Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Death in the Family

Yesterday, my 100-year old uncle died. He was two months short of his 101st birthday.

He had a heart attack about a month ago and stayed in the hospital for tests and stabilization for six days. The tests showed his heart was too fragile to operate on and he was feeling fine so he went home where he did his gardening and lived for a few pleasant weeks more.

I think my uncle definitely came out on the plus side on the great balance sheet of life. He was a good man--not perfect, but no one is.

My uncle actually had quite an exciting life before he settled permanently in Canada. He was born in Germany, the son of a man who was, for a time, the mayor of a small town near Frankfurt, I believe. His mother died while giving birth to him and he was raised by an aunt.

During the Great Depression he came to Canada, hoping for a better life. He was a man of principles and joined a volunteer brigade of Canadians who fought for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. A book was written about this brigade a few years ago. It wasn't a particularly well-written book, but it included four pages on my uncle! I was shocked to learn that after leaving Spain, he was almost turned away when he tried to get back to Canada. Fortunately, a nameless immigration bureaucrat literally turned away and didn't look so that my uncle could get through immigration. If this man had "done his job", my uncle would have been sent back to Germany and thrown in a concentration camp where he no doubt would have died: Hitler and Francisco Franco of Spain (the dictator that the Republicans unsuccessfully fought against) were great friends and my uncle's participation in the war on the Republican side would have signed his death warrant.

My uncle's subsequent life in Canada was fairly quiet. He married my aunt (my mother's sister--so I can't inherit any longevity genes from him since we're not blood relations) and had one daughter. I am particularly close to my cousin's daughter, now in her 30s. My uncle had two grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Since he was a staunch atheist (as is everyone in my family except me--I am a committed agnostic!), I doubt he worried about the afterlife. If the soul goes on (remember, I really don't know), I am sure my uncle's soul is doing just fine now. He's probably having a beer and maybe visiting with the mother he never knew. I hope he is encircled by all those who loved him and preceded him in death.

Here's to you, "Unk"!


  1. I'm sorry about your uncle, it sounds like he had a great life. I'll be thinking of you and your family.

  2. Sorry for your loss. Thanks for sharing a bit of his life.

  3. What a fascinating man he must have been! I'm sure he'll be missed.