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(Juanmonino/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
(Juanmonino/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Four years later, my uncle's death is still painful Add to ...

This October marks four years since my Uncle Ed passed away at the age of 55, leaving a gaping hole in the lives of his wife, daughter and son.

These have been four long and painful years. Most people I know have lost a loved one and know the raw pain of that loss, but what makes my uncle’s death so hard to bear is the unexpected and shocking nature of it.

If you by chance heard about it in the news four years ago, you’ve probably already forgotten. I don’t blame you – the news is full of tragic stories and it’s impossible to remember each one. In fact, I read about his death in the morning paper before I realized I was reading about someone in my own family.

The story was about a gang shooting that left six people dead in a Surrey, B.C., high-rise building. I put it out of my mind until my cousin called me and told me what I could not believe to be true. It hit like a physical blow. The memory of that phone call is forever etched in my mind, like a scar that doesn’t heal.

I remember thinking this does not, cannot, happen to me or to my loved ones. I wanted to be immune from the sort of death you read about in a column on the second page of the newspaper. I clearly remember feeling as I read the short article that I was so grateful to not fear this type of violence, that it was so far removed from my world.

But suddenly, my world included the type of people who have no regard for life or love. When my uncle happened to step into their space, he was killed, along with another innocent bystander.

In the aftermath of my uncle’s death, there was much talk of him being in “the wrong place at the wrong time.” On the surface, it’s hard to disagree with that. If he hadn’t been where he was at that exact moment, he would still be with his family today.

But somehow, this places all the blame on my uncle, as though somehow he was somewhere he shouldn’t have been. He was exactly where he was supposed to be, doing his job, keeping his commitments, living his life, as one of my other uncles made clear when he spoke to the media in the days after Uncle Ed died.

I would argue that those who committed violence were in the wrong place at the wrong time. My uncle was simply maintaining the fireplaces in an apartment building – is there fault in that? How could he have possibly known or been prepared for what was about to unfold?

My Uncle Ed was one of those people you meet and never forget. Not because of any effort on his part, but because of his kindness, his gentleness and the often mischievous spark that lit up his eyes when he smiled, which was often.

An outdoorsman to his core, he was happiest in nature – in the mountains, by a lake or river, with a fishing pole in hand. He was a behind-the-scenes kind of guy, always quick to lend a hand in a practical way, always staying out of the spotlight, always helping someone.

One of my most treasured memories of childhood is being the flower girl at the wedding when my dad’s youngest sister married the man who would become my Uncle Ed. It was a glorious summer day. I remember a cloudless sky and joy on the bride’s and groom’s faces as they began their happily ever after. Their happily ever after lasted 28 years.

As a teenager, my family stayed with my aunt, uncle and two cousins one Christmas. They lived up north at the time. It was the first Christmas after my mother had passed away from cancer, and they were a comfort to us in our grief. During our visit, I caused a small flood in the bathroom of their new house after showering, and I remember the kindness of my uncle, who didn’t want me to feel guilty for my carelessness.

Several years later at my own wedding, my cousin – his daughter – was now the flower girl. The family tradition seemed to be continuing. And despite my uncle’s avoidance of the spotlight, I chose him to read a tribute at our wedding reception. I could have chosen almost anyone else, including several uncles who enjoyed public speaking. But I chose Uncle Ed, who wrote a beautiful tribute to me. I weep as I watch him in my now-dated wedding video, softly but confidently speaking.

I’ve lived in different provinces from my extended family for many years, so it was often a long time between visits. My Uncle Ed always had a bear hug and a warm smile for me. Even as an adult, it’s a special feeling being someone’s niece. An uncle gives unconditional love and acceptance, with a good dose of teasing thrown in. When anger at the injustice of my uncle’s death takes over my emotions, I struggle to remind myself that he would forgive. It would have been that simple for him. Forgive.

At my uncle’s funeral, so many people gathered to celebrate his life that there was standing room only. All that attention for a guy who never sought the spotlight. He would have been embarrassed. But that’s the kind of impact he had, the kind of legacy he left.

His faith was quiet, yet bold. His warmth, his humour, his compassion are an inspiration to anyone who knew him and also to many who didn’t. I am deeply thankful to have known him, to have called him my uncle. This is my tribute to you, Uncle Ed. You will always be missed and never forgotten.

Teresa Baerg lives in Burlington, Ont.

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