My dear brother-in-law and friend George Graham died of pancreatic cancer this morning at the age of 61.
George had only one sibling, a brother, so when he married a woman with two younger sisters, he took us straight to his heart. He even liked to call us "Sissy" to remind us of his affectionate "adoption" of us.
That happened almost forty years ago, and in all that time, Geordie was there for us in good times and in bad. If we were doing well, he was very proud but never surprised, because he thought we were the greatest. If we weren't doing well, there was no problem we couldn't bring to him, nothing he wouldn't help us with, just as if the problem had been his own.
I remember once when I was still in college and had been struggling to take off some of the "Freshman Fifteen" pounds I'd put on, we went to visit George and Mary. He immediately noticed the difference, but he didn't make an embarrassing fuss about it; he just came up to me quietly and said the perfect thing: "It's so nice to see someone you love taking care of themselves. Good job, Sissy."
Another time in college, I was taking a golf class to fill the phys ed requirement, and had to bring in scorecards of rounds I'd played outside of class as homework. Geordie, a dedicated and talented golfer, took me to the course with him--but I had a terrible day and couldn't get a single wood shot off the tee! He was unfailingly encouraging at every attempt, no matter how many times I had to swipe at the ball, and he praised every shot that went well. At the end, he took my scorecard and wrote a note on it for my teacher to see. "Ruth has the ability," it said.
As I grew to know him better over the years, I saw more and more of one of his greatest gifts: when he was going to be spending time with someone, he loved to create special, meaningful moments, just for them. You could tell he had thought carefully about what would be really nice to do together, and he planned it flawlessly.
When we visited them in Canada, there would be a lovely home-cooked meal he and Mary would prepare together, the family around the beautifully appointed table--and then he'd slip out a minute to put some relaxing music on too. And there'd be a dinner out together at a favorite restaurant, usually one with unusual qualities to talk about, like being positioned high above an old millrace, or serving the best filet mignon in town.
And often there'd be a trip out to some interesting near-by place...a horse farm, a driving park, a Blue Jays game, a day at Ontario Place, Dundurn Castle, Niagara Falls, a promenade near the Blue Water Bridge and the best French fries you ever ate... The Blue Water Bridge was our last outing together: fresh air and warm sun and a brisk breeze...idyllic place just to dream a bit, but more too, because Geordie knew the stories of how the bridge was built, and how long and wide the spans are, and why there's two of them, and all about the memorials around the base on the Canadian side...
He didn't have to get cancer in order for me to understand that he was deliberately creating memories that would last. I knew, as we all know, that we all go "someday." I just wanted to go on making more of them, enjoying still more visits back and forth, never thinking ahead to the day when spending more time together would become, finally, impossible. Now Geordie's "someday" has come cruelly soon, and now I can only cherish those memories, the effort he put into creating them, and the depth of caring that made him take the trouble. The time has come to recognize them for the treasures they are.
I could end this tribute just with that--what Geordie was like before he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. But listen to what he was like afterward, to understand the man we have lost: he made his peace with death and he went on living every day to make it the best and most he could. He spent time with friends and family--laughing and playing cards and watching hockey and gardening and having a rum & coke once in a while. And celebrating his 60th birthday, and then his 61st birthday, and traveling to see my niece graduate from high school, and helping my son battle Nintendo monsters ("Show no mercy!") And driving elderly people to their doctor appointments and hair appointments...
To keep in touch, he would email us all manner of jokes and videos--all of them with two messages he wanted to convey: "Laughing is Good" and "Life is Good." And when he was still well enough, he would preface those forwards with personal notes to his "Dear Sissies...." His dear Sissies, who are going to miss him very much.