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  • Writer's pictureGlen Burkholder

There Is No Playbook

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

(2020 Volume 3: Part 2 - Continued from "And, From The Sky They Fall)

The air was cold, the sky was eerily clear and it seemed so dark at Pearson International Airport as the procession of funeral coaches pulled away from the warehouse. I drove the lead car that evening, with me, was Arad’s mom, and two other family members. My fellow colleague and funeral director, Victoria drove the casket of Arad to the funeral home with the company of Arad’s dad. As we left the airport, I remember just how bright that purple strobe light was against the blanket of darkness in the parking lot. It was chilling.

To begin with, eight days prior to Arad’s arrival his mom had booked a flight to Toronto to be here for the funeral of her son. Little did she know that that very flight, would be the one her son was on as well. In fact, she only found this out the day before her flight. How does one face that kind of news? Arad’s mom received it as a gift from her God to be able to personally escort her son home to his country.

Taken From Facebook

Leading up to this day, I learned about a young man who came to this country as a boy and grew up with such pride to be a Canadian. In the warehouse of the airport, I stood with Arad’s dad as he expressed his worry that the first sight of his son’s casket might be that of a flag draped casket with the Iranian national colours. This was his worst fear at that moment. It was a relief that this did not happen because of the forward thinking of my fellow funeral directors in attendance (the one who thought to bring a pall).

The drive from the airport to the funeral home was quiet. The roads were clear and at rest from the usual hustle of Toronto traffic. The late night hour leant to the ease. In the cabin of the car, barely a word was spoken, just the sounds of tissues being pulled from the box, and the heavy breath of the grieving. Victoria and I brought the lead car and the coach under the funeral home carport and stopped at the chapel doors. As the hour was late and the funeral home was locked for the evening, I excused myself to open the funeral home and disarm the alarm. Professionally, this was an awkward time for me. What do I say, what do I do? The family is here to see their son into the funeral home, but what comes next?

As professionals we must think on the fly, and be creative to make this a meaningful experience.

On my way to the chapel, while turning on the lights, I wondered if we had an extra Canadian Flag. Finding one that I could give to the family, I spread it out on the pew before opening the chapel doors. Together, we all lifted Arad and carried him into the warmth of the chapel. We closed the doors and we just stood in complete silence with all of our hands on Arad’s casket. I broke the silence by recounting Arad’s dad’s words of Country Pride, and with that I presented Arad with a Canadian Flag; the way his dad wanted to see his casket coming off the jet. This is the vision or memory we envision when any patriot returns home from war.

We then wheeled Arad to his evening resting place at the front of the chapel. It was there that I witnessed Arad’s mom became upset and agitated as she desperately attempted to open the casket to see her son. With logic, I didn’t believe it possible.I had to think of a means to neuturalize the situation in that moment. My friend and colleague, Rev. Dr. John Vincent, who has celebrated many many funerals with me as a minister and celebrant, came to mind, and inspired me. I found a rose from an inventory of flowers meant to be donated in the room next door. I then handed the rose to Arad’s mom and I asked her to smell the rose, feel the rose, really take in the velvety textures of the petals. When she was done I had her pass the rose to Arad’s father where I repeated this process and so on until everyone in attendance embraced the rose and it circled back to me. To the surprise of everyone, I quickly broke the flower from its stem and covered the flag draped casket with its loose rose petals. All the while, I explained to everyone that moments ago they experienced the beauty of a rose. I purposely asked them to remember all the rose had to offer in that moment, and then I unexpectedly destroyed the flower. Although the rose has been destroyed, you have the memory of that rose as you do the memory of your son. The same son you held, touched and smelt. The same son you grew and cultivated into a young man. Although he is gone, you have his memory, and no one can take that away!

The entire situation was surreal for me, and for everyone. I didn’t exactly know how to properly move forward and yet the guidance of past experience and the witness to the ministry of past loss, helped me to deeply care for Arad and his family that night and in the days ahead. After I left the funeral home, to drive the family home, Victoria, gently placed a battery-operated candle with Arad for his first night home so that he was not alone in the dark. When I came into work the next morning to see Arad in the chapel, I was sincerely moved by the actions of a first year funeral director who followed her heart. This was beauty in a time of disaster.

The Honour in Arad

During one of the times that I met with Arad’s family I heard a witness to his character. In the days that followed the crash, Arad’s friends were beginning to come and pay respects to Arad’s dad, at his house. One afternoon, a senior grade students came by the house and met Arad’s uncle in the drive way. Arad’s uncle noticed he was developmentally challenged or perhaps autistic. He asked Arad’s uncle, having great difficulty with his stuttered speech, “Is this was where Arad lives.” “Yes, it is.” “Are you Arad’s dad?” “No I am his uncle.” The boy removed his knapsack from his back and laid it in the driveway, he then opened it and pulled a single red rose. He said, “When you see Arad’s dad would you give this to him from me?” He then said “at school, I don't have any friends, but Arad was always very kind me…he was my friend.” The story broke my heart. It is beautiful to be remembered for the true person you are, but to lose a life that had so much to offer to the well-being of others is a tragedy in itself. Incidently, the origin of the name Arad is; that of an angel.

Arad, may you rest peacefully, dear boy. You are admired and loved, maybe more than you knew, during your time with us!

With that, reach out to someone today, maybe someone you have not thought of in a while and let them know how much they are appreciated and loved!

If you live your life in love, it will radiate from you and be felt by others.

Up Next: "The Forgotten Reponders"

When we think of first responders our thoughts go directly to Police, Fire and EMS. Now in the days of COVID-19 we talk about Essential Workers: doctors, nurses and grocery store attendants. Seemingly, where do the Funeral Directors fit in? How do they cope on the job?


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