We lost my Uncle Don today. It seems so quick and sudden.
He was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, and despite chemo and radiation and a seemingly successful surgery, the cancer was aggressive and quick, and took him before most people realized what was happening.
My Uncle Don has been around for most of my life. He married my Aunt Maria when I was just 5. In fact, I was the flower girl at their wedding! Look how cute and young we were in 1981!
Don was the first and only brother-in-law to join the big Verkley family. He grew up in a small family of two kids, and suddenly he joined a family with 11 kids. He seemed to love having so much family!
He was just like the rest of the Verkley uncles to me, except that he was a Green, and where they were tall and lanky, he was short and stocky. But he grew a beard and fit right in. He was funny, loved having a good time, worked hard, and was always interested in what everyone was up to. He’d always ask questions and joke around, with genuine curiosity of what people were doing and where they were working.
When I brought Jeff into the family, he treated Jeff like he had always been there, and asked him questions about his work and life and where we lived and what life was like when we moved out east. He wanted to talk to everyone and know about everything.
I just scrolled through all my Grandparent’s old photo albums, and there is Uncle Don smiling, decade after decade, always at the family events, always having a good time.
He didn’t just engage with my siblings when we were grown. No he was always there, always have fun with us. I remember he always challenged Brian to checkers at Christmas. Or was it the other way around!?
Apparently there were some chess games back in the day too!
He clearly loved my Aunt Maria. They have three kids, my awesome cousins.
Don was always a relief milker – the guy every big dairy farmer in our county could trust to step in and run their operation if they had to go for a wedding, or surgery, or a rare vacation. As a result he worked all kinds of hours, and I always remember he would join family gatherings after he did chores, or he had to leave early to do them, and always could fall asleep in seconds, sitting up in a chair!
I remember their first farm where they raised their kids. They always had a great corn roast every fall for all their friends and family. The barn would be cleaned and whitewashed, the big cauldron of corn would be on the fire, and everyone would come with lawn chairs for beer and corn.
In later years, I remember Uncle Don often smoking a pig for family gatherings. He always wanted everyone to have a good time. I suspect that he liked to be the host too. We have several family gatherings in his big driving shed (we always called them driving sheds, but I suspect they are actually “drive in” sheds, and that was just the country slang!).
Last month I went home to Ontario to visit all my family. Don was just recovering from surgery. Mom and I were in the neighbourhood and Mom insisted we stop by to see him. I tried to change her mind. I’m sure he wouldn’t want visitors while he was recovering. We should at least call.
No. That’s not the way our family works.
We stopped in and had the best visit with him out on their front porch. Mom, Don, and I sat side by side, the three of us all with our cancer war stories. He was a softer man than I’d ever known him to be. Emotional even. He was changed by his illness. So grateful. So full of love for his family. Grateful for his doctors and his surgeon. Suddenly appreciative of how many people around him have had cancer battles, and how he was full of this realization of other people’s battles.
I’m going to treasure that visit forever. I can’t believe I didn’t think we should stop.
I spent more time with him at my Uncle Paul’s family gathering. We talked about those old corn roasts, and how smart it was to put the boiling cobs of corn in a milk crate to lift them easily out of the boiling water.
He talked about how they were going to be the first couple of their generation in the family to reach 40 years married.
I knew he had a long road ahead of him. But it is so crazy a month later that he is no longer with us.
And to lose him to cancer is a crazy blow. To know how fragile we all are. How quick we can be gone. And maybe there is even a little survivors guilt for still being here when he isn’t.
I love scrolling through these pictures and seeing what a great addition to our family he has always been. Thank goodness Aunt Maria brought him home. I still remember the first time I met him at our farm. He was the first of many new additions to the family, but the rest were all new Aunts. He was our special Uncle Don.
Due to his illness, Don wasn’t able to eat solid food for so much of this year. He actually spent days watching the Food Network recovering from surgery. What a funny thing to do when you can’t eat!
I asked him what food he was longing to eat once he was healed up.
He didn’t even pause a moment to think about it. Liver and Onions from Listowel’s Roadhouse 23.
Oh boy, I’d love to say I’ll be dining on a plate of liver and onions in his honour, but I don’t think I can do that, ha!! Eww!
Instead of eating some liver, I’m going to continue to live every day, work hard, laugh, and love my family. Know my neighbours, help people out, and have a good time. All things I’ll remember about Uncle Don.
And maybe have a beer and and a whiskey. A slab of smoked pork. And a cob of corn.
Time is so precious and memories are so dear.
Don leaves behind his wife, less than three weeks shy of their 40th wedding anniversary.
My heart aches for Maria, and for my cousins Wesley, Tina, and Jesse, their partners, and for his 4 grandsons.
I’ve borrowed this family photo they had taken this summer.