Familiar faces make the paper

“Why are you reading the obituary column?” a friend asked over my shoulder.

It seems to sneak up on you. For years that page is just a collection of old faces and stories, and then suddenly pictures of friends, parents of friends, neighbours or former co-workers start appearing.

My Dad used to start his day by reading the obituaries in the morning paper. His theory was that if his picture and name were there, he wouldn’t bother to make any plans for the day. Ironically, when he passed away the morning paper was on strike for a month, so his picture wouldn’t have been there anyway.

This past week I noticed two familiar faces in the paper. A father of a friend and a Langley pioneer, Frank Napier, passed away. Frank was well known in the Fraser Valley as a successful Langley poultry farmer. The picture beside his was of my former Grade 1 teacher, Helen Woolley.

I have fond memories of Mrs. Woolley. I started school in Otter but we moved during the Christmas break and I had to start at Langley Central in January. I recall that first day walking into the new classroom and 30 pairs of strange eyes staring at me.

They had the advantage. They knew who the bullies were, who the smart kids were, who the sissies were and I knew none of them. Mrs. Woolley stood beside me and introduced me to the class and asked them all to make me feel welcome.

For the first week, she was never far away. She checked on me after recess and lunch hour. She often came up beside me, put her hand on my shoulder and encouraged me as I was catching up, or helped me if I was struggling.

Six-year-old kids are pretty resilient and after the first week, I had made new friends and had found my place in the pecking order of my new school. My special attention from the teacher slowly waned but I have good memories of that time. It could have been very different.

We all have memories of people who have made us feel good at stressful times. The coach who took a bit of extra time, patted you on the back and said, “Nice play,” made all the difference to our confidence and the feeling we were a member of the team.

Maybe it was the person at the new job who took the time to show you around and introduce you, or the grumpy old lady or gruff old man who took time to “show you and easier way to do that.”

Of course there were the jerks we encountered along the way as well, the people who went out of their way to make our life miserable. Probably we would find out that they were treated that way once and just carried on that behaviour, feeling it was the only way to act.

It all comes down to choices. We can be helpful or we can we turn our backs. It all depends on how we want to feel at work or school or as part of the team. Nobody wants to see the jerks show up at their desk or at the game.

In the end we all end up on that obituary page. If you want people to have fond memories of your life, you should be working on that now. At least that’s what McGregor says.

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