A crash course in unwanted expertise

By Kevin Woodhouse on January 7, 2010

A true benefit of being a journalist is having the opportunity to meet other interesting people and hear their stories.  As a writer, it is a great by product to be able to amass information and skills from the good subjects.

This past November, my sisters, brother, father and I became defacto experts in the business of funeral arrangements.  Death and taxes are indeed inevitable and eventually for most people, they will outlive their parents.

While my mother died suddenly, her Irish instincts knew that her time was indeed limited here as she had asked me a few weeks earlier for her and I to go to Rideau in Pierrefonds to make some pre-planning arrangements.  

PASSING-KLEENEX.jpgPre-planning the arrangements for our loved ones of a certain age is a good idea considering they may take part in the decision making.  This way you won't need to revisit the surreal journey my brother and I took when within the same hour, we chose my mother's eternal resting spot as well as the sandwich platters for the reception and the colour of the urn.

Despite walking in a fog and taking care of business those first few days, I have to commend Joseph at Rideau for his exemplary care.  If ever someone was truly made for the role of funeral director, it is he.  You need to deal with compassionate people at a time of need and that role fits him like a glove.

There is a sense of disconnectedness that occurs when a loved one passes suddenly. And while my father may be not as strong as he once was physically, he displaced true strength throughout a very tough ordeal considering his need for care that had been diligently provided by his wife.  My siblings and I stepped up to the plate because that is what is required of someone in a crisis.  As Winston Churchill said, "when in Hell, walk straight."

And while the sadness of the loss is tough, hearing from family, neighbours and friends who had known my mother for years was needed because you get to meet another side of the person you always thought you knew.

The one thing I did learn was how people share their grief and there is a marked difference getting condolences from people whose parents have passed as opposed to those who have not.  Some were completely grief stricken while others chose to share an anecdote or a funny story that involved my mom.

We did get the odd call or e-mail and you just have to remember the affirmation:"they mean well" but people mourning do not need to be told that "this holiday season will be terrible for you all" or that my 83 year mother's death was "tragic".  Children who don't have enough to eat and are abused, that's tragedy.  Living a life filled with love, family, travel and adventure that ends suddenly yet peacefully is sad but not tragic.

And for what it is worth, I felt a touch repelled by the odd acquaintance that wanted details of my mom's passing.  Obits avoid those disclosures for a reason.

Hospital stories on the news, around this time of year usually, focus on overcrowded ERs with not enough staff and too many patients.  And while that is often the reality I can personally attest, having spent way too much time in hospitals all over the island the last two years or so, is that nurses, orderlies and doctors are proud of what they do and  provide very good care for their patients.

We gained unwanted expertise.  But having that knowledge lets you help others because you learn to say and do the right thing under the circumstances. 



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