Thursday, January 06, 2011

Dear departed relative left this world in grand style

Hump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

It’s never good news when the telephone rings at 7:15 a.m. and your mother’s crying on the other end of the line. The year 2010 ended on a sad note for the maternal side of my family with the death of my mother’s sister Marie Doiron of Hope River, P.E.I. She passed away during the night of December 28th at home.

She’d been ill for some time. While her passing was not a complete shock, it was still a surprise at the same time, especially so close to Christmas and since she was not in the hospital, had sent out Christmas cards signed in her still-elegant handwriting and had spoken to another aunt of mine on the telephone only 12 hours before she died suddenly in the middle of the night.

Marie and her late husband Ivan had six children, five of whom still live only a few minutes from where they grew up. Her children and grandchildren visited often and lived with her off-and-on for years. During my occasional visits there with my mother, it was not uncommon for grandchildren of all ages to drop in on a regular basis to visit “Nanny”. Her door was always open.

Marie lived just down the road from where she and my mother’s family were born and raised and where her brother still lives. In-laws were nearby, as well, including brother-in-law Lionel Doiron and his wife Shirley, who lived just across the road. My cousins grew up going to school, to church and playing with their cousins.

Lionel sang often in Saint Ann’s Church, and Shirley was the longtime organist. I remember them from my childhood when we went to P.E.I. to visit my grandparents. Every Sunday, Lionel and Shirley were there singing and playing the organ.

When Marie’s late husband Ivan (Lionel’s brother) died a few years ago, Lionel and Shirley continued their church tradition and did not take their places in the pews with the family. Their way to honour Ivan was to sing and play for him at his funeral. I always remembered that.

On New Year’s Eve, when my brother and I arrived at the funeral home in New Glasgow, P.E.I., after the two-hour drive from Moncton, we were handed the program for Marie’s funeral and I saw that Lionel and Shirley were going to be doing the same for my aunt and their sister-in-law. Despite Lionel being hospitalized for a variety of ailments, he’d been allowed by the doctors to attend the wake the day before the funeral and to sing at the funeral. He would return to the hospital afterwards. This was a wonderful tribute for Marie. I thought, “How nice!”

At the funeral home, my cousins were in various stages of grief. Although Marie had been ill, the end came suddenly in the night. No one had the chance to say good-bye. No one was prepared. My mother and her siblings were deeply saddened, as well, as they had always kept in touch with Marie through visits and telephone calls.

Marie’s grandchildren range in age from pre-teen to their 20s and were all grieving, as well. The girls were weeping openly and even the boys didn’t bother trying to put on a brave face. Tears were shed by all.

About 45 minutes before we were set to leave the funeral home in the procession to Saint Ann’s Church, rumblings that something was not quite right started to roll in.

Lionel and Shirley had arrived early at the church to get set up and rehearse. Lionel was going to sing “The Lord Is My Shepherd” during the funeral accompanied by Shirley on the organ. Despite some initial confusion as to what actually happened next, we learned afterwards that Lionel had entered the church, seemed winded, and sat down in a pew. Almost immediately, he collapsed. Despite the valiant efforts of family members and first responders who performed CPR and defibrillated him, Lionel died in the very church in which he was to sing a few minutes later at his sister-in-law’s funeral.

The funeral directors announced the sad news to the family gathered at the funeral home waiting for Marie’s procession to leave. Not only had my cousins lost their mother, but now one of their closest uncles had died suddenly. The day couldn’t get much worse.

People scrambled to make alternate arrangements for Lionel’s solo and an organist. Obviously, Shirley couldn’t be expected to play with her husband just having passed away minutes earlier. The funeral was delayed for two-and-a-half hours and eventually took place despite the worst-case scenario of earlier in the day.

I remembered Lionel as jovial and teasing while Marie was just as content to remain quietly in the background – almost invisible. She would have hated to have those 500 people who went through the funeral home for her wake staring down at her.

During her wake, Lionel told someone, “I guess I’m next.” Less than 24 hours later, he was. His last gift to Marie was to take the attention off her as he left in grand style. She’d even passed away in the middle of the night with no fanfare or family staring down at her in a hospital bed. For his part, Lionel was the talk of the town with his very public exit from this world – even announcing the day before that he was “next”.

Lionel’s funeral and burial are today at Saint Ann’s Church. He’ll probably be laughing and passing this column around in Heaven – loving the attention – while Marie will be mortified that she was even mentioned. Sorry, Marie. Blame Lionel for this one.

Today is Epiphany... the 12th day of Christmas!

Today is the 12th day of Christmas -- Epiphany -- celebrating the visit of the Magi ("three wise men") to Baby Jesus. And here... sadly... is the last Christmas season video until next Christmas.