The Funeral

Printer-friendly version

Author’s note: I was inspired to write this by the news story of a 99 year old British RAF veteran from WW2 who died and was scheduled to be buried on Remembrance Day (British version of Veterans Day). He had never married nor fathered children and there were no friends or family to attend the funeral. The nursing home he died in published a notice in the paper asking for veterans to attend. A veteran tweeted the story and hundreds came to honor him for his service. This story is dedicated to all warriors who served. None should go with their story untold nor their song unsung.

by Tom Verreault

Jas sighed. She was fourteen and frustrated. Her uncle Jason had passed and it seemed that she was the closest living relative who could attend to arrangements. Not that there was much for her to do since he had been a veteran in the Sathar War. A government agency that supposedly cared for the veterans was paying for the cut rate cremation. Her obligation was to sign for and spread the ashes in a garden of remembrance set aside as a pauper’s field for those who could not afford anything else.

Her frustration stemmed from the fact that she had not been raised religious and she didn’t see the point of a funeral. Jason was dead and she never really knew him despite being named after him. After all, when you dead you’re dead. There wasn’t anything more! Her mother was already half dead and too strung out on drugs to see to this. Thus Jas had to perform the duty today.

She turned her attention back to the chronocom to check her net mail and resumed listening to slash music. Hopefully, the crematorium’s staff would bring out her uncle for the perfunctory viewing so she could get this over with. She did notice that the room was filling up with old farts and she couldn’t remember the last time she had seen so many old people in one spot.

---

Hargaru entered the crematorium’s viewing room and noted several other veteran’s already there. It seemed with every year he attend more of these and with each passing year there were fewer and fewer of the old crew left. He nodded to some, shook hands with others and with a few he hugged.

He hated when the wake or service was held at the crematorium right before the cremation. It was often a sign that the old warrior had died in poverty. The crematoriums had been providing a viewing room for families to say their good-byes and could bill the government for the service along with the cremation. The room was functional but not a fitting place for remembering a warrior.

When the cardboard coffin arrived things became painfully awkward as it became apparent that there would be no organized service and the only family member was so self-absorbed that she couldn’t pull herself away from her chronocom.

When the crematorium staff looked like they were about to wheel the body out Hargaru stood up. He walked over and pressed the off button on the girls chronocom and said, “There is a warrior here, show him the honor he’s due.”

Her eyes flashed defiant and her mouth opened to give an angry retort but something in the old yazirian’s gaze made her pause. Hargaru nodded and walked up to the backside of the coffin. He looked down at the old warrior in a cardboard box then out at the assembly.

“I knew Jason in the Great War. He fought with distinction and saved my life on more than one occasion. He was like my litter mate and I loved him. Among yazirians we say a warrior who is not remembered in song is a tragic hero. “

Looking down at his friend resting in peace, Hargaru laid a hand on the chest and began to sing. He sang of the war and battles fought and of peace and battles endured. He sang of moments shared with a friend.  The song did not take long but it was haunting and hung in the air.

When it was over he drew a sheathed knife from his tunic and placed it in the coffin saying, “No warrior should go into eternity unarmed.”

The other veterans formed a queue and filed by. Some bowed their heads in prayer, some stood silent looking on, and others said a few words of tribute. Lastly, Hargaru nodded to Jas and she filed by the coffin.

She had barely known her uncle and had never given him much thought. In that moment, gazing on his old face which seemed peaceful she sensed the profound connection to him through the song and words she had heard and she finally felt the loss of his death. It had meaning because of what he had meant to others. The shame stung her in that moment and all she could do was whisper, “Good-bye.”

The crematorium staff moved as if to wheel the coffin out and it was evident they were glad the impromptu service was over. Ironically their manner stirred anger in Jas and she looked pleadingly at the old yazirian veteran still standing by the coffin.

He laid a hand on the coffin to stop them and addressed the veterans present, “Are there any that will carry this warrior to his last journey?”

Six men lifted the box from its gurney while the rest formed an honor guard. Hargaru produced another knife and carried its naked blade before the procession while Jas followed behind.

The crematorium director tried to stop them from accessing the cremation hall but Hargaru’s knife pressed to his neck convinced him that for this funeral things would be done differently.

The ashes were later spread in the government owned garden of remembrance.

Another Passing

Don Freeman

Jas was cramming for her medical boards when her room-mate came in. Sarah had been fulfilling her clinical hours at a veteran’s clinic. They exchanged some small talk but Jas stiffened at Sarah’s mention of a yazirian veteran passing. Minotaur was a human colony and there could not be many yazirian veterans living in the city of Maze.

“What was his name?”

“Hargut or something like that.”

“Could it have been Hargaru?”

“Yeah, maybe. What’s wrong?”

Jas explained about her uncle’s funeral and meeting Hargaru.

“Well this yazirian died without family or clan so the government is handling his arrangements.

Jas grabbed her coat and made to leave.

“What about the boards,” called Sarah, “we were supposed to study together?”

“I’m sorry, a warrior has passed and he must be honored.”

---

Jas was frustrated. She was not family to Hargaru and the government would not release his body to her. The crematorium with the government contract was not willing to let her organize anything more than the perfunctory viewing that all impoverished veterans received since they would be billing the government. Finally, she was frustrated with the yazirian embassy official sitting across from her.

Knowing that there were very few veterans of the Great War left these days she had come to several of the embassies for the various yazirian colonies in the Frontier sector. It seemed that Hargaru was clanless and as such other yazirians just didn’t seem to care about his passing. If he had been of a clan from their planet they would be happy to do something.

The irony was bitter, it had been a yazirian that had taught her the meaning of honor and yet she could not get yazirians to honor one of their own.  She broke down in tears before the embassy official explaining how Hargaru how become a father figure to her when she sought him out to learn more about her uncle. They had grown close over time and he had influenced her away from a life on the streets and crime.

The official looked uncomfortable at the display of emotion. Jas wiped her eyes, and apologized.

“I’m sorry, it’s just that a great warrior should not die without their song being sung.”

She left the office and the embassy official sat silent pondering the quote from the yazirian honor code. The girl was correct, of course. The honor code did not recognize any shame in a yazirian being clanless though the rest of his society tended to attach a stigma to it. This was just an unfortunate case where a tragic hero would go unsung, though he suspected from the passion of the human girl that that would not be the case here.  If it was true that this clanless yazirian had somehow instilled a deep sense of honor in a streetwise human waif then perhaps he deserved more than being forgotten.

He reached for his chronocom and dialed a contact at the Brotherhood of Spacers, if the embassy could not take official notice perhaps there were enough yazirians crewing the starships in orbit. A notice was posted on the data board at the Brotherhood’s guild hall and word began to spread.

--

Like a decade earlier, Jas sat in the front row of the viewing parlor at the crematorium listening to music. Except this time it was not slash rock but a recording of a song sung a decade ago at the last funeral she had attended. She was determined to sing this song and get it right. For this reason she did not notice the parlor filling up.

When the plain wood coffin that was all she could afford on her student’s income was rolled in, she shut off the music and stood. It was the place of the deceased’s closest living relative to open the service. Walking to the backside of the coffin she turned and her jaw fell open. The parlor was packed to standing room only with yazirians and a few humans. Tears welled up in her eyes. There were Space Fleet uniforms, commercial ship’s crew uniforms, militia uniforms, civilian clothing, and even a Land Fleet recruiting officer’s uniform worn by a human. She didn’t understand how this had come to be but she was grateful.

“Hargaru, was the friend and littermate of my uncle, after my uncle’s death he became clan elder to me and I loved him.”

Strictly speaking her uncle could not have been a litter mate to Hargaru and neither could Hargaru be her clan elder but adoption was a common practice among yazirians. A way of showing honor to another is adopting them into one’s clan. Heads around the room nodded in understanding as to why it was a human presiding at the funeral of a yazirian warrior.

She laid her hand like a gentle caress on Hargaru’s chest and began to sing. She sang of his friendship with her uncle and their battles in the war. She sang of the friendship shown her, of a life changed, and of learning the meaning of honor.

Then she laid a knife in the coffin and said, “No warrior should go into eternity unarmed.”

It was an old custom among conservative yazirians to give a small weapon like a knife to the deceased prior to cremation. As everyone in the room filed past the coffin, few had words but most presented a knife. Many of the knives looked like they had been just purchased. One human who had not known of the custom, nor had come prepared with a knife drew a concealed pistol, removed the clip and confirmed the chamber was empty before laying it in the open wooden coffin with the arsenal of knives. Jas was deeply touched and hugged everyone.

She had seen an exposé years ago about crematoriums that swapped out premium coffins for a card board box only to resell those coffins later. She was also aware that crematorium staff was notorious for robbing the dead before the cremation. That would not happen this time.

With a clear proud voice she addressed the assembly, “Are there any that will carry this warrior to his last journey?”

The crematorium director did not even bother to object, he had seen this before. With this many warriors present he would let them do as they pleased. A great warrior was carried with great solemnity to his cremation and latter his ashes were spread in a garden of remembrance where many of his fellow warriors already resided.

In the years to come, Jas would visit the garden on Remembrance Day and sing to Hargaru and her uncle. It was a yazirian custom but by then she had adopted much from yazirian culture and she found it soothing to her soul to sing for all the warriors present in the garden.