Yesterday, I went to the visitation for my friend Darrell’s wife Joanna. Gone at 64, cancer I believe. Even though I had never met Joanna, I wanted to go. Many years ago, when I was trying to get a teaching job with the Catholic school board in London, Darrell wrote me a letter of reference. And I got the job! Darrell and Jody both worked at Parkwood Hospital and were joyous friends. Always having fun. So good to each other.
I showed up at the church right at the beginning of the visitation period, and there already had to be 50 people ready to say hello to the family. And there were probably 25 of them. So I experienced the “line that doesn’t move” syndrome, and that was fine. I knew only one person there, but others probably knew the whole family. Who am I to begrudge them precious moments with people they care about? So the waiting was good. There were two or three screens in the sanctuary, showing all sorts of pictures of Joanna.
Folks who came later than me were seated in the pews, waiting for the opportunity to join the line. As I stood, I heard two precious words among a group who were seated: “Jody Kerr”. A woman who works at Parkwood was talking about my lovely wife, about what a joy she was to see every day, and about Jodiette’s bright tops and pants. I turned and sought out the source. The four of us chatted for ten minutes or so about my dear girl, and I couldn’t care less about losing my spot in the line.
Then it was time to greet the first family members. I was feeling a little nervous, but really not much. I was clear that it didn’t matter what I said to all these strangers. “Just be with them, Bruce. All will be well.” And it was. I told different groups that I had never met Joanna, but the slide show on the walls showed me all I needed to know. She just glowed in photo after photo. There were even recent shots of her smiling broadly at the airport, as some of her kids and grandkids were heading back to Western Canada. I imagine that everyone knew this was goodbye, but that didn’t stop Joanna from showering her world with love. “Was she always like this?” I asked. And one of her daughters answered, “Yes.”
To other linemates, I talked about what a huge presence Darrell was at Parkwood before he retired. He’d be walking down the hallway, see someone he knew a hundred feet away, and start smiling. I think it was one of his sons who added, “And he probably had a couple of conversations before he got to that person.” Indeed.
When I reached Darrell, we gave each other a lingering hug. He told nearby folks about the letter of reference, and mentioned that ever since I’ve been paying him with a toonie every time I saw him. At which point I plunked one of those $2.00 coins in his palm. And he did what Darrell does – tried to stuff the toonie into my pocket. But I was too fast for him. And in Darrell’s possession the coin remained. Just like always. I mean the guy has to keep his retirement well funded, doesn’t he?
Lots of visiting at the visitation. Joanna and Jody were happy to see it all.