Robert Brehl says we should celebrate the anonymous people who bring joy to the world. CNS photo/Dale Gavlak

Non-celebrity is worth celebrating

  • November 13, 2014

So often we hear and read about the lives of the rich, powerful and famous. Celebrity seems to rule our culture. 

But reflection on the lives of the ordinary, the everyday, the taken-for-granted, is often far more illuminating. If we look beyond the glitz we can see the real stars, the real world, and answers to some of the real questions. 

Last week, I was at the funeral of an ordinary woman. Yet in many ways Mary Catherine DeLaurentis was far from ordinary. What follows is a brief snippet of a life well lived. 

Mrs. Dee — as she was known to so many people — lived 76 years, was a devout Catholic, was married 57 years, raised a family of four and doted over seven grandchildren. 

She wasn’t a CEO of a major corporation or a recording star with hit songs or a role in a reality TV show. The reality is that the only people who knew Mrs. Dee were those whose lives she touched. 

Luckily, I was one of them. As a member of my extended family, I had the pleasure to know Mrs. Dee for almost 35 years. 

She had the gift of optimism. Some might view this as trite, but it’s not. Unbridled optimism like she had is not about ignoring reality; it’s about facing reality and figuring out the best of it. 

Mrs. Dee truly believed things were good and getting better. Always. Even when things weren’t that good for her, whether it be family struggles or her own battle with cancer. She was no ostrich with her head in the sand, but she always saw the bright side of life. 

She also had a beaming smile and a loud, loud laugh full of life. We always knew when she and Aunt Joan (another lover of laughter) were talking because the room was soon taken over by a tsunami of laughter. And it would continue in waves. 

At her funeral at St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, in North Toronto, her oldest grandchild, Ryan DeLaurentis, spoke of his Nonna as a spoiler of grandchildren and builder of relationships; relationships of all kinds, wherever she trod. 

Working in a boutique on the Danforth in GreekTown, she befriended homeless people on the street outside. Not only did she give them money for coffee every day, but she knew their names and asked them about their lives and their families (if they had any.) 

Listening to these stories about her, I could only reflect on how quickly I pass by nameless, homeless people, maybe flipping a toonie now and then, but never having any interest in their human story. Mrs. Dee wanted their stories. I was humbled by this side of her life. 

There was the story about one former homeless man who returned to her store one day, all cleaned up in a suit and tie, with theatre tickets to take her to a show. At first, she didn’t recognize him until he gave her his name. He explained how her kindness instilled in him a passion to get off the street and live his life with a purpose. He came back to share this with her. 

Another homeless man made his way from the Danforth all the way to the church on Avenue Road, just south of the 401, for her funeral, even though she had not worked for about two years due to her illness. She touched his life that much to make the journey. I was humbled again. 

During his homily, Fr. Andy Macbeth talked in the traditional Catholic sense about death being the end of one chapter and the beginning of another for followers of Jesus Christ. And, somehow, when he told often-humorous stories of her and their friendship, it made the traditional funeral message of eternal life come alive. 

As Macbeth told her heart-broken family that they now face a “new normal” in their lives on Earth without her, they should understand her life exemplifies what can await us all. 

As he spoke, I thought of something Dr. Seuss once said: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” 

Then I thought about our celebrity culture and why do we care about so many unimportant things when there are so many important, almost anonymous, people out there bringing joy to so many. Who really are the important ones? 

I smiled because Mrs. Dee happened. And she mattered. And she’s not alone. There are so many more. We just need to look in the right direction to find them. 

(Brehl is a writer in Port Credit, Ont., and can be reached at or @bbrehl on Twitter)

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