Orphans / by Suzanne


My sister and I often laugh about how hard it is to get a good photo of us. That's us on the left. We're always spazzing out like we are in these two photos. This is my brother, my sisters and I right after Dad's funeral. An exhausted but tight little tribe of love, still grieving but buoyed by all the love and generosity bestowed on us. It was amazing for us to all be together for the week in a big house (generously offered to us) overlooking the Miramichi river.

There were many beautiful and sad moments. Funny moments, too. Like when my brother and sister and I went shopping to buy one pair of underwear for Dad's final viewing and we ALL went in the store together. For one pair of underwear!  When we picked out his funeral suit we didn't realize we had to pick out underwear. It just never occurred to us! "Everyone needs underwear," the funeral director said.

Dad's wishes were to be cremated but it was an open casket at the wake. Dad looked really good, just like himself. This was mainly due to the fact he had been thriving in the hospital and died fairly suddenly - he woke up Monday feeling under the weather and in less than 24 hours he was gone - pneumonia. What a shock! We didn't see it coming nor did the nurses on his floor.

Our father's funeral was beautiful. The coziness of the small church, the readings, the music (even a harmonica!) and the incense and flowers. My brother and I did eulogies. My brother is an AMAZING orator; a sort of Martin Luther King. I'm not exaggerating. He was moving and funny, and he did it all extemporaneously except for a few notes jotted on a small pad of paper.  I wish there was a text or audio recording to share. There was hardly a dry eye in the congregation as he spoke about Dad, who he was and what he meant to him.

Near the end of his eulogy, my brother mentioned how when people win the lottery they often get their photo taken holding a giant-sized cheque. He said we were lottery winners too, and if a photo were to be taken it would be of us four kids holding a giant version of this:


I joke I was the opening act, warming up the crowd for the headline act. Here's what I shared about my Dad:

When I thought about what I wanted to say today about my father, the first thing that came to mind was to tell you how good he was at buying women's clothing. 

No, I don't mean for himself! I'm talking about the purchases he made for my mother. In fact, he was probably better at dressing my mother than she was herself. If Joan needed a new dress, dad would hop in the car and head downtown to shop. He'd pick out five or six dresses and bring them back to our home on Janice Street for mom to try on. Inevitably, they would all fit, and they'd all look great. 

That was dad.

Apart from stories like that, it's hard to know what to say about my father because he was so well-known to so many people. I recall when I was first living on my own as a university student that my dad would often come to town on union business. On every occasion he would invite me to stay with him at his hotel, which was usually the site of a convention or some other union gathering. I'd often wind up sitting with dad at dinner in the restaurant, surrounded by his union brothers and sisters. 

One time, hanging out with my dad in one of those hotel rooms in Dartmouth, there was a knock at the door and in came David Suzuki. I also remember my father conferring with Ed Broadbent in our living room at Janice Street and sometimes debating with Premier McKenna, who'd phone our house to discuss labour issues when my dad was president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour. 

At the wake last night, friends from different facets of dad's life came to pay their last respects. Friends from his days at Heath Steel mines. Friends from the mill and from the union movement and from his days in local politics. Friends from the neighbourhood, from church and from the Knights of Columbus. 

Yes, my dad was well-known to many. But there was a side to my dad fewer people saw. And it shows itself best in little stories like the one about my dad shopping for my mother. So it seemed like the best thing for me to do today would be to share those stories. 

For example, my dad was a man who didn't seem to have much interest in animals. Nevertheless, he allowed my dear cat Gilda to snuggle next to him in bed at night when I had to leave her in my parent's care. My mother used to tell me that my father would let Gilda come under the covers every night and that the cat would lay her head next to him on the pillow. 

Dad was also a man who could be downright silly. When I became interested in herbal medicine, I used to encourage my father to drink echinacea tea or to take milk thistle for his liver. He would invariably ask: "Suzanne, could you make me some of that euthanasia tea" or "bring some of that Silk Tassel you say is good for my liver." Silk Tassel, of course, is scotch and definitely not good for the liver. 

I believe somehow these stories show the measure of the man. Dad was serious, but he could also be unbearably foolish and playful. My dad was tough as nails, a lifelong trade union leader, but he also snuggled with his daughter's cat. My dad was a man's man, a guy who wrestled with my brother Brendan as a kid, a miner and a tradesman who also had a flair for women's fashion and not an ounce of shame in browsing the women's clothing departments at Creaghan's or Lounsbury's.

It was these qualities that made Tim McCarthy a great father to me and my siblings, a loving husband to our mother Joan, and a good friend to so many. My dad had strength but also softness, brawn but also brains, seriousness but also playfulness, passion for the rights of workers but also love for all humanity. And while the stories I've shared may have been hidden from the view of all but our family, the qualities they demonstrate were seen by all. 

One of dad's friends remarked last night my father was passionate about the rights of workers but was never a partisan. He could talk to people on both sides and never saw his adversary as his enemy. It's what made him such an effective negotiator in the trade union movement and in his retirement an in-demand labour arbitrator.

In closing, I want to express my deepest thanks to all of dad's friends and all the care workers who did so much to make his final days on earth comfortable, peaceful and full of friendship. Whether it was paying him a visit, running errands, or bringing him home-baked goods, my dad spent his final days surrounded by the community he helped build and served for so many years.