Tag Archives: Goodbyes

Goodbye to Grandma

My grandma Anderson became a schoolteacher in rural Nova Scotia when she was just 17 years old. She especially enjoyed getting through to the classroom troublemakers, a skill at which she excelled. I was born in Nova Scotia, but moved to Vancouver before I could form any memories. I have only the vaguest of memories of Grandma visiting us in Vancouver one time, probably in the late eighties, and for some reason a particular hotel in the city sticks out in mind as the place where she stayed, though I’m not sure that I remember that correctly.

The first time I really got to see Grandma was my first visit to Nova Scotia when I was ten years old. My dad and my sisters and I spent a happy three weeks that summer in the Nova Scotia countryside visiting family, learning new card games in the living room, how to throw horseshoes at Uncle Roy’s and Aunt Gwen’s place nearby, and how to play darts and 8-ball in Grandma’s basement with Uncle John. Grandma cooked and cooked and cooked, feeding us huge meals and serving up all sorts of fancy desserts and baked goods like cookies and her famous Nanaimo bars. She was always ready for a hug, constantly telling us how much she loved us, just as she had been doing for years over the phone and in letters and cards from so many thousands of kilometres away.

Grandma Anderson and Josephine

I was lucky to have the chance to visit her and the rest of my extended family in Nova Scotia six more times over the next two decades. During those trips “back home”, Grandma regaled us with stories of her youth, walking for miles across the ice in wintertime, jumping out the schoolroom window, helping take care of her siblings, and having to put the lights out during the Second World War because her family lived on the Eastern Shore, their waterfront home overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and there were submarines lurking about. Grandma taught me how to judge when peas are ripe for picking and let me help out in her vegetable garden, weeding around the yellow beans, scarlet runners, carrots, and onions.

In 2013, my sister Josephine shared one of the stories from Grandma Anderson’s youth, about the time Grandma was lost at sea:

Lost at Sea from Josephine Anderson on Vimeo.

Grandma's backyard

Each time I said goodbye to Grandma on her little back porch in East Ship Harbour, with the hill rolling down to the Atlantic ocean in the background, she’d tell me how much she loved me and how much she’d miss me. Each time we spoke on the phone she’d do the same. As the years went on and I began spending more and more time living and working overseas – oftentimes in countries making headlines for all the wrong reasons – Grandma would tell me how much she worried about me, how special all of us grandchildren were to her, how she could hardly wait to to hear that I’d arrived home again, safe and sound.

Like my other grandmother, Grandma loved her five grandchildren unconditionally. I don’t think we could have asked for anything better, and I hope that a younger generation will one day say the same about us.

My Grandma, Margaret Irene Anderson (née Monk), died at the admirable old age of ninety-two and a quarter on October 19th, 2014.

Grandma Anderson sitting in her living room

After the funeral mass at the Church of St Denis in East Ship Harbour, my brothers and I and three of my dad’s cousins lifted my grandmother’s coffin down onto the lowering device at the nearby cemetery, next to the resting places of her parents, three brothers, and husband, surrounded by over two dozen headstones bearing our family name Monk. The gentleman from the funeral home handed flowers to some of the women standing around, encouraging them to toss the flowers into the grave once the coffin was lowered down.

As our family and friends’ cars, parked along the gravel shoulder of Highway 7, gradually left to make their way eastward to the St Denis Parish Centre for the reception, I recalled as a very young boy learning over the phone that my brother Dan had broken his arm playing soccer with some older kids at school back in Nova Scotia, while the rest of us kids were already living in Vancouver. Out of the five of us, Dan had spent the most time with Grandma while he was growing up. She kept a photo of the two of them proudly displayed on the fridge, where she could see it every day.

Dan and I stayed behind at the grave after everyone had left. We asked and were allowed to help the guy from the funeral home to remove the lowering device and the artificial turf placed around the grave for the burial ceremony. The two of us bent down, dug our hands into the wet autumn earth just as Grandma had done so many times in her vegetable garden, tossed handfuls of soil gently down into the grave until the coffin was half obscured, wiped our hands clean on wet blades of grass growing over the graves of our long-dead Eastern Shore ancestors, thanked the funeral home gentleman, waved to the small backhoe as he arrived to finish the job we’d started, and walked softly out of the sloping cemetery to re-join the highway.

Pat Buckley (17 March 1948 – 11 July 2011), the man who taught me I had a brain

Patrick Buckley, 17 March 1948 - 11 July 2011

Pat Buckley entered my family’s life many years before I was born, and remained a steady source of good humour and resilience for the quarter century I knew him. It’s always hard to deal with a friend’s death, especially when that friend was such a constant fixture in my family’s life. Us kids grew up seeing Pat and his daughters at least once a week and sharing a lot of memories. We even got to share a house for a while! I never much care for organ playing, because it just doesn’t sound quite right if the organ isn’t played the way Pat always played it. He helped bring music into a lot of people’s lives, and was an accompanist literally hundreds of times for my mom’s singing. I was always impressed by, and will always be inspired by, Pat’s ability to maintain a positive attitude in difficult circumstances. With his stories and his jokes and his music, I’m sure a bit of his attitude rubbed off on a lot of people over the years.

I still remember how some of us kids used to flip upside down onto the old brown couch we had at our house on 41st, so that we’d end up standing on our heads with our feet up against the wall, and Pat joking that it was bad for our brains. I remember like it was yesterday, insisting that I did NOT have a brain! And he kept saying that I did in fact have a brain, and I refused to believe him. It didn’t matter that I had no idea what a brain was, I simply thought I didn’t have one. Pat laughed, and of course he didn’t make us stop goofing around on the couch!

The funniest thing I remember from when we all lived in the same house, was when Pat decided to teach us kids how to make honey when my parents were out. I even remember that I was standing at the north end of the white kitchen table as I made my bowl of honey, just the way he told us to do it. It was years before I realised that the brown sticky product of mixing massive amounts of brown sugar into your bowl of hot porridge is not actually real honey. It sure was tasty though, and wasn’t the last time I made it!

Pat will always be dearly loved and missed by our entire family, to whom he showed so much kindness over the years. While I was in Vancouver this spring, I had the good luck of bumping into Pat in Oakridge Mall, near the White Spot. We had a great chat – I could see a few people seated nearby were listening and I imagined at the time that they wished they could be part of our conversation – and, having said our goodbyes, I walked away with a smile on my face (which is really saying something, as it’s extremely rare to catch me alone in public with a smile on my face). I would really have liked to see Pat again.

Colin Jack, Beer Expert and All-Round Awesome Guy (1970-2011)

I first met Colin Jack in the fall of 2004, when my brother Dan and I signed up for the UBC AMS Minischool course titled “Beer Tasting.” Three guys were running the show: Colin, Rick, and Zayvin. Longtime friends, they knew how to teach us the science, the art, and the fun of tasting beer. Colin put a lot of effort into Just Here For The Beer, including creating the annual Canada Cup of Beer in Vancouver which has been gaining popularity every year, and regular radio shows on AM 650.

Colin was a good teacher and a good friend, and as a result I took his class three times at UBC, learning more each time. I thought so highly of him that, when I returned from a year abroad in 2005, I hand-carried glass bottles of Beer Lao as a gift for him and the other Just Here For The Beer guys – something you couldn’t find in any beer store in BC at the time. I was lucky enough to volunteer at two Canada Cup of Beer festivals, and attend a third one last summer when I visited Vancouver, and I had a great time at each one thanks to the effort that Colin and his friends and family put into the festival. I had been looking forward to seeing him in three weeks at the next Just Here For The Beer event in Vancouver. I’m sad I won’t get to share another laugh with Colin, but I have a bunch of very happy memories to keep hold of, and am very thankful that I knew him. I’m sure that many of my friends will feel the same way.

He died on the weekend, just 40 years old.

The last class of my third and final beer tasting course, UBC, Vancouver, March 20th, 2007 with Colin on the far right side of the photo:

The last class of my third and final beer tasting course, UBC, Vancouver, March 2007

Colin at the Canada Cup of Beer, July 6, 2008:

Colin Jack at the Canada Cup of Beer, July 6, 2008

Vancouver Courier article about Colin: http://www.vancourier.com/life/Raising+glass+with+heart/4383112/story.html

Lloyd Donaldson (1963-2010) – Man with a Moustache on a Mission

Lloyd Donaldson, a journalist turned humanitarian, had a big and amazing moustache, and a big and amazing heart. I knew him for less than a year, but I cried my eyes out when I found out four weeks ago that he had died very unexpectedly, only 46 years old.

PhotoDiarist

On my first day in the office in London last September, my supervisor introduced me to Lloyd and I was given the desk right beside his. I used to tell people how lucky I was to be given that desk, as Lloyd became a driving force in my internship experience and soon became a friend and my favourite Merlin staff member for his crazy work ethic, passion for life, determination to get things done, way of caring about people around him, and his way of caring about people in need of humanitarian aid in the distant countries whose maps plastered the columns around his desk.

In our very first conversation back in September 2009, when my logistics colleagues weren’t paying attention, Lloyd leaned over and told me that any time I had a question that I felt too stupid to ask to the logs, I should ask him and he would do his best to answer (which he did, many times). He also showed me the top drawer of his filing cabinet, where he kept his dark chocolate supply, and told me not to ask but just to take some whenever I wanted – Lloyd was very generous.

I spent many hours working with Lloyd on the Indonesia and Haiti emergency responses. He put a lot of faith in my abilities, gave me a lot of responsibility, and was always there to provide constructive criticism and lots of feel-good positive feedback. He taught me a huge amount during the time I was at head office. The example he set for everyone who worked with him was really amazing.

Lloyd hard at work in the middle of a very cold January night in Gatwick Airport Servisair Cargo Shed H, preparing to send seven tonnes of supplies including giant ROFI tents to be used as a life-saving surgical operating centre in Port-au-Prince, Haiti:

PhotoDiarist

For his big moustache and his absolutely enormous heart, a lot of people will miss Lloyd for a long time, and I doubt any of us will ever stop appreciating what he did for each of us as individuals.

“Why do you do it?” he asked. I replied immediately, “Because we can.”
     – James Orbinski (former Intl President of MSF), An Imperfect Offering

I don’t know if Lloyd ever read that book, but he showed that same attitude, because I can (apparently, as a boy, Lloyd and his best friend used to bring tools to school and disassemble anything they could, then take the stuff home, “because they could,” so I guess he had that in him all along). When you boil down all the big words and philosophising on the question of why people become humanitarian and development workers, I reckon that’s about the most logical and human explanation anyone can come up with. He did it because he could.

I miss him a lot.

YouTube video: Lloyd Donaldson’s Life-Loving, by his friend and former business partner Gregory Kunis.