Why 'Wake'?


My Aunt, Marie Anderson was among the most wise and beautiful women I have ever known.

Whenever a friend or relative would pass away, Aunt Marie was the first to organize ‘the wake’. Aunt Marie’s wakes were referred to in the possessive …“Laura’s Wake” or “Uncle Hubert’s Wake” etc.

At seventeen, after the tragic loss of my 25 year-old sister-in-law, Susan, everyone congregated at Aunt Marie and Uncle Andy’s place for “Susan’s Wake”. It was held immediately after the funeral and consisted of laughing, drinking, eating and reminiscing. It was a ‘party’.

I didn’t get it. How could anyone be happy at a time like this?

Susan was an oncology nurse and I aspired to be like her and now she was gone forever. I was devastated by her loss and along with a few other mourners was somewhat miffed about this ‘wake’ business as we felt that the laughter and frivolity was disrespectful. So, I isolated myself from the group and cried. I cried for her loss, her youth and her love. I cried for my brother.

After sitting alone for a while, drowning in my tears of sorrow, Aunt Marie joined me. What she said to me changed the way I thought about ‘wakes’ from then on …”Joanie, I have wakes to help people get beyond their grief and this party gives everyone permission to laugh again. Life goes on and know that Susan will forever remain in your heart but it’s time to get back with the living.” With that said, she led me to her kitchen table - the 'party spot' for my family - where I listened to the older relatives telling stories, jokes and laughing. Before I knew it, I was laughing too. That incredible weight of grief I felt in the pit of my stomach was lifting and I sensed Susan was watching us all with approval, joy and mostly, relief.

This week, I and my E.R. colleagues, Jim, Cathy,Bobbie and Carin had the honor of organizing “Lou’s Wake.” It was held after his Memorial service and all seventy attendees contributed to the cause. We laughed, ate, drank and reminisced about our friend who will always remain in our hearts.

We laughed while being reminded of Lou's 'Magic Eight Ball' and it's helpfulness when all else failed in decision making, the value of the "Tooth to Tattoo Ratio' in determining one's I.Q. and told stories of Lou's impact on us throughout the time he was in our lives. I'll bet that if he was looking down on us, he would have approved.

Dr. Louis Portera meant so much to so many.

St Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church has a capacity of 800 people - every pew was occupied. Baby blue coloured ribbons were worn by the Emergency Department mourners to commemorate the signature colour of Dr Portera's scrubs. Nice touch - he would have liked that.
As we continue in life remembering Lou and all that he meant to us, I'm thinking that he might have wanted to leave us with these final, parting words of advice..."Do The Right Thing".
Thanks Lou.

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