This afternoon work asked me to manage the funeral of a middle aged man with Downs Syndrome. Funerals are tricky, all I knew going in – the church was Catholic. Catholic services take time, I was prepared for anything from open casket processional to body of Christ sacrament. Thankfully all we had to do was brew coffee, set-up food and assure a rather uppity priest we wouldn’t let heat escape through open doors. We took care of our end, then waited for guests to arrive from services in the main church.

The deceased struck me as a remarkable man. He represented Canada at the Special Olympics in Nagano for skiing. His artwork was exquisite, poignant watercolours brightened a rather dreary church hall. I felt at peace, remarkably contented with the life of a man I didn’t know.

As we waited for services to end two church employees who had been acting as ushers entered the hall looking for coffee. No problem, have a coffee, are you hungry? We exchanged pleasantries, fed and watered both gentleman. For reasons I can’t fully explain but instantly recognize, hospitality is an elixir which erodes propriety, replacing it with often unwelcome familiarity. After his third curried chicken tea sandwich one of them said, “there are a lot of retards here, can I say retard?” He looked annoyed when I told him “retard” was insensitive.

He poured another cup of coffee, stuffed another sandwich in his mouth and blurted – “What about ornamentals, can I say that?” Excuse me? Ornamentals? He chuckled, “ornamentals, you know, the Chinese”. WTF Catholic church dude! No I don’t know! “You must have to deal with a lot of greedy Chinese, can’t call them Orientals so I call them ornamentals” he smirked, ever so pleased with himself. Enough Catholic dude!

Retards, ornamentals? I don’t care how old, white or Catholic you are – get out of my sight before shit hits the fan! Fortunately the dearly departed watercolours reminded me how perfect an imperfect world can be.


Celebration of Life

Decades in hospitality dictate my presence at countless funerals. Of an age where “funeral” defines passing of a life, modern terminology – celebration of life, does little to assure I’ll find it easier to cope with.

Today’s celebration of life began as any other. My job – facilitate an afternoon according to family wishes, anticipate variance in timelines, and extend thoughtful handling of a difficult and emotional event with understanding, flexibility and compassion. Thankfully I’m kept busy – but for necessity of service, I would fear the grip of debilitating sadness. Funerals, even of those whose lives never touched mine are difficult.

I make a point of “tuning out”, conscious detachment the only weapon against utter irrational collapse.Acutely aware of my tendency to dissolve into a heap of unflattering, misplaced blubbering idiocy – I’ve mastered the art of professional disconnect.

Today something shattered decades of veneer – our client, daughter of the deceased began to speak with tender whisper. Her words penetrated years of practiced resolve.  “I loved my father’s hands, he had beautiful hands. His hands held everything he cared for, his hands held hammers, rope, pen – and his hands held me”.

Not wanting to explain tears dripping off my chin, I bolted outside. No measure of “stop it you idiot”, squelched my reaction to celebration of a life I never knew. I recognized those hands – in my heart, these where hands of a life worth remembering.