Thursday, September 30, 2010

Contemplating, and missing, a friend lost to cancer

Hump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

The issue of missing people was on my mind over the past few weeks. My friend Marc's mother Pauline passed away after a long battle with cancer. An initial five-year prognosis turned into seven years, but time caught up with her on Sept. 7 when she passed away here in Moncton.

Marc and his sister, with whom their mother resided, took loving and constant care of Pauline during her illness. For the past two years, Marc visited her every day -- sometimes more than once. Marc's wife Tammy was equally as devoted to her beloved mother-in-law. When Marc and Tammy chose each other as spouses, Pauline certainly gained a daughter in the process. There were certainly none of those stereotypical daughter-in-law versus mother-in-law battles in their family. Sincere and mutual affection and respect reigned on both sides.

I visited Pauline in the hospital just three days before she died. She had difficulty speaking and moving, but her faculties were all there. She knew everything that was going on, but her body was shutting down.

I knew when I saw her that it would likely be the last time. I'd known her for more than 30 years since Marc and I became friends in junior high school in the mid-1970s. She had a sophisticated sense of humour, which of course means that she laughed at all my sarcastic remarks. You gotta love someone who laughs at all your jokes, eh?

After she passed, I was honoured to be asked to be a pallbearer at her funeral. Knowing that Marc and Tammy would be grieving, I took it upon myself to take care of two of their sons who would be pallbearers with me. One of them is my 13-year-old godson, who was busy on the night his grandmother died taking calls from concerned teenage girls from school offering their condolences. His grandmother would have thought that was hilarious.

The moment before the casket is closed at the funeral home is particularly difficult. It's the last time you will see your loved one. While I waited with the other pallbearers before leaving the funeral home, I could see Marc kneeling at his mother's casket, looking at her with tears in his eyes, trying to tear himself away but not being able to. He took off her glasses as a keepsake. He stared at her for a long time with a look that was the personification of heartbreak. Finally, he managed to find the strength to leave.

The funeral procession was only 10 minutes long but seemed longer. We passed in front of Pauline's house. I could just imagine her sitting outside and finally happy, saying "Good riddance!" to the sick body that had held her soul for so long. The illness, weakness and pain were gone.

At the church, a priest I'd never seen before welcomed Pauline's body by sprinkling her casket with holy water. The pallbearers rolled her casket up the aisle and took our places so that the funeral mass could begin.

A few minutes into the service, the priest started crying. Now, if you've ever been to a funeral, they're sad enough without the preacher starting to bawl, too. He apologized and said he was a "crier." He also told the congregation that Pauline was his godmother, something I didn't realize. He'd known her all his life. This made it even more special.

The eulogy was beautiful and personal. His crying was certainly forgiven. It wasn't a robotic funeral for someone he never knew.

The family was very emotional during the mass, as you can imagine. Marc's youngest son started crying and couldn't stop. Marc was a mess and Tammy was trying to console him, too. The two pallbearer sons were doing OK and remaining stoic while another uncle and myself kept jabbing my godson in his back with our index fingers to get him to take his hands out of his pockets in church.

Just before the final farewell, the priest asked if there were any nurses who'd worked or trained with Pauline during her nursing career. As a show of respect to Pauline, he asked that each of them come up to the casket and sprinkle it with holy water.

Well, if we weren't crying before, this pretty much caused everyone's head to explode. Marc just opened his mouth and no sound came out, so floored was he by this deep -- and unexpected -- show of respect by her peers, which was a privilege to witness.

After the funeral, I gave my godson and his 16-year-old brother hugs for a job well done and took over consoling duties for a bit as the 11-year-old brother couldn't stop crying and his mother had to console his father. I held him in my arms as he sniffled into my shirt while I tried to console the poor kid, who was very close to his grandmother.

It's been more than three weeks since Pauline died and the world has continued to evolve. School has started. Routines are back on track. The tears are fewer, yet there are still some from time to time. Grieving takes time and sometimes it just hits like a brick.

Everyone misses her terribly... the mother, mother-in-law and grandmother with whom they shared so much. The Sunday suppers. The Christmas mornings. The special outings. The unexpected visits to tell her something special had happened. Her loud and joyful laugh. Pauline was shy, but she laughed like a diva.

New traditions will take hold for Sundays and Christmas mornings. Her good humour, kindness and generosity can never be replaced, however. And now I need to find someone else who'll laugh at everything I say. Pauline, you will be dearly missed by all.

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