Songs and straight-from-heart reflections marked the Celebration of Life gathering Friday afternoon in Sault Ste. Marie.
Mayor Matthew Shoemaker was among the attendees, who heard testimonials from people who recently lost loved ones, through overdose or illness. It was a chance to say goodbye.
Pauline’s Place is a 30-bed facility assisting youth, women and families in the midst of a housing crisis. It’s located in the former Senior’s Centre on Wellington St. W.
Anishinaabe (Ojibway) elder Willard Pine acknowledged the pain of people feel losing loved ones. Pine’s great-grandfather Shingwaukonse was the Chief at Garden River who signed the Robinson-Huron Treaty in the Sault in 1850.
He offered quiet words of faith and wisdom – and hugs – for everyone who got up to speak. Pine told attendees, “There’s no such thing as Heaven and Hell. Only thing I know of is Heaven, the spirit world. We should be happy for them (departed) no more suffering, no more pain. They’re being looked after.”
Pine’s calm demeanour, his caring tone, seemed to help folks to find the strength to publicly share their pain and fond memories.
A handful of attendees spoke of cherished relatives and their profound sense of loss. Some spoke of feeling guilty for not having done more, or to have “been there” for their lost loved one in their final hours. Later, the first names of 19 deceased were read aloud. “The people that are here right now, are our family,” Pauline’s Place Executive Director Anne Penney told attendees. “This home is their home. For better or worse, sometimes we’re dysfunctional, but we’re a family. “We miss them, said Penney of the 19 deceased. “I have learned from everybody’s name read today, plus more. If we open our minds, it’s not
about homelessness…it’s not about mental health, it’s about people.”
“Everybody has hopes and has dreams,” Penney related. “The people that go through here they’re artists, musicians…everything that any person would be. I feel that, lately we’re losing a lot of people, and…how do we make it better? I think a lot of people, including myself, needed to do this today.”
Penney told the group she’s extremely happy there were able to host the celebration “because these people deserve to be recognized.”
“They were the funniest people, always making me laugh. There’s not a day that went by that not one person that was name – plus, that didn’t give me something to take away for my own life, that was positive.” Penney said she has seen more than 10,000 come through or be at Pauline’s Place over the years “and every one of them would give me the shirt off their back.”
“And those are the things that people have to remember. Some things that people who have come through here went through I would never have been able to do. And I think its time we remember the good times, the things that they have given us. I am a firm believer that everything happens the way it is supposed to.”
A reception of snacks and beverages brought the special afternoon to a close.