Monday, September 1, 2014

Barry's Memorial

(Barry and me, on the right)

I've been trying to write this post all week, but busy days and changing nap schedules have left me little time to do it.

Last Monday was our friend Barry's memorial service. We gathered at the Commissioner's Residence, a beautifully restored historic building in Dawson City. The flowers in the garden were still blooming, and the red of the poppies gently waving in the wind and the yellow of the building served as a bright counterpoint to the grey clouds that were crowding into the Klondike valley. 

Barry was no ordinary man, and this was no ordinary memorial. The organizers decided to apply for a liquor license, because it was assumed that people would be bringing alcohol anyway. Since it was being held on Parks Canada property, that fact made some nervous. So the local fastball team ran the bar. There was a table with photos of Barry from his time here in the North, and some of his more iconic shirts, hats and beer cozies were on display. There were also buttons made with his picture and his favourite sayings (like "groovy" and "Dave's not here, man") and there were t-shirts for sale, too. It was pretty wild. After the service, we shot some shirts out of a t-shirt canon. 

The service was short, with friends speaking about Barry and a few beautiful poems read. After that, we placed feathers in a basket, to send our loving thoughts on with our friend. He was a naturalist, and loved birds. He kept a record of their comings and goings each year at his place on Strickland Lake. 

Our love, our hope, and our sorrow placed with our feathers, we proceeded across Front St. to the banks of the river. It started to rain as we gathered on the rocky exposed river bed. Two of his dearest friends got into a boat with our feathers and a jar of his ashes, and then they were taken out past the dark waters of the Klondike, to where the sand-coloured Yukon mixes in. It was in these waters that Barry wanted his ashes scattered. On the count of eleven (another of his sayings) Barry's ashes were released, along with the feathers. Watching those ashes scatter in the wind, settling into the fast-flowing waters, and our little bundle of feathers spread out across the surface, was incredibly peaceful. It made me think of the lyrics of a John Prine song:

"When I die let my ashes float down the Green River,
and my soul roll on up to the Rochester Dam.
I'll be halfway to heaven, with Paradise waitin'
just 5 miles away from where ever I am."

It was like we'd been holding our collective breath after we learned of Barry's suicide, and with this, we all let it go. The sun started to come out as we crossed the road back to the Commissioner's Residence for a barbeque. It was really beautiful, and I think Barry would have approved.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about depression and suicide. It is such a complex issue, not easy to understand. But I no longer feel angry with my friend. The anger has been replaced by a deep sadness, for those of us left behind and for him, too. I'm so sad that none of us saw the signs, or if we did, we didn't know how to act. I'm so sad that a man who had such an incredible love of life and all of its weirdness, in the end became so lost in the darkness of his depression that suicide seemed like the only way to some relief. It makes me sob even now, writing this. Such a wonderful human being, so full of love, and so happy just to be. That is what I want to remember about him.

I feel like, for Barry, we must do two things. First, we must be vigilant with ourselves and with each other. If we feel ourselves slipping into that darkness, or see someone else lost there, we must do everything we can to help, and to fight for this life. Because it is a beautiful gift. And that brings me to the second thing we must do for Barry. We must love this life and all of its oddities, treasuring each moment, delighting in where it takes us, and being unapologetic about who we are.

(the photo taken at the river was taken by Heidi Bliedung. Used with permission.)


  1. very well said, depression is deadly he will be remembered with fondness from every one

  2. What a beautiful way to remember your friend.

  3. A beautiful memorial. Depression is not talked about enough, we all must work hard to remove the stigma that surrounds it.


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