Mourning a huge loss

A week ago, I stood at a podium, at a cemetery, on a gloomy, grey winter’s day (but no precipitation). I addressed the small, but significant gathering that had come to say goodbye to my Uncle Freddy, and to support his wife and daughters.

It was as hard as it had been over 20 years ago when I delivered a eulogy at my mom’s funeral.

But it was an honor to provide a portrait of a man who had touched many lives for all his 86 years. Including mine.

He was a constant in my life. Not just as a kid when I was growing up, but as an adult. He was someone I could talk to. He listened. He offered advice. He talked with me too.

I loved helping him and my aunt in all that I could, from technology to shopping to searching for anything he needed via the Internet. And he always called upon me if he needed something I could provide.

He was there for me too – he and my aunt took me out for my birthday every single year. It was the highlight of my day.

With my aunt diagnosed with dementia, being placed and unable to call or drive, those days are gone with my uncle. I will, of course, visit her.

But in one fell swoop, so much has been lost.

I want to share the eulogy I delivered at his funeral. It encapsulates who he was, and what he meant to so many.

My uncle Freddy was a good man. 

He was a kind man.

He was a good-natured man with an optimistic streak that was inspirational. He had a beautiful sense of humor to go along with his big laugh. He was fun. And he was young at heart to his last day. 

Together with his soulmate –  my auntie Jeannette, he lived a simple, but good life

In his younger years, when he wasn’t running the lunch counter/restaurant with his parents, my Zaida Jack and Bubbie Sadie, he was taking his family out on the Lachine Canal and Lake of Two Mountains on his motorboat.

Uncle Freddy loved that boat. And growing up with Uncle Freddy meant always having a fun uncle with whom to spend time.

Along with my parents and my siblings, I got to spend time on the water too. Uncle Freddy brought smoked meat sandwiches and we would picnic. Uncle Freddy would always speed up in open waters, and he loved how we’d all scream with laughter. He would drop anchor where swimming was good, and tease us when we said the water was too cold. 

Every fall, our families would go apple picking. We would drive to the orchard in a caravan, one car following the other. Again, smoked meat sandwiches for a tailgate picnic on Daddy’s station wagon, and a natural, easy dessert with crispy McIntosh apples right off the branch.

Whenever I think of those days, one memory remains indelible. We tended to eye the apples at the tops of the trees, and it was always Uncle Freddy to the rescue. He would climb a ladder, line us all up below him, and toss us the apples with friendly warnings not to drop them. He made a game out of so many simple things in life, we had a beautiful childhood.

Uncle Freddy was a hard worker. He helped his parents in the restaurant until they sold it, and he went into Ideal Plumbing Supplies to work there. He always found the time to take vacations, when he’d pack up his family and they’d go to Florida, and camping in Ontario. They camped every weekend, the girls had friends there, and these experiences were always done with a joie de vivre.

After Bubbie Sadie died, he and Auntie Jeannette moved to DDO, where they gave Zaida Jack a beautiful, loving family home. They looked after him together, until his death in 1997.

Later in life, he and Auntie Jeannette moved to St. Lazare, and then Pincourt, and finally living in their beautiful apartment in Vaudreuil. 

In their retirement, they took up curling in the winter, and golfing in the summer. I was privileged to spend two mornings at the Hudson legion watching them curl, for a photojournalism story I was doing about active seniors. I was amazed at the level of athleticism it takes to curl, and how they both not only exhibited that, but enjoyed every minute thoroughly  (especially the get-togethers in the bar area afterward).

Uncle Freddy was always growing as a person, even recently. When Perry and Sam decided they wanted to learn to golf, he spent time with them at the driving range, teaching them about the physics and strategy of golf. He taught them which clubs to use, and why. He was the one who deemed Perry “ready” to hit the golf course, and they enjoyed many hours there this past summer. He was so looking forward to a full season of golf.

His generosity of spirit – in teaching, and in sharing – extended to everything he did. 

He was always learning. After seeing my first iPad, he decided he wanted to play the games (a golf game, no less) on a tablet as well, and got a Samsung.

Just a short time ago, he was ready for a new tablet, and turned to me for advice. I’ve always been the tech guru in the family, and now he availed himself of my knowledge. I helped him shop, he decided an iPad was the way to go, and we went to Best Buy together.

It was fun, and a privilege, to help him set everything up – from downloading the games he knew and loved, to introducing him to new games – and even FaceTime.  He was a fast learner. From then on, every time I came over to help Auntie Jeannette with computer-related issues, I would pull double duty helping Uncle Freddy with his iPad.

On any given day, you could find Uncle Freddy sitting in his chair by the window, playing games while he had curling, golf, or cooking shows on TV. He enjoyed the simple things in life, and he enjoyed life completely.

For as long as I can remember, he loved animals. He got that from Bubbie Sadie. I am blessed to have gotten it from them both.

He was always most concerned with Auntie Jeannette; that she was healthy, and happy, and well taken care of. He did it all, and he did it with love, wisdom, and forethought.

He would be happy to know, Auntie Jeannette, that your family will carry on in his stead, making sure you are healthy, and happy, and well taken care of. We promise.

Nancy and Tracy – this is a monumental loss for us all. The suddenness, the shock, the reality – and it hasn’t even begun to sink in – just know that you’re not alone, and that you will honor his memory in all the good things he would want you to experience in life. 

Daddy, as the last person in your family of origin who remembers your brother from childhood we will be counting on you to regale us with stories about you and Uncle Freddy growing up, growing together, working together, and spending time together.

We will all miss Uncle Freddy very very much. I will miss sitting and talking with him – whether in person or on the phone, and we will keep him in our hearts in the stories we will always tell about the beautiful man he was, and the memories we shared with him.

Rest peacefully, Uncle Freddy. I miss you already.

I practiced for two days prior to his funeral, so that I could deliver this without breaking down. I wanted to honor him in every way I could.

It is still surreal not to be able to pick up the phone and talk to him. But I consider myself blessed to have shared a relationship with an uncle that was so special and so loving.

He was an incredible man. And I will keep his memory alive with all that I do.

Baruch Dayan ha’Emet.

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