Having grown up in Saanich, Leah Flatman knew the big city of Montreal would be different.
The Metro, Place des Arts, Schwartz’s Deli, Mile End, restaurants that don’t turn off their lights before Jeopardy is over. ...
Still, the Claremont grad, who is working on a doctorate in epidemiology at McGill, couldn’t have expected what happened to her while walking through the heart of the city the other day.
The story goes like this: The 27-year-old is outside a church on Rue Jeanne-Mance, waiting for a crosswalk light to change, when she sees an elderly woman ask a passer-by for help.
The passer-by shakes the woman off, so the soberly dressed old lady, her arms full of flowers, turns to Flatman instead. Could Leah help her up the stairs of the church? In a mix of French and English, the woman explains that she can’t do it on her own, not with a cane.
Sure, Flatman says, and helps her up the steps.
Except when Flatman gets the woman into the church, it turns out there are two more flights of stairs. Up they go.
That’s when things start to get weird. At the top of the steps, Flatman discovers why the woman has gone to the church. “I realize that there is an active funeral happening.” Worse, she realizes the woman wants her to deliver the flowers to the priest, who is beckoning from the altar.
So Flatman, hardly feeling awkward at all, and with maybe 10 mourners tracking her progress, makes her way down the aisle until she sees — wait for it — a body in an open casket.
At this point, she gets the urge to turn on her heel and herself become the dearly departed, but no, the clergyman has other ideas. “He goes: ‘Oh, do you have a couple of minutes to help?’ ”
It turns out they need someone to raise the maple leaf flag while O Canada plays. Flatman is confused — the anthem at a funeral? — but being a well-raised Saanich girl, she agrees to do as asked.
So the service starts, with the preacher preaching, the mourners gently weeping and the elderly woman rummaging through her purse, mining for Kleenex. Flatman does her best to hold it together.
That’s when the priest asks for some friends of the deceased to step forward. “From the back of the altar these three guys come out in Canada spandex suits.”
Not just any spandex suits. Head-to-toe jobs, the kind that go right over your hair until only your face is showing. “Turns out they were a bobsled team.”
Flatman glances at the photos by the casket. The photos glance back. They show the deceased with the sledders. Teammates.
O Canada begins to play, so Flatman starts pulling on the string to raise the flag. Except there’s nowhere to hook the string, so she just has to stand there, holding it. The teary-eyed mourners are really starting to open the waterworks now.
That’s when the spandex guys begin running in place alongside the casket, as though they’re about to launch it down a bobsleigh run. Then two of them jump inside — “One guy in front and one in the back with the dead guy in the middle” — and start making like they’re rocketing down the course. “Gauche!” one yells, and they lean left. “Droite!” he commands, and they tilt right.
“I would love to know what my face looked like,” Flatman says.
She tries to compose herself, to maintain a sense of decorum. “I said ‘Leah, don’t laugh, this is a real funeral.”
That’s when the minister starts throwing fake snow into a fan, creating a blizzard around the casket/bobsleigh.
Then he turns to Flatman, informs her she is on Just For Laughs Gags, and tells her to look toward the hidden cameras and wave, which she does.
The elderly woman, suddenly spryer, approaches Flatman: “I’m sorry.”
No worries — Flatman’s only regret is that it will take a year or two for the episode to air, meaning it will be that long before she sees what her face looked like when the sledders jumped in with the stiff.
In the meantime, Flatman’s act of kindness gave her a pretty good story to tell when she gets back to Saanich, where elderly women can be trusted and it’s rarely cold enough to launch a casket down the ice.
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