To Canada, with sadness

On the night of Wednesday 13th March 2019, my Uncle Jim died peacefully in Canada at the age of 92 while holding his granddaughter’s hand. His death wasn’t unexpected as he’d been very frail for a year or so, although even up until 2 years ago he was still sprightly. My cousin went over from the UK for a few days earlier this month to help his daughter Margaret look after him in his final days and the wonderful picture of them together shows he still had a twinkle in his eye. Like my father, he’d suffered from prostate cancer but, unlike Dad, it hadn’t spread and so he died with it rather than as a result of it. After all, 92 isn’t a bad age for anyone. Jim was a wonderfully kind uncle and my godfather. As an engineer himself, he always took interest in my life & my career. He’d moved to Canada several decades ago after serving there in the Royal Navy.

I last saw him when he came over to the UK for a family wedding in 2014, about a year after my father’s death. We held a memorial event for Dad to coincide with Jim and his family’s trip which was the first time that all 13 surviving cousins had been together. For a 90 year old, Jim was remarkably sharp and retained his fantastic humour. He was always the Joker and there are some spectacular family yarns about some of his pranks.

After Dad’s death, I resolved to go to Jim’s funeral whenever that would be. Dad and Jim were close as brothers and, despite the distance, we probably saw him as much as we saw our other aunts and uncles. I was determined that our side of the family would attend the funeral and even if I hadn’t had such a resolve to go myself, realistically I was the one to go.

So, I am writing this post on a British Airways 777 heading to Toronto only 4 days after Jim’s death and having had a stressful few days in the meantime trying to find vaguely affordable flights and getting work done that I should have been doing next week. I’m fortunate to have an understanding manager and an employer that generally understands the importance of their employees’ wellbeing. That said, I didn’t give anyone much choice about the matter.

I am meeting a cousin in Toronto, daughter of Jim and Dad’s last surviving sibling, Ruth. Another memorable family gathering was her wedding on Holy Island in 2002. We have a lovely picture of the three brothers (Dad, Jim & John) walking together on the day after the wedding while waiting for the tide to recede from the island’s causeway. It is comforting to think that the three of them will be back together again, along with their sister Mary.

I’ve never been to Canada until today, and I’ll add the fact that I never visited while Jim was alive to a growing list of life’s regrets. By going to his funeral though, I feel that I am honouring him and my Dad and I know that both of them would be pleased that I am supporting the grieving family who are left behind.


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