Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Obituaries are odd things. They give dates and times and places. They tell us of careers, marriages, family. Sometimes they inform you of the cause of death. Sometimes we hear how they died: gallantly fighting cancer, or surrounded by loved ones, peacefully in bed, tragically in an accident.

They may tell us about a life lived, but they don't tell us who the person truly was. That would take too long. That would be a different story for every writer.

My Uncle John and I were essentially strangers until I was 48. He visited occasionally when I was young. He was my father's older brother. I heard stories of how even though his name was John, the family called him Ed. He came to my father's funeral when I was 17. He came to my house to see my new-born son when I was 28. It was awkward. I didn't know him.

When my Aunt began to develop dementia I reached out to him, or he to me, I don't remember, and it doesn't matter. He was losing a sister. I was losing an aunt that had been there for me all my life. He knew I had been tasked to make hard decisions about her care and he supported me 100%. 150%. And through it we became less strangers, more uncle and niece.

Eight years ago he called me to invite me to travel to Italy with him. He was going as a guest of the Canadian Government to honour the soldiers who had liberated Italy. His daughters couldn't go. His wife couldn't go. He was allowed to bring along a support person. I thought he was kidding. How could I go? I had just started my Grade One class, and it was to be the two weeks leading up to Armistice Day.

My sister phoned and told me he wasn't kidding. How could I not go? I made arrangements. I went.

I cannot begin to write about my experiences with him during those two weeks. It was comfortable. It was easy. He was a wonderful travelling companion. We supported each other. The travelling wasn't always easy, the days were very long. We talked alot about the war. We talked alot about my father and his family. We talked alot.

So many memories: espresso in Rimini one morning, pizza later that night, standing in front of so many grave markers, in many canadian war cemetaries in front of men he had known and fought with. So many funny stories. So many sad ones.

And then one night, we were all having a drink in a little bar in Sicily near the end of the trip. He turned to me and said that he had wanted to ask me during a luncheon earlier that day, but he had lost his nerve. So he was asking now. Would I do him the honour of a dance? So we danced. He was so gallant. He was so grateful. It was such a perfect moment in time.

When we returned our friendship continued. He loved my kids. He would come over to visit his sister in the care home she was now living in. The last time he came over was for her funeral. That was almost four years ago.

I attended his 90th birthday almost two years ago. I tried to phone and email over the past two years but he was having trouble remembering who everyone was. I couldn't bear to have someone else I love forget who I was.

And now he is gone from this mortal earth. But not from my heart. Never from my heart.

He once called me and said that whatever part was his in the estrangment he had with my mother and my family he was sorry. He was truly sorry.

So this is a piece of his life: family, regret, love, laughter, war, and peace.

John Frances Burton - April 24, 1920 - February 27, 2012

1 comment:

  1. I am so sorry for your loss.
    But I am also happy for you. You got to know someone that became an important part of your life.
    I think that if we have loss and mourning in our lives, it means that we loved and were loved. "Better to have loved and lost..."


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