|Don McGourlick (age 20)|
For the first time since I can remember I am not attending a Remembrance Day Ceremony this year. My grandfather (who was a WWII veteran ) passed away on Oct. 26th, and this will be the first time that I haven't called him on Nov. 11th to personally thank him for his service. I didn't even go to our school ceremony on Friday, which as most teachers will tell you is always a bittersweet experience as we recount the horrors and sacrifice of war and yet are filled with hope for the future by the sincerity and respect that our students demonstrate. My grandfather never attended Remembrance Day Ceremonies. He never spoke of his experiences in the war to me. It was also his wish that he not have a funeral service, so instead of going to a ceremony this year, I'm going to write this post at 11am. Forgive me for its lack of polish.
|My grandfather and the rest of his crew (pilot not in photo)|
|In front of the cenotaph in Moose Jaw SK (with his name on it)|
Of course the man in the above story is not really the man I knew as my grandfather. When he recently passed away, I was working on writing his obituary and I had to ask my grandmother a few questions. She half jokingly said "Well I can read you his first obituary if you like". I know she wasn't serious, but what struck me is how little use the obituary of a 22 year old would be in comparison to the life of someone who has lived to be 91. How much more of his life happened over the next 69 years, and how short his 22 year old obituary was! I'm realizing now (funny how clarity comes when you are writing) that this blog isn't just a tribute to what my grandfather (and so many many others) did during the war, it is really a tribute to the life that he lived after he returned. After the war my grandfather had 2 children (and 4 grandchildren). He returned to university. He became a pharmacist. He lived in many places in Canada and overseas. He flew with Search and Rescue in the lower mainland. He was married to my grandmother for almost 69 years.
For my part, he was a kick-ass grandpa. My memories of him are of hockey rinks every winter in our backyard, of his "workshop" in the basement where he let us play around with everything from construction supplies to paints and clay to musical instruments to slingshots. I remember numerous fishing trips when I was home "sick" and I remember him picking my brother and I up after school in his VW van with a fridge full of chocolate bars. He could shoot a gun, build the best tree forts ever and recite classic poetry by heart. He taught me the importance of both creativity and work ethic. His impact on my life has been profound and I think despite everything that he went through, the greatest tribute to his life is that all four of his grandchildren (who are well into their adult lives) were present at 2 in the morning when he passed away. So I will write today to honour my grandfather, and what he contributed to my life, but also use his life to respect those men and women whose obituaries really were written when they were so very young. Four members of my grandfather's flight crew never had granddaughters who could reflect on their lives, and all the soldiers on that cenotaph in Moose Jaw were denied so many future experiences. Of course this is just a tiny tiny fraction of the lives that we have lost in so many wars. It is actually my grandmother who has reminded our family many times over the past few weeks that we should be looking at my grandfather's death with gratitude for the time we actually had. We are the lucky ones.