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Eleanor McGrath: A lonely road, a 700 pound moose and a brush with death that got me to thinking ...





IT was almost two years ago that we drove a new route across the vast province of Newfoundland. Us six in our large GMC Acadia SUV invincible and incredible for traveling the three days from Toronto to our summer home in Renews and now on the return leg. We the "blended" family of McCarthys, McMillans and one McGrath affectionately call ourselves the "3Macs" and we are seasoned travelers, or so we think.

This was in August 2010 and we had enjoyed the infamous kitchen parties, Jigs Dinners and boil-ups on the rocky beaches with our Renews neighbours. But that sad reality of the end of summer was quickly setting in along the ten hours of Newfoundland highway to catch our ferry at Port aux Basque on the western corner of a very large island.

We stopped in Gander at a local diner and Finbarr remained firm that my driving abilities were not required on this leg of the trip, I could step up to the plate the following day when we hit the ground running at North Sydney, Cape Breton. Dusk was approaching and on Newfoundland highways there are no lights, minimal signage and you are told plenty of moose.

With windows down and the soft rumble of the ocean on my passenger side I was beginning to drift asleep as too Madeleine, Jack, Alannah and Áine. On this dark two lane highway there were few cars. But when one car did approach it was the shadows of something cutting in front of it that was gripped me with fear and I began my escalating cry of “moose…moOSE….MOOSE!”

And we hit the MOOSE! In that split second I peered into the brown eyes…it was not a light I saw; it was not my life passing by; …it was the thought that “THIS IS NOT HOW I WANTED TO DIE!” I know that the moose and I connected on this very thought. Tufts of her hair were embedded into our grill. The 700 pounds of Moose that hit our car bounced off the passenger side of the Acadia and woke up Madeleine and our younger three.

“Finbarr I told you there was a moose!” was all I could utter in my state of shock. It is in these moments that only an Irishman can reply, “It is my years of expert driving in Cork that saved our lives.” The Newfoundlander in the truck behind us gave the incident a reality check, “You are lucky to be alive, Boys.”

The only thing that is certain about life is “Death and Taxes” so the saying goes. And it should be added “and a good funeral.” But there is a troubling trend in obituary writing in Toronto and in the ritual of death and that is with the phrase: “A memorial will be held at a future date.” When I go and hopefully many years from now, possibly only a small assortment of friends will be left along with a few family members that still speak to me….but I want a funeral. Even if only five people will attend, please do not hold off the ritual!

Elephants grieve and so too do humans. It is very difficult to muster true grief if the person died a month ago and we have returned to our busy and preoccupied lives. The trend in society seems to want to remove grief from death. The rituals which organized religions have established over thousands of years offer closure to meet our frail need to be remembered, not forgotten, our immortality.

While religion is not embraced by everyone; grief is part of humanity’s range of emotions and must be acknowledged. If we die should there not be a sense of loss, a small moment in the universe when someone says, “I wish they were still here.” Please do not fall into the trap of secularizing and whitewashing grief…there is wisdom in sharing this trait with elephants. Elephants have not given up their ritual of death and grief, so why should we?

If that day on the Newfoundland highway had not been so lucky for the 3Macs, I’d like to have known that at the end of my funeral it was exclaimed, “That was the best day out!” Yes, go ahead enjoy yourself celebrate and sing a few songs because that is the fun in dying!