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George and Rita Baker

My Grandfather died about 3 weeks ago. He was a pillar of subtle strength for the family and a model for all of us in so many ways. Today my father and his siblings posted an obituary in the Sun. It’s so well said that I wanted to share the whole thing here.

BAKER, George Ernest Henry After a full life well lived, George died October 8, 2010 at the age of 94. He leaves his wife of 65 years, Rita, and his five children, Ken (Pam McCorquodale), Doug (Gail Hunt), Louise, Jenine (Mahe), and Gerry. He also leaves 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. George liked baseball, scotch, camping and the outdoors, European history, old time fiddle music, winemaking, and dancing – probably in that order. And he loved his family. Despite losing his father and his step-father by the age of 12, he somehow knew how to be an excellent dad. Raised on the homestead in Saskatchewan and deprived of any formal education after grade eight, he supported and encouraged his children to receive a combined 85 years of education. George was a self-reliant man and gave much more than he took. He built his own house by hand and lived in it for 60 years. He was a profoundly honest man, incapable of telling a lie. In common with his generation, George understood duty and commitment: he finished every task he ever started and, as a member and officer of his union, pressed all his working life for workers’ rights. He worked for social justice before it had a name. George understood that it is the responsibility of each of us to make the world a better place. His standard advice was always “make yourself useful”. Whenever his children thanked him for his help, his reply was “just do the same for your kids”. Our special thanks go to George’s caregivers: Virnith, Gecelyn, Nelly, and Marlene whose tender and affectionate care and attention were a comfort to him and to his family.

Just after posting this, I headed to my Granny’s place. It was for two reasons: to say hi, and to pick up some gear for a surf weekend. I greeted her quickly, said hi to Virnith, her wonderful caretaker, and descended to the basemen to rummage around in the pile of stuff for my wetsuit. That in itself is always any experience: literally picking up memories from one era and placing them aside to find my symbols from another. I glanced left and saw my sister’s stuff jammed in there as well. ‘Oh yeah,’ I thought, ‘I guess she’s in Africa and needed a place to store her stuff.’

I found my gear and headed upstairs, pausing at Grandpa’s workbench for a minute, and then up the steep, narrow stairs and into the  living room to sit and chat with Granny for a few minutes. I wasn’t sure how she was doing – my parents thought she was handling it, and life, pretty well, all things considered. As we talked, I looked down and saw the paper she was reading, weighted down with the magnifying glass and light she has used for years to help her see the words.

It was the obituary section, opened to my photo of my Grandfather, above. She kept talking. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t think. I stumbled after a minute to try to make banal conversation, at least. How does someone read their husband’s obituary, after 65 years of marriage? What is it like? How does it feel? I have no reference for that set of thoughts and emotions. None at all. And what is triggered by that set of words that my father and his brother put together, which could just have easily been another set of words, describing a slightly different version of my Grandfather’s life and impact? What meaning do these words take for her, how different that is from the rest of us? At one point she let out the standard ‘Oh, to be young again!’, to which I exclaimed ‘You’ve been saying that for 30 years!’ with a smile. She laughed, smiled, and just briefly revealed a shine in her eyes, the first I’d seen in months. Then she caught herself. When I left the room and returned a few minutes later, she was reading the obituary again, the paper held close to her face.

In the three weeks since he died, I have been fairly disassociated, unaffected even. I rationalized it in the fact that we knew it was coming, and so did he. But at this moment it was impossible to avoid, and impossible not to be stunned by the event. I couldn’t help thinking that the paper, with her magnifying glass, would have made for a profound photo. But then I remembered that there are some photos you just can’t take. It doesn’t matter though, because your memories of those moments will be so much more vivid than the pixels could ever be.


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