Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Ivaan was never a man to plan ahead.  He lived in the moment.   So I was a bit surprised, in early 2007, to find him sitting at the computer doing research on coffins.  He explained how impressed he had been by the funeral, many years prior,  of a Bishop of his church, Vladyka Michael. (Vladyka means Bishop in Ukrainian.)  It seems that Vladyka Michael had chosen to be buried in a simple linen shroud and a plain pine casket.  As Ukrainian Orthodox funerals go, this would have been quite "unorthodox".  For a Bishop, it would have been virtually unheard of.    Ivaan decided that when he died, in tribute to Vladyka Michael, whom he admired enormously, he also would be buried in a linen shroud and a plain pine coffin.

Adding to the complexity of his task, Ivaan had decided that his own casket must be kosher and contain absolutely no animal products, metals or synthetics.  He wanted to honour the Biblical edict "ashes to ashes."  After considerable research, Ivaan found what he wanted at a small company, Arkwood Caskets, in Ashland, Oregon.  Arkwood Caskets fit together with dovetail joints and resemble a giant wooden pencil box with a sliding lid. Ivaan placed his order.

Two weeks later, Ivaan suffered his fourth stroke.  It was a serious one and the hospital felt it was time for Ivaan to go into a long term care facility.  I was determined that his wish to return to Toronto Rehabilitation Institute be respected, as I knew Ivaan would go downhill very quickly if placed in a nursing home.  I quickly learned that the best interests and wishes of the patient are not deciding factors in determining where they are transferred from the acute care hospital, and it was a real battle to get the all-powerful social worker's decision reversed.   Fortunately, Toronto Rehab intervened and agreed to take Ivaan for five weeks of rehabilitation, to enable me to sell our home and find wheelchair accessible accommodation for us near his  hospitals.

We were still in the acute care hospital, however, when our friend Myron Dylynsky, who works in real estate, jumped into action and put our house up for sale immediately.  The first day it was listed, a request for a showing was received.  There was no lock box on the house yet, so Myron called the hospital and asked if I could go home and unlock the door for the prospective buyers.  I hurried home.  When I arrived, the telephone was ringing.    As I answered it, I was opening the blinds on the living room window.   It was the hospital social worker on the telephone.  Listening to her, I couldn't comprehend what she was trying to tell me.  The words "end of life situation" meant nothing to me.  As I struggled to understand the reason for her call, I  was also watching a UPS truck pull up in front of our house and unload a large box from the back of the vehicle. Mystified, I watched the delivery men approach our house and knock on the front door.  Again, the social worker reiterated the  phrase "end of life situation" and I suddenly realized what the delivery was.

"Hold the line for a moment", I said to the social worker, "Ivaan's coffin has just arrived."

There was dead silence on the other end of the phone.  Clearly the social worker thought it was my idea of a joke, and ended the call abruptly.

It was, however, no joke when the delivery men set the coffin down on the living room floor, handed me a sheet of paper, said "Sign here", then left.  I tried to move the coffin.   Impossible.  It was really heavy.  I was pondering what to do when the doorbell rang again.   It was the people who had come to see the house.   Three men walked in.  Four pairs of eyes gazed at the coffin on the living room floor.   Silence. Finally, one of the men spoke up.  "Does this come with the house?" he asked.

Their whirlwind tour through the house lasted less than five minutes.  They left, muttering something about Morticia Addams.  Clearly our home had not yet found its new owner.  My brother Dave arrived later that day and slid the coffin neatly under the dining room table.  That's where it remained, undetected,  until the house sold a few days later and we moved.

Over the next few days, I kept Ivaan company in the hospital while doing needlework.  One day, our friend Myron Dylynsky dropped in to Ivaan's hospital room for a visit. "Isn't this a nice domestic scene?" he enthused. "You're sitting here, keeping your husband company, and sewing.  What are you sewing, my dear?"  "His shroud", I replied.

Observing Myron's appalled reaction, I quickly learned to reply, "It's a tablecloth" when anyone inquired about my needlework project.

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