Hump Day: Funny stories can bring a smile to those in mourning

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

Well, it’s over. The long illness. The final breath. The wake. The funeral. The burial. My father’s wake and funeral last week were opportunities for family, friends and colleagues to gather to remember Dad’s 79 years of life.

We saw some of his old work colleagues from Marven’s Biscuits. For years, my father made the marshmallow for the chocolate-covered marshmallow cookies Marven’s produced, while his colleague made the chocolate for the cookies. That colleague attended the wake along with other Marven’s friends, as well. That crowd, however, is dwindling since the factory closed 34 years and the old crew is dying off.

I received a note from one friend telling me she was shocked that my father was someone she actually knew! She didn’t realize it until she saw the obituary online. We’d talked about my father’s illness often and it was only afterwards that he she realized that she knew him. At one time, she worked at the Sports Rock pub in Dieppe, one of my father’s favourite hangouts for years. (They even sent flowers to his wake!) Here’s what she told me via Facebook:

“During that time (of her working at Sports Rock), my family and I got to know Bernie. Bernie was to Sports Rock what Norm was to Cheers!! Bernie was always impressed that my son was fishing at a very young age. When I would take the kids in, he would always come find my son to get the latest fishing stories! It came to a point that if we went fishing and my son got lucky, he would always say that he couldn’t wait to tell Bernie and show him the pictures!”

This is the McDonald’s toy to which my friend referred. He really does look quite a bit like Dad!

“Funny little story – there was a day that we had taken the kids through the drive-thru at McDonald’s. When my daughter opened her toy in her Happy Meal, I heard, ‘Oh my God! Can it be? It’s Bernie!’ There was a cartoon character of a cave man that had an uncanny resemblance to Bernie! To this day, ‘Bernie’ is still in our car and travels with us everywhere! If he happens to fall off the dash, the kids are very quick to let us know that Bernie needs to be put back in his place!”

I laughed so hard when I read that story. It truly made me smile and warmed my heart to know that my father was remembered by these kids.

I also heard a story about how Codiac Transpo drivers looked out for my father’s wellbeing quite diligently. This, too, touched my heart.

My father was an avid user of Greater Moncton’s public transit system for years. After he stopped driving, he would take the bus everywhere, especially to his favourite hangouts (Dooly’s, Tim Hortons and Sports Rock, mostly). Needless to say, he got to know many of the drivers. He was a regular, let’s just say that.

As my father aged, he became less mobile and dementia had started to set in, yet he still took the bus everywhere until he was hospitalized in October 2010 and subsequently went to live in a special care home. I heard how the bus drivers would contact each other to ensure he was dropped off at his destination safely, had made it on to the bus safely, or even that he’d made it home safely. These kind drivers kept a close eye on Dad because it was pretty obvious his health was getting worse.

Hearing that story at the reception following the funeral made my grin from ear to ear. I’m sure my father was not the only senior these drivers kept an eye out for, but to know that was one of them really made me happy.

Cousins told us of wonderful memories of them as children either fishing or hunting with my father along with their fathers (my father’s brothers).

I also have memories of being awakened at 4 a.m. (and maybe earlier) by my father so we could go fishing on the Kouchibouguac River. Those 4 a.m. wake-up calls were brutal, but we always made it, at least after a mandatory emergency stop on the side of the road so I could be sick. (I always tended to car sick on these outings.) I was grateful to hear about these happy memories of Dad. We never discussed not having a wake or funeral for him. It was always just understood that we would.

Wakes and funerals are times to get together with family and friends to mourn as a community and to start the healing process together.

When I saw my father in the casket at the funeral home for the first time, I didn’t know how I’d feel. I didn’t know if I’d explode into tears, try to climb in there with him or faint. Until it’s your own parent lying there still and lifeless, you just don’t know.

What I felt, though, was a huge amount of relief that his suffering was over. The long descent into illness that had started years ago was now over. He truly looked at peace lying there. He was buried with the Sports Rock hat he never seemed be without.

It’s true that funerals aren’t cheap, but I believe they’re an essential ritual and a way for us to formally say good-bye to someone who’s been part of our lives. Coming together as a community gives those left behind strength, encouragement and the opportunity to share memories. Having the person just disappear and then go on with life without partaking in this ritual doesn’t give proper closure.

Funerals aren’t really for the dead. They’re for the living. They’re vitally important rituals that serve very important societal and emotional roles. They’re the first step toward healing. As long as I’m not the guest of honour, I highly recommend them.

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