To die must be an awfully big adventure. – Peter Pan
We have a streamlined death industry in this country. When sudden death occurs there are lots of professionals to steer us along during the early dazed days.
John died unexpectedly in his sleep at about 4 a.m. on St. Patrick’s Day. He was sleeping at my side as he had for 42 years. I woke at 8 a.m. and found him cold and turning blue. I called 911 and that set things in motions. Even though I said he was dead, the 911 operator still had me do chest compressions until the ambulance arrived just in case, and I stayed calm as I followed orders.
The ambulance men were friendly and I answered all their questions as best I could. I wasn’t aware of them phoning or communicating but soon the RCMP and coroner arrived.
I answered more questions and gave information but I can’t remember what was said. I do remember that at one point the RCMP officer wanted to see John’s identification and I fetched his wallet which lay on top of the dresser. Then I remarked, “In all the years we have been married this is the first time I have looked in his wallet.”
John’s doctor was called and agreed to sign a death certificate without an autopsy. I didn’t hear that conversation but they must have agreed it was a normal at home death for a healthy 82-year old man with a family history of sleep apnoea. Like his mother , grandmother, sister and various aunts, uncles and cousins he had gone peacefully in his sleep The ambulance man assured me it was a fast and painless death.
The RCMP officer told me he had a very macho father who would like to go suddenly as John had if he had a choice. Then he asked me which funeral home I wanted the body taken to. The only on I could think of was Town and Country because my friend Doreen had once mentioned that she and her husband had pre-planned funerals there. The RCMP officer phoned them and left me to sit alone with John as we waited. I straightened his t-shirt and wrapped a comforter snugly around is cold body. Soon an unmarked gray van pulled up and the undertaker came in with a stretcher. He said he could take John wrapped in the comforter, wash and return it. I said, “It’s OK.” And pulled the comforter off John. He looked so peaceful lying there with his feet crossed. Then John was wrapped in a white sheet and placed in a dark body-bag and carried out of my life, feet first.
The undertaker asked if wanted John embalmed – yes, and then told me to come to the funeral home the next day with a friend to make plans.
I spent the rest of St. Patrick’s Day phoning people and leaving messages on answering machines for the most part. I also informed the bank and dashed down to the hairdressers two doors away for a hair cut before the deluge began.
Then I wrote John’s obituary, As I wrote it I remembered hearing that the ancient Greeks didn’t write obituaries. They simply asked, “Did he had passion?” a million times, yes! John truly had passion. He lived-in the moment and threw himself into everything he did. He was a passionate man and will be missed passionately.
But this is Alberta, not Athens. I wrote a proper informative obituary and decided the funeral must be a send off for a much loved man who lived with passion.
Frederick John Benger – March 12, 1933- March 27, 2015
It is with deep sadness but with great thankfulness for his life that the family of John Benger announces his sudden death on March 17, 2015.
John was born in Coventry, England. During the Coventry Blitz, his family moved to Kenilworth, England, where he attended school.
John served in the RAF, then became a mechanic for Kenilworth Council. At 23 he married Barbara, eldest daughter of Ernest and Phyllis (Godfrey) Nason of Bento Green, England. In 1964 they came to Canada with their two children, Susan Barbara and Barry John.
John worked as a journeyman mechanic specializing in Jaguar cars and for James Service in Saskatoon and then British Car Sales in Edmonton. Barbara died of cancer in Edmonton.
At 39, John married his second wide, Joanne Marie, eldest daughter of Jorgen Petrus and Rose (Kowal) Norgaard of Sunnybrook, Alberta. In 1975, John and Joanne moved to a farm midway between Entwistle and Drayton Valley where they raised Angus cattle, Arabian horses, La Mancha and Nubian goats and Doberman Picher and toy poodle dogs for next 23 years. They enjoyed going to goat shows and Joanne wrote “A Farm Wife’s Almanac” for Farm Light and Power.
In 1998, when John turned 65, they had a farm auction and moved to a lake cottage. John concentrated on his two life-long hobbies. He had raced motorcycles in England as a teenager and he bought a Nomad, then a Suzuki FJR sports motorcycle and finally a black Boulevard. He joined the Retreads and the UMCI and he and Joanne went motorcycle camping throughout western Canada and the U.S. At the time of his death he was planning on buying a Spyder.
John had made model airplanes all his life and continued to make and fly radio controlled places as a member of MAAC.
In winters, John and Joanne enjoyed trips to England, Denmark and France.
In 2007, they moved into the town of Entwistle.
John is survived by his loving family, wife Joanne, two children; Susan and Barry (Karolyn) in Seoul, Korea, thee grandchildren: Collet (Jason) Nelson, Meganne Benger and Kelvin Benger, and two great grandchildren: Cole Nelson and Emily Nelson.
The eldest of five children, John is survived by his brother Tony Benger in Belfast, Ireland and two sisters: Jayne (Barry) Wilson of Sunderland, England and Jill, and six nieces: Caroline, Tracy, Debbie, Lisa, Heidi, and Jade, and a well as numerous great nephews and grand nieces. He also leaves a host of other family and friends whom he loved.
John was pre-deceased by his parents, Frederick George and Gladys Irene (Smith) Benger, his stepmother Violet (Bilsborough) Benger, his sister Valerie Williams and brothers-in-law Brian Williams and Peter Nasson.
He will be sadly missed by family and friends.
Funeral services to be held Wed. March 25 at Evansburg Baptist church 4804-43 Avenue. Interment at Entwistle Cemetary. The family invites all to join them for fellowship and refreshments at Entwistle Seniors Centre following the service.
I packed John’s final outfit to take with me the next day. He’d enjoyed watching shows about archaeological digs and TV and once remarked that all people should be buried in a manner that would make them interesting digs for future generations. I’d dress him as a motorcyclist. He’s wear his motorcycle t-shirt, belted blue-jeans and a black leather jacket. I gave him warm thermal socks and underwear. His boots, do-rag and motorcycle cap would be beside him. He wore a Maltese cross necklace and a watch. In his pocket he had a Bible, reading glasses, a motorcycle angel, and a cross. In his hands he would have a coin, a loonie, to pay Charon to row him across the River Styx or to pay his entrance into heaven. I remember Mom telling me that grandmother said they used to place the coin on the eyes or in the mouth in olden times because shrouds have no pockets. It is a family tradition. John’s helmet was too big for the coffin. It ended up as a center – piece for his flowers – red roses for passionate love. The florist would also put a small bouquet in his hands. (I imagine him laughing and saying, “I look like a ponce holding those flowers.”)
The next day I took John’s clothes when Doreen and I went to the funeral home. Since I had opted for burial, I had to choose a coffin and grave liner. I chose the prayer cards and handed over John\s obituary and picture. There was no pressure on me. The undertaker explained the buying of a plot in Parkland Entwistle Cemetery and he had lists of churches and ministers, organists, halls, and caterers. The funeral home would collect money from us and pay them, the grave diggers and the newspaper without charging us a fee. They would have looked after the flowers, too, but I wanted to use the florist who knew John.
I decided to wait to plan the actual funeral until the family had arrived. For me the important thing was the actual physical burial because that is forever. Since I will be buried next to John, I was essentially choosing our final home.
The service was for the children and the grand children and I wanted them to be actively involved. As a family we visited Jeremiah, the minister, and talked about John and the wonderful person he had been.
One of my nicest memories is of the family sitting around with open bibles choosing the bible reading – eventually they chose palm 136 with the refrain, “His love endures forever”
Three hymns were chosen. I mentioned that my family usually had The Old Rugged Cross and Nearer My God to Thee. At funerals I would stand next to John as he sang them in his lovely deep voice. The family added the third hymn, Amazing Grace. Five tributes were prepared and I wrote the eulogy which the grandson would read.
Eulogy: John died in his strength like the patriarchs of old. March 16, the last day of his life, he was making plans to start looking for his new Spyder motorcycle and talking of summer trips to come. Before he went to bed, he watched his favourite TV show – Chasing Classic Cars on Discovery channel. He said his prayers, went to bed and never woke up again. It was fast and painless the ambulance men said. His large, generous, loving heart had just stopped beating.
He didn’t plan to die but he left a well planned life. John led a full and happy life. He did everything he wanted to do and more. He reached his full potential and then some.
He won’t need a Spyder now. I picture John, wind in his hair, racing his Silver Bullet across the sky. We’ll hear the thunder roar and see his headlights flashing we will say, “There goes John, the old racer in the sky.”
Six pall bearers were chosen – son, grandson, former foster boy, two nephews by marriage and grand daughter – yes, grand-daughter. Meganne wanted to be a pall bearer and we all said, “Why Not?” She wore black slacks instead of a skirt.
The daughter-in-law made lunch. Her mother arrived with more food. We self catered at the local seniors’ home after the funeral.
After the funeral was over, Jeremiah said, “I have never ridden a motorcycle in my life, but now I wish I had.”
John had come alive for all with the tributes from daughter in law, sister-in-law, grand daughter, grandson and family friend, Doreen. We had done John proud.
The eight days between death and burial were handled with wonderful efficiency. When everyone was gone and I was alone with memoires, I made my last meal for two so John wouldn’t be hungry when he set off on his tourney to Paradise. Crying, I ate his plateful as well as mine.
It was only after the house was empty that I realized a line had been left out of John’s life history on the prayer cards and internet and in the newspapers. His six nieces were listed but not his six nephews. I wrote apologies to all involved because I could not change what was done.
Because our prayer cards went to the printers before the final decisions were made the pall bearers and those giving tributes were not listed. I corrected this by including them in my card of thanks. I used a poem that went out of favour decades ago. I remember people writing letters to Ann Landers complaining that it gave the same amount of thanks to those who simply said a kind word and those who spent money on expensive flowers and attended the funeral. Now, in my grief, I understood that even the smallest gesture is very comforting if it comes from the right person at the right time.
Perhaps you sent a lovely card
Or sat quietly in a chair,
Perhaps you sent beautiful flowers
If so we saw them there.
Perhaps you spoke the kindest words
That any friend could say,
Perhaps you were not there at all
Just thought of us that day.
Whatever you did to console the heart
We thank you so much, whatever the part.
Thank you to all the wonderful people who comforted and helped us when John died peacefully and unexpected in his sleep on March 17, 2015. We are grateful to the kind and caring people at 911, the paramedics, Adam and Cody, the RCMP Cs. Randolph Romkey. Heartfelt thanks to Lannie and Doreen Bushy at Town and Country, Laura Richter of Heart and Soul Floral boutique, Rev. Jeremiah Pierson, organist Elsie Veitch, the Evansburg Baptist church, and Entwistle Seniors’ Center. With their help we were able to have a beautiful dignified funeral that had not been preplanned at a time when we were shattered by grief.
Thanks to the pall bearers: Barry Benger, Meganne Benger, Kevin Benger, Shaun Giroux, Robert LaSalle and Joshua Branston and thanks to those who gave tributes during the service – Karolyn Benger, Meaganne Benger, Linda Dumont and Doreen Klause.
Thanks to all who phoned, visited, prayed provided food, drove, met planes, sent cards or flowers, made memorial donations, attended the service or expressed sympathy in unique ways. Your compassionate caring meant a lot.
Joanne Benger and family