Left to right: Paula, Donna, Flo (me) and Susan, December, 2016
Donna was a woman who showed us how to put the FUN back into FUNeral!
I first met Donna when she joined my breast cancer support group, Sharing our Strength (SOS) in 2016. With her bubbly energy, infectious smile and love of fun, she brought a breath of fresh air to SOS. Our group is a large one, and there are many whom I cannot call by name, but Donna was not one of them. Everyone knew her. Everyone instantly loved her. It was her energy. Not a sweet, angelic energy, as you might imagine, but a no-nonsense, old-school nurse, always-do-the-right-thing, kind of energy. When something went wrong, her motto was “Fuck-fuckitty-fuck”. But most of the time, everything with Donna was “best kind.”
Donna instantly embraced our SOS group. Although she was surrounded by a very loving family and more good friends than one could count, she found something within our group that she could not get elsewhere. SOS is about unconditional love and acceptance, and a camaraderie that goes beyond understanding. Who else but those who have looked death in the eye, and have buried our beloved sisters, can really understand what it is like to be a breast cancer survivor?
Donna planned every detail of her funeral, and it was the most beautiful service I have ever attended. Our SOS group, dressed in black with pink scarves, stood in honor guard as we held an archway of pick roses the length of the church. It was very moving to behold the family, followed by about 50 nurses in uniform, walk though this arch of roses. There was no ordinary choir singing for Donna. She had none other than local celebrity Shelly Neville leading the choir. Although Shelly’s voice could have easily over powered the choir, I sensed that she “reigned it in” so as to not make it a “Shelly Neville concert.” An actual full band got up at the closing and sang an up-beat version of “I’ll Fly Away”, as people exited the church. Outside, my friend Dave, dressed in full Scottish attire, played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes as Donna was carried away.
That was the sad part. Then it was off to O’Reilly’s pub for beer, food and live music. Just as Donna had planned. We said some nasty toasts in her honor. Just as Donna had requested. We laughed and we cried as we remembered our dear friend. As SOS members, we are no strangers to funerals. However, Donna has raised the bar on funerals for our group. As we toasted her in that festive setting, we pledged, no more sandwiches in church basements following a morbid funeral. Like Donna, we intend to put the “fun” back into funeral! That is how she rolled, and that is how we want to be remembered.
On the day before her funeral, my deceased friend, Donna, sent me a message. Many will call it coincidence, but I know it was her. I was in need of a pink pashmina scarf to complete my SOS honour guard uniform. Driving home from work the day before the funeral, I said out loud, “Donna, I literally have 15 minutes to find a pink pashmina scarf. Not pale pink, I want hot pink. And it can’t be any kind of scarf, it has to be a pashmina.” Now, let’s consider that the odds of finding such a specific item anywhere in the city is pretty slim. It is not like I was looking for black leggings, which can be found anywhere. It is more like I was looking for a purple Blue Jays baseball hat, dated 1995. It is a very specific item and not one that is currently in vogue. It was no easy task to lay before my recently deceased friend!
I walked into the thrift store and was directed to their tiny collection of scarves. “Slim pickings”, I thought with disappointment, “Not a chance I will find it here.” Then, to my delight I reached into the basket, containing only about a dozen scarves and pulled out a hot pink pashmina! What are the odds? I went to the check out to pay for the item, reasonably priced at $2.50. I reached into my coin purse and took out two loonies ($1 coins) and two quarters to complete the transaction. I was surprised when one of the “loonies” was pushed back to me. “You must have mistaken that for a loonie,” said the sales clerk, “But it looks like some kind of a religious medal.” I picked it up and saw that it was actually a St. Theresa medal. St. Theresa is no stranger to me. I have been faithfully praying to her since I was a child. But I will swear on a stack of bibles that I had never seen that medal before and I have no idea how it found its way into my purse! Later, as I held the medal in my hand, I said aloud, “Donna, I don’t even think you were Catholic, so why did you use St. Theresa to send me a message?” I flipped over the medal and saw the words, “I will let fall from heaven a shower of roses.” A vison flashed before my eyes of her SOS sisters standing in honor guard with a shower of roses. I understand, Donna. It is your way of saying good-bye to your pink sisters. Best kind. Rest easy, my friend.