About 400 people gathered inside the Bethel Church in Penticton on Saturday to celebrate the life of Albert Chretien.
“Al rarely missed a day without saying to me I love you,” said his wife Rita Chretien in her tribute to her husband before the crowd for which she received a standing ovation. “I have many good memories to cherish for the rest of my life. We were married 38 years. He truly was a gift of God to me. I miss him very much and I will see him again some day.”
With her children and grandchildren at her side, Rita smiled and sang along to her husband’s favourite song, What a friend we have in Jesus, which was played twice during the ceremony. At the front of the church was a table with his lunch kit, coffee cup, the bible, work gloves and hat and a big picture of Albert’s smiling face.
It was just over one year ago that Albert and his wife were on their way to Vegas when they were reported missing. A massive search was conducted for the couple, who were travelling in a Chevy Astro van, which was spotted seven weeks later by hunters outside Elko County, Nev.
The Penticton couple’s van had become stuck along a Nevada forestry road, and Albert went out on March 22 to get help and has not been seen since. Rita subsisted for seven weeks on snacks, candy, melted snow and her faith before being located in the van by the hunters.
The celebration of Albert’s life at times brought tears to the auditorium, and at other times lighter moments brought laughter. Albert’s brother, Henry Chretien, presented the eulogy stating that his brother had always indicated that after his death he wanted there to be a party.
Henry spoke of his brother’s generosity, tenacity and deep love for his wife.
“When I went to see where Al got stuck last year, to see where the van was stuck and know he only had a small shovel and small jug I summize his tenacity gave him the energy and determination to get unstuck. He got unstuck just to get stuck again. This time it was impossible. He couldn’t do it,” said Henry. “So he spent time before he left to go find help lifting the van and putting large boulders under it so that Rita would have a comfortable place to stay. Tenacity driven by love for Rita accomplished that.”
Raymond Chretien, the couple’s oldest son, also spoke at the ceremony thanking the community, RCMP and volunteers for their support.
“We are all use to seeing tragedies in the media affecting people we don’t know. Of course, it is entirely different when something of this magnitude happens to you. Through all the ups and downs of this past year our family got to live out what exactly happens when it is no longer just a story on TV,” said Raymond. “We got to see how our Penticton community pulled together during a crisis. We got to witness the effects of the worldwide Christian community lifting us up in prayer. We were blessed with seeing people on both sides of the border, many of whom we have never met, take time off work to search for my parents … There were so many acts of kindness that saying thank you seems inadequate. We are and have been truly blessed by you.”
For more on this story see Wednesday’s Penticton Western News or check back at www.pentictonwesternnews.com.