Myles O'Riordan dresses well but comfortably, sporting an argyle sweater over a shirt and tie with dark dress pants, being spruced up and groomed is a large part of his job. He spends his free time playing in the Scugog Men's Hockey League or taking his wife Susan and son Rory skiing. Myles even keeps his hockey stick and a bag full of gear at work, so that he can quickly duck out and shoot some pucks on a Wednesday afternoon.
While he is usually on the go, he occasionally likes to relax by reading spy novels, and says he would like to come back in his next life as a man of international espionage.
When I arrive to meet Myles for an interview, I am struck by his friendly tone and positive demeanor. He likes to talk with his hands, and explains that he just has to finish up bleeding the pressure from his building's radiators and shoveling the blanket of snow off of the Perry St. sidewalk.
"Many people say that my job must be depressing, and some days it can be incredibly difficult and tug at your heart strings," says Myles, folding his hands together on his desk. "However, as hard as it is, I try to find the positive silver lining, I'm definitely an optimist. I would tell you I'm perfect, but my wife would say otherwise!"
This active, personable and all together full of energy man has another side, very different than you would think if you ran into him at the grocery store. Myles is also the quiet and respectful man who will pick you up after you've passed away, carry out the embalming process, and place you in a nice suit for your family to say their final farewell.
Many would picture a funeral director as ghoulish, morbid, or unsmiling, but Myles flies in the face of that definition. He seems to exude positive energy and could drum a smile and a conversation out of a stone. He says that being a funeral director "mostly has to do with being equal parts people person, councillor, and optimist."
Myles has been a funeral director for over 32 years, and has spent the last 23 as the owner of one of Port Perry's oldest local businesses, Wagg Funeral Home in downtown Port Perry. Before settling at the Corner of Queen and Perry, he completed his education at Humber College in 1981, before working at a funeral home in Richmond Hill for seven years, as well as a two-year stop in Weston, Ontario.
"I grew up in Aurora back when it was a small town, so naturally I wanted to make Port Perry my home just the same," says Myles, smiling at his memories. "I wasn't born in Port Perry, but me and my son play hockey here, we go boating on Lake Scugog, and I'm a member of the Rotary Club."
Even though death is his business, Myles has experienced many losses in his own life. Myles' father passed away from an unexpected heart attack, when Myles was only 15 years old.
"He died so suddenly at the age of 49, and I'm 53. It really makes me realize that every day is important," says Myles. "I try to make the most out of every day I live because we all have to go sometime, so why not be the best you can be in the time you have?"
Myles then explains to me that the last thing he wanted was to hold a funeral for his own father, but that in retrospect he was shocked by the enormous number of family and friends that turned out to show their respects and support his family in their time of grieving.
The memory which made the biggest impression on this young boy was the fact that his friends, who no doubt would've rather avoided funerals at all cost, came out to be a crutch for their friend.
"I can tell you that my father had a great funeral. I mean, was I happy? Not a chance," explains Myles. "But he died, so we needed to do something to honour and remember him as the great man he was. He couldn't tell us what he wanted his service to look like, but the important part is that it helped us to find closure and peace."
Perhaps this early trauma is what drove Myles to pursue the undertaking of being a funeral director. He says that he chose his career so that he could help other families find the brighter side of a dark time.
"Being a funeral director is similar to being a doctor or a dentist, except that I help people with the difficulty of passing on instead of their healthcare or gingivitis," says Myles. "Even though the deceased are the reason for the funeral, the focus is entirely on their survivors. It's my job to guide you through the process of loss, with compassion and real care."
Myles tells me that while he would love to chat all day and continue getting to know me, he has to run; his son Rory has a hockey practice to get to and there's lots of work to be done at Wagg. He's hoping to sit down to dinner with his wife sometime around 8 p.m.
"I always remember that two things are inevitable, death and taxes, so why not have some fun and do all you can do while you're here?" says Myles, smiling and waving his hands happily. "I'm always keeping busy, because I know that someday there might not be a 'later', and I'm okay with that."