The loss and renewal of life

 In Letters, Opinion


Each death – at this time in the memory of Donna Melville Hubel (December 27, 1936-December 31, 2020) and Gerald Edward Blackburn (April 18, 1928-August 23, 2023), representatives of our older generations – heightens our feeling of loss, an awareness of their absence in the presence of our memory, and may trigger the longing for something and someone that is missing. To their loved ones, yet beyond to the whole community, we enter a stage of self- reflection of shared connections because of their contributions to others.

In memory, I can stand at the corner of Collingwood Street and County Road 9 and look up toward the Melville home. Here comes Donna’s father down the hill, at breakneck speed, on his bicycle, gliding into work every morning, then Donna and her brother Lorne walking down to school. From 2004 correspondence related to the CCS Reunion: “I wanted desperately to join Brownies but my parents would not let me join until I was older because they did not want me walking up the hill alone in the winter, as it was usually dark when Brownies were over. Once Julia Sidey [living across the road) was old enough to join Brownies, I was allowed to join as we could walk home together from the best Brownie Pack in the world.” Donna met otherswith interest and stayed in the warm connections of Creemore. With her degrees at the U of T, and entering work in Scarborough, she was at a distance, doing outstanding work as a teacher, excellence rewarded as she became a Principal of Special Programs and retired after 35 years of service.

Donna’s Aunt Muriel lived in and established a Beauty Shop during her years in The Blacksmith House. Following a tour of the House by John and Jean Smart in 2004, Donna wrote a lovely thank you letter to the Smarts. I was charmed by a story from Donna about Aunt Muriel, who taught her parrot to speak. “Being a staunch Presbyterian, Aunt Muriel had a lot of fun with her unsuspecting visitors and customers when the parrot would blurt out, ‘Are you a Presbyterian? Are you a Presbyterian? Are you a Presbyterian?’”

In memory, I can stand in Gerry’s backyard by the river as he discusses bureaucratic talk with county officials about a shed he wants to place on the property to house gardening equipment. He estimates the size of the shed, and it is just over the no permit needed limit, requiring approval at the county level. The official proclaims Gerry lives in a hazardous flood zone. In thefrustrating encounter with the pompous officialdom, he lets people know he always wears a life jacket when he cuts his grass. The polite sarcasm of a learned man, the ability to bend and twist a ridiculous situation into wry wit, combined with Gerry’s adaptivecapacity to change, was admirable.

Because I almost failed my first year of medical school, I had tears in my heart as Gerry told me of his first year at Knox College at U of T. If asked, Gerry could answer Aunt Murriel’s parrot: “Well, I know my Mother and Father wanted me to be a Presbyterian.” And so did the Minister of St. Andrew’s. Father and Minister had the answer for a future Rev. Gerald E. Blackburn. The basics of religious studies in the first year were proficiency in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and a little Aramaic. He wasoverwhelmed. On return to town, “while working on Harold Fraser’s father’s car parked in front of the Sovereign,” he cut his hand,” and “dripping blood walked into the Doctor’s office” behind him and got stitched up. Then, the physician, my father, took him into the inner office and listened. “The Bank of Toronto in Alliston needs a bright young fellow like you.” And the rest is history.

The gifts of service and civic engagement Donna and Gerald provided to others bring reminiscence of positive lives building community. Their acts of kindness, volunteering, advocacy in making things right, using honest advice and counsel, stressing education as a responsible gift to the community, and connecting people with compassion and good faith are a blessing. Now, new, younger people can step forward. Seeing Helen Blackburn at a Sustainability meeting brings us full circle to choosing life, protecting the environment, and sharing the tasks of creating sustainable development in this community. That is a fitting way to memorialize the loss of righteous people who leave a space in our part of life’s journey.

Hopefully, weaving the memories and abilities of people we lose can be the spur to honour loved ones and build a stronger, more sustainable community. Pick leaders as a meaningful tribute to the lost values and principles. May the wisdom and long-term vision of valued people no longer with us engage youth who will shape the world and benefit the community for generations. The ability to be kind, advocate for a better quality of life with truth, justice, and walk humbly with your God is needed.

And may there be Peace.

John Graham,
Los Angeles.

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