A Modern Wake

By Raymond Viger

Originally, the funeral wake was a strongly religious tradition. Watching over the remains allowed the deceased to depart their physical envelope with the positive thoughts of their loved ones in tow. But over time, this relationship with the church has lost its prominence.

Psychology has taken over, and teaches us that the wake allows loved ones to overcome their denial and live through their grief. Today’s funeral rites have new, modern aspects to them. I got to experience this with the death of my beloved aunt Huguette.

Her daughter Catherine invited us to the funeral ceremony. But there was no coffin. We weren’t in a funeral parlor. We were in a sort of a park area, like a glade. Little streams flowed across the ground. Several bridges gave access to little terraces with benches. Plants allowed for moments of privacy. It was a place of healing, calm and serenity. Catherine had chosen the spot because it corresponded with Huguette’s personality.

I got caught up with several members of the family. There were relatives who I don’t have the opportunity to meet with regularly. The exchanges with them were much more agreeable than I’d experienced at more traditional funerals.

Catherine gave the signal, and a little ceremony began. In the middle of the room sat a large color photo of Huguette, smiling. Just as I remember her.

One by one, people volunteered to stand up and tell a story, a little bit of the history of the deceased. Several people told of different slices of her life. I learned a lot about Huguette.

Did the absence of a body and a coffin prevent me from grieving? No. On the contrary, it was a final meeting with Huguette, bathed in serenity and inner peace. I left having grown, and inspired.

Thank you, Catherine, for this lovely meeting.   

Who Was Catherine Viger?

Let me share with you a chapter in the life of Huguette Viger.

In 1956, only 12 years after women had won the right to vote in Quebec provincial elections, Huguette worked in telephone sales for the daily newspaper La Presse. In the middle of the 1960s, she joined a team of traveling salespeople to publicize the Voyage section (the travel insert) of La Presse. Her love of life, travel and meeting new people led her naturally to this career transition.

Huguette thus became the first travelling sales rep for the newspaper. She got to go all over the world. Convinced that a woman could succeed at this sort of work, seven years later she opened the door for five other women to work in this department.

In a 1970 interview with the newspaper, when asked if she was a feminist, she replied “Not particularly.” For Huguette, taking her rightful place was just something that came naturally. It wasn’t about a fight with men.

In a 1973 article that appeared in Selling Travel, Huguette was quited as saying:

Travel is a way of life. It’s natural for women to be travelers, and sometimes adventurers. They now have the interest and the ability to make their living from it. Over the last five years several women have blossomed in our profession; many others will do the same in the future.

We might be tempted to think in this era of women’s liberation that a relatively new area like travel could become another area in which women will rival men. This is far from the case.

French version available on Reflet de Société website, October 24th 2022

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