Shortly after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Ron Rader turned to his kids with a smile and said: “I’m going to have a party.”
The 67-year-old from Exeter was diagnosed in late May. But when he went to his appointment on July 16, his doctor told him the cancer had spread.
“That’s when the surgeon said that it’s inoperable, that it was palliative,” said his daughter, Jenna McBride.
Even still, as the prognosis shocked his family, Rader knew what he wanted to do next. He told them: “If there is going to be a funeral and people are going to come, I want to be there. I don’t want to miss out on that,” she recalled.
The decision came as no surprise. “We all were like, ‘Yep. This is pretty much my dad,’” McBride said. “He always liked to veer off the beaten path and do things differently.”
And he did. On July 23, Rader fulfilled one of his final wishes by attending his funeral, which he and his family described as a “celebration of life.”
More than 350 people showed up to the event at his Exeter home, from friends and extended family to customers he came to know during his more than 40 years working as a car salesperson.
Even his old hockey team from Zurich, where he grew up, showed up in their jerseys.
“The whole day was amazing,” said Shirley Rader, his wife of 44 years. “Were we tired and emotionally drained? Absolutely. But it was just the best day.”
Rader died peacefully last Monday, Aug. 1, at his home surrounded by family, nine days after the celebration.
Rader grew up in Zurich, a rural community near Lake Huron, before moving with his wife to Exeter, where many in the town north of London had come to know him over the years.
“Ron was like a brother to me. We knew each other for 40 some years,” said Rick Frayne. The pair worked together at the Toyota dealership in Exeter, and others before that.
He said the two shared the same passions for drag racing and cars. “We loved the product that we were selling. Especially when you’re selling vehicles in a local community, these are your friends.”
Rader was a hard worker who made a lasting impression on everyone he met, including Colin Haskett, a London-area funeral director he had known for many years.
It was late June when Haskett, a director with Haskett Funeral Homes, was given the unexpected task of helping Rader check one last item off his bucket list.
Rader initially had contacted Haskett by phone, telling him, “I’ve got a little something I want to run by you.”
What he didn’t expect, however, was that he had planned to attend his own celebration, or what some may call “a living funeral.”
“This is a first for us in 140 years,” Haskett said. “Doing what we do for a living, it’s the first time that we’ve ever been able to assist with something like this.”
Reflecting on what the celebration meant to Rader, Haskett said he was grateful his team could play a part.
“I feel so honoured. To have put that into our hands, and then spending the time going through it with him, and having it be completed and him just being so happy with his decision, that was the most rewarding.”
A salesperson, motorcycle enthusiast, hockey player, friend, grandpa, father-in-law and dad, Rader was a positive person who “was happy, all the time,” his son, Ben, said.
After his final goodbyes at his celebration of life, there was one last thing for which Rader had wished. He wanted to go to the beach – near his niece and nephew's property along Lake Huron.
So, on July 29, one of his final days, they went. “We packed up (with) friends and family . . . and spent a couple of hours there, touring the campground and just sitting on the beach,” McBride, his daughter, said.
“After that, it was almost like he knew he’d done it all.”
Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press