subdued greetings and careful embraces. The coffin was waiting for us. A chapel official set out the Finnish flag to honour the fallen veteran, the funeral bells tolled, the organ went through various preludial exercises and then converged on a psalm, unfamiliar to us come from Sweden. The words and the melody had an uneasy relationship, but the chapel's singer carried the tune for us.

The minister rose and spoke of the life everlasting and then, in terms I recognised as my mother's, spoke of the good past life of my father and exhorted us to carry these bright memories with us.

We filed up to place flowers on the coffin, our better-practiced Finnish relatives carefully following protocol, reading out loud the condoleance cards on their wreaths.

Accompanied by more organ music the coffin moved out, pulled by invisible mechanisms, and we were left alone in the chapel to collect ourselves.

Directions given by my mother, we all walked to the nearby restaurant where a late luncheon had been laid out for us. The waitress was very discreet and professional and could handle any dietary oddities at a moment's notice. I note that these days basically all Finnish restaurants clearly indicate what dishes are vegetarian, gluten free, and/or lactose free. Minimal effort, but much simplifying the lives of many; time to take up this custom (requirement?) in Sweden as well.

My mother asked me to read to the assembled relatives the condoleance letters that had arrived. I made it through with my voice still mostly unbroken.

The various relatives exchanged the latest news, my sister's twins were cooed over and I promised to next summer visit Ostrobothnia, where I haven't been for some years, but still count as my roots. Eventually everybody said their farewells and our little group walked back towards the hotel. On the way we visited the family grave where a half-brother of mine, dead in childhood, rested, and where my father's urn would eventually be interred. The plot had been chosen by him after the wars, but now it seems unlikely that anyone else will be buried there, none of the family having any relation to Helsinki anymore.

We returned to the hotel and rested awhile, readjusting our minds to the present. I changed back from dark suit and tie to my usual jeans and sweater and felt more at ease.

The next morning the three of us set out to have a look at the city. These days central Helsinki is seemingly composed entirely of shopping gallerias. We tried to have a look in the cathedral, but it was closed for service just then.

Akateeminen kirjakauppa upholds proud traditions and is still a book store with a wide selection of books and newspapers, as opposed to its Stockholm namesake, which is increasingly more streamlined and gutted in an attempt to retain profit margins in competition with web book stores. Not so here, and we could well have stayed there the rest of the day browsing the shelves, but I satisfied myself with procuring a book on the Finnish Air Force that I had been lacking.

Eventually we picked up our bags at the hotel and strolled down to the harbour. Stockholm met us with drizzle when we returned.

2 comments:

Martin said...

I've spent the day in the Topelia block right next to the cathedral, which is closed for structural, not divine, service.

May the dad-construct in your head rest easily.

kai said...

Thank you.