The Friendly Funeralista

Archive for the ‘Olympic winter games’ Category

During my misspent youth, I dithered at University trying to find some direction for my life.  For some strange reason, I took a number of classics courses (which, I might add were really interesting!).  Unfortunately, my classics career came to an abrupt end upon learning that an inability to fluently read and write greek and latin  posed a huge barrier to this line of study … but I digress.

One of the great works I studied during this time was Homer’s epic poem “The Iliad”.  The poem tells of the Trojan war.  In book 23, we hear about the funeral games hosted by Achilles for his dear friend Patroclus who died in battle.  Funeral games were hosted as part of the funeral rituals for prominent warriors in the ancient world.  They served as a means of honouring the memory of the deceased.  Achilles put up some big prizes for the winners to entice all the best athletes to attend the games that honoured Patroclus.  It also guaranteed a good showing of spectators at the event.  I did a little scooting around the internet and found that funeral games had another purpose:

“The[re] are a number of possible explanations of the custom of funeral games such as to honor a dead warrior by reenacting his military skills, or as a renewal and affirmation of life to compensate for the loss of a warrior or as an expression of the aggressive impulses that accompany rage over the death. Perhaps they are all true at the same time.”

Another source states that the games provided a safe haven for people to mourn.  After all, no one would take much notice of someone shedding a few tears and keening in the midst of all the activity of the competition.  I think a few other benefits could be derived from the funeral games such as the activity they provided the mourners, the bringing together of the community for a common purpose and the sense of control that athletic prowess provides to those who have been thrown out of control as a result of the death.  The major benefit however was the lasting memory that something positive was achieved by the death.  I wonder how this ancient tradition could be adopted to our modern-day funeral rites? Dodgeball? Football fields abutting cemeteries — I’m not sure this would catch on … I guess the current standards of having a funeral and visitation serve the same purposes as the ancient funeral games.  They bring us together, allow us to honour the deceased, they give us a sense of control, provide activity for the bereaved and a safe time and place to mourn.  Good things come of deaths when mourners make memorial donations to charities in lieu of flowers or attend memorial golf tournaments and hockey games or endow hospitals and educational institutions with the resources to further their work.  Got to give it to the ancients … they put a good system in place!

As a final thought … a week after the close of the Winter Olympic Games, I discovered another interesting fact:  The ancient Olympic Games were an off shoot of the ancient funeral games.  Keep that one in your back pocket next time you’re watching Jeopardy!


Well, the 2010 Winter Olympics have drawn to a close and all I can say is … WOW!  I loved watching the games and in particular marvelled at the ceremonial aspect of the event.  Us funeral folk are suckers for rituals.  Give us flags, anthems, speeches, torches, processions, flowers, uniforms, mascots, and we are in our element!!!!!  After all, what are funerals but rituals?

The funeral profession has been in a bit of a funk these past few years due to the declining interest in, well, funerals.  It seems that for many, requiem rituals are somewhat passe.   Industry statistics show a decline in “traditional” funeral services.  It seems that open casket visitations, funeral processions, burials, “earth to earth and ashes to ashes” are no longer “cool”.  After all, these things take time and effort.  Funerals are emotional and all the crying makes one’s mascara run.   Before these Olympic games, it appeared that all traditional rituals (weddings included) were in jeopardy and no longer had value for many people.  Indeed even most Canadians seemed less than interested and even opposed to the winter games, prompting much concern about protesters and social activists “derailing” the festivities.   

Then along came the Olympic torch relay.  My family and I (and a lot of other Canadians) stood on street corners in communities across the country to see the torchbearers blaze through their neighbourhoods.  Two weeks ago, we watched the hoisting of the Olympic flag, the lighting of the cauldron and the singing of the Olympic hymn.  We listened to the speeches and the oaths taken by the athletes and officials to play fairly.  During these games, we sang (with tears streaming down our faces) our Canadian anthem no less than 14 times as our golden children were awarded their medals.  We witnessed and participated in the Olympic rituals.  We  loved every minute.  It brought our family, our nation and the world together. It gave us pride and joy and certainty.  It was cool!

Riding on the coattails of the Olympics, I would like to declare all rituals “cool” once again. What’s wrong with shedding a tear and joining others in song?  Why is feeling a crime?  Ceremonies bring us together for a common purpose.  They send shivers down our spine and prompt tears and cheers.  They get to the heart of the matter.  They are cathartic and provide a safe environment to emote.  They mark life events.  What words cannot capture a ritual can.  Yes, ceremonies and rituals are cool. 

Thank you, Vancouver for a great time.    These games will go down in history!

Joannie Rochette takes to the ice this evening in a quest for an Olympic medal from the Vancouver 2010 games.  Sadly, Joannie’s mother and number 1 fan died suddenly on Sunday while attending the games in support of her daughter.  Despite this personal tragedy, Joannie had the skate of her life, delivering a flawless performance during Tuesday’s short program competition.  Joannie has become Canada’s daughter, and tonight we will all proudly watch her bravely strive for a place on the podium.   

I didn’t know Joannie’s mom,  Therese Rochette, but I know I would have liked her.  Anyone who could raise a daughter to have such “grit” despite the pressures of Olympic competition and personal grief is a woman worth knowing.  Well done, Therese … thank you for giving us a true Olympian. 

Watch Joannie skate this evening at 8pm EST or visit  for more details.



Canada’s Joannie Rochette reacts after performing her short program during the women’s figure skating competition at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010.


See this news piece from the CBC announcing that Joannie Rochette will skate for Canada despite the sudden death of her mother earlier this week.  This courageous girl is showing the world how Canadians “own the podium”. 

Go get’em, Joannie … we’re with you, kid!

 3:10pm Update:  I just saw this video on youtube posted by Joannie’s high school, L’Academie Les Estacades, in Trois Rivieres, Quebec.  It would take me an age to try to translate this for you, but I think it won’t take long for you to get the main  message, “we are thinking of you, Joannie”.  Bravo Academie Les Estacades!!!!!!

Grieving Rochette faces her hardest skate

Last Updated: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 | 8:14 AM ET Comments56Recommend81

By Brandon Hicks, CBC Sports
Joannie Rochette practised Sunday at Pacific Coliseum and will compete after the sudden death of her mother.Joannie Rochette practised Sunday at Pacific Coliseum and will compete after the sudden death of her mother. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)It isn’t an exaggeration, not by a long shot.

When she steps onto the ice at Pacific Coliseum Tuesday to perform her short program in the women’s figure skating competition at the Vancouver Olympics, Canada’s Joannie Rochette will face the most difficult skate of her life.

That’s because Rochette will be skating with the heaviest of hearts, as she continues to cope with the sudden death of her mother, Therese, who passed away Sunday morning in Vancouver of a heart attack. She was 55.

Therese and Rochette’s father, Normand, flew to Vancouver from their home in Montreal to see their daughter compete at the Games.

Many wondered if Rochette, of Île Dupas, Que., would even perform in the wake of her tragedy. But mere hours after her father, Normand, told her of the news, Rochette was back on the ice at the Coliseum, training, focusing.

She was set on competing, which Skate Canada confirmed in a release Sunday.

“We have received so many emails and texts, and we wanted people to know that we read everything that you are sending,” Rochette and her coach Manon Perron said in a release.

“We also want everyone to know that these messages are helping us to get through this. We are going to do it with Therese. Even though we aren’t able to respond to everyone, please keep them coming for both of us.”

I’m taking off my funeral hat and putting on my touque …

As mother of not one but 2 goalies, I am in mourning for Martin Brodeur’s mom today.  Team Canada had a tough loss to Team USA last night, losing 5-3 in Olympic hockey.  Sadly, credit for the loss has been laid at the feet of goaltender Martin Brodeur. 

Driving home from my eldest son’s 7am practice this morning, I had the “pleasure” of listening to the Toronto hockey pundits remarking on the “overly aggressive” and “careless” play of Brodeur.  Funny, these were the same guys who were calling for his canonization when he shut down the Swiss sharpshooters to lead Canada to a win Thursday night.  How fickle is fan. 

Goalies have a tough row to hoe.  At the end of the game, you are either the saviour or the goat … when you make a mistake a horn blares, a red light flashes and 20,000 people stand up and start cheering … and your Mom, her heart breaks for you.  Yes, it’s the nature of the beast and yes, you knew when you strapped on the pads that this was what you were in for … but it is never easy.

For what it’s worth, I love the way Brodeur plays.  I like the fact that he is aggressive and takes chances.  I like the fact that he commits.  I like his courage and tenacity (which is more than I can say about Chris Pronger … don’t go there!)  So my hat goes off to Madame Brodeur … I suspect that she will hear all about her son’s failings everywhere she goes today.  I also suspect that she will be on the phone to her son telling him what we all tell our goalie sons … “watch your angles”, “be patient”, “don’t guess”, “keep your glove up” and “I am proud of you and will always love you no matter what”.

PS — Marty, that was a heck of double you hit last night!

My husband emailed me this video to watch in honour of family day.  It features Team Hoyt.  Dick and Rick Hoyt are a father/son team, a partnership that began when the son asked his father, “Dad will you run a marathon with me?”  Despite suffering from heart disease, his Dad agreed.  See the footage below to follow their running of  the Iron Man triathlon. Goes to show you don’t have to be an Olympian to possess Olympic spirit!

As a side note, the music that accompanies this footage,  “My Redeemer Lives”,  is a popular song for funerals, but equally appropriate for Team Hoyt’s story and for me.  My Nana sang with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in her youth.  She earned a gold medal, for her solo performance of  Handel’s “My Redeemer Liveth”.  My Nana died from Altzheimer’s Disease.  In her last days, she was extremely agitated and confused.  My mom in an attempt to draw out a lucid moment, asked her about earning the gold medal for her solo performance.  Without hesitation, she told Mom that her award winning piece was “My Redeemer Liveth”. 

Big R redeemers live among us … The Hoyts and Canadian gold medalist Alexandre Bilodeau are examples.  But I think that all of us have redeemer potential.  Small acts of kindness, like holding the hand of your dying Mom while helping her remember a time when she was young and golden, rank right up there.   

I hope you enjoyed Family Day and I hope you enjoy this video.

Like most of you, I watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics last night.  I thought the ceremony was very impressive, moving and very Canadian.  When our Canadian athletes entered the stadium I had tears streaming down my face.  I held my breath waiting to see who would be given the honour to light the Olympic torch.  I spent the evening on my blackberry messaging my husband (away on business in Arizona) all the details.  The highlight for me was the very touching manner in which the Olympic organizers honoured the athlete from Georgia who lost his life earlier in the day while taking a final training run on the luge course.  Black arm bands were worn by the Georgian team, hats were removed when they entered the stadium and a moment of silence marked his death — VERY WELL DONE!

That said, us funeral directors are terribly critical and have a crushing eye for detail …  As my favourite author Tom Lynch tells us, … with funerals there are no second chances, no refund policies, there is only one funeral per customer.  Should the Olympics be hosted by Canadians in the future, I would encourage the committee to put a funeral director on the organizing committee for the following reasons:

1. The platform party, seated with the Governor General and Prime Minister, would be on time.  In fact, they would have been there the night before, wearing Depends if necessary, to ensure promptness.

2. The Mounties carrying in the Canadian Flag would have marched in unison … not only their feet but arms too.  To boot, they would have all been the same height.

3.  Laureen Harper (Prime Minister’s bride) would have spent the day at Holt Renfrew (posh department store) getting a makeover.  She would have worn a red Chanel suit, sporting a toni new hair cut.

4. The Governor General looked wonderful, but someone should have made her drink a case of Red Bull with a pot of Tim’s to chase it such that she could stay awake during the ceremonies.

5. Nelly Furtado would have been wearing an A-line skirt. Form fitting shiny frocks are not flattering on curvy hipped girls

6. KD Lang would have been wearing shoes. 

7.  The fans used to make the Olympic and Canadian flags flutter would actually be placed in the proper way such that the flags actually fluttered at a 90 degree angle.

8.  The Olympians bearing the flags for their countries would have been required to attend a Flag Bearing 101 course such that they were waved without get furled up

9.  Wayne Gretsky would have been transported in a more suitable vehicle to the outdoor cauldron.  I think I would have called the North Pole and confiscated Santa’s sleigh and reindeer.

10. Finally, the arms to the Olympic Cauldron would have worked — PERIOD.  The hydraulics engineer in charge of that task should be giving in their steel pinkie ring as we speak.

As a final thought, where was Canada’s Diva, Celine Dion?  The young girl who sang the anthem did an admiral job but for my money, Celine would have brought down the house.  Maybe she is being saved for the closer? Did I miss anything?

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