Aside from myself and lady_curmudgeon, I saw that many people who knew him from our time working together had elected to attend the service. I counted six others in attendance, and there may have been more. Beyond those who had the privilege and pleasure of working with Claret, though, were many, many more friends and family. I met Claret's widow, who was very courageous in the face of such a terrible loss. I met Claret's brother, who looks so much like him I was momentarily taken aback. I also met Claret's father, who looked very sorrowful to have outlived one of his sons... but I can see exactly where Claret and his brother got their features from!
The service was at a Catholic church, one that was simply appointed but very lovely because of that modesty. I can see why it appealed to Claret, as he was always soft spoken and was the type of person who focused on substance instead of on style. I liked the priest's style, and overall it seemed like exactly the sort of memorial that Claret would have preferred. I imagine in the closing weeks of his life, as news from his oncologist went from bad to worse, planning the memorial was one of the burdens that he shared with his wife and extended family.
After service, Claret's cremains were taken for inurnment at the cemetery. I spent some time in the church parking lot, to let the family and close friends do what they must to say good bye (I later learned that one of those things was to release a number of white balloons, so that his eldest son might watch them ascend towards Heaven to be with his daddy). It was a short drive from the church to Claret's home, where Curmudgeon and I waited only a while longer for everyone to return from the cemetery. To pass time we chatted with the folks who were watching the house... family friends, the woman who is a summer school teacher for Claret's eldest son, and a few others.
It wasn't long before everyone arrived. Food was served to everyone who gathered at the house; a very nice buffet-style of delicious Indian fare including naan, chicken marsala, saffron rice, curry, spring rolls and more. Everyone ate their fill and there was still plenty left over, which I think may be good as so many members of both sides of Claret's family had come to see him and care for the kids and his widow after his passing.
All of my time was spent on the porch overlooking the back yard. Despite the higher temperatures and increased humidity, the shade from the many trees and the tents that were put up made it a very pleasant place to be. The landscaping was lovely, the breeze refreshing and as people arrived the conversation was good. I heard many different stories about Claret, from when he decided to go skydiving to how he ran a marathon (I'd never known about either) and much more. To my ongoing surprise, I received thanks from many friends and family members for my support while he fought for his health and life. Several times I was told he spoke often and highly of me, something that also caught me by surprise. No, I didn't believe he thought poorly of me, I just ... never thought of how much work might mean to him while he was at home, lost in a seemingly never-ending sea of treatments. His widow believes, as do others, that by enabling him to work remotely and keeping him involved with the daily activities of the team I helped give him purpose and direction, staving off depression that so often accompanies this sort of thing. I also learned that the day I announced his promotion is the day that he received news his remission had halted and that the cancer had returned with an entirely new vigor.
At one point in the afternoon, a relative of Claret's asked to take a photo of me seated beside Claret's father. I obliged, even if it was something that completely took me by surprise.
In the end, after almost 3 hours of conversation and delicious food, it was time for us to go. Most of the other guests had paid their respects and left, and it was clear that the family was looking for some time to themselves. I thanked everyone again, and then spent a few minutes talking to Claret's wife. While I had given a donation to the family in the card I provided, the one that I'd carried from the office had no such cash within it. None of us could think of a good way to help ease a financial or logical burden the family was faced with. Groceries? Landscaping? Something else? What would make their lives easier and help them face the new challenges ahead? Claret's wife didn't know at that particular moment, and I didn't wish to put her any further on the spot... so in lieu of that I gave her assurance that, once all of the extended family currently supporting her had left, she could always reach me and the office would gather a collection in memorial and provide it to her however she might need it.
The drive home felt a magnitude longer than the drive up had been. When I got home I helped with a few chores, then fell into bed and took a nap for almost an hour. After the nap was over I got up and went to the animal shelter building to finish some tasks left over from last night's transfer of Odessa, but that is an entry for a different time.
Tonight I'm going to think about Claret, his family and all the lives he touched both within the office and outside of the confines of a building's walls. I'm going to think fondly of a man who was soft spoken, confident, knowledgeable and loving. For a while I will reflect on the respect I have for a man who had faith, creativity and a streak of daring within his heart that would occasionally surprise even those who had raised him... and how I perhaps helped make life better for him and his family in some of the darkest hours they had known.
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