In my job, hardly a day goes by without some mention of death. I write obituaries, I cover horrific crashes, accidents and murders. But nothing ever really connects you with the sensation of loss than a death in your own family.
On Friday, Oct. 21, Uncle Mike Rumleski died suddenly, while on a moose hunting trip in the same woods he has wandered for years. He had a heart attack, at the age of 72. He leaves behind my 49-year-old Aunt Marylou, who I’m convinced is the sweetest soul on this earth.
He was gone too quickly, so shockingly, that it’s still hard to imagine the world without him. Uncle Mike always had a word of advice, whether you needed it or not, as his daughter Kathy, my step-cousin, and also a journalist, said at his funeral. I always listened to his advice, which mostly centered around working hard, getting a good education, and making money. Those were all things he was good at, and they were things he valued and never took for granted.
Uncle Mike was born into a poor family near Timmins, Ont. He was the oldest of eight, and to his last day his family relied on him for fatherly guidance. When they were young, his brothers and sisters would all share a bed, lying cross-wise so they’d all fit.
Starting out as an auto-body technician, Uncle Mike switched careers to become a shop teacher after an accident which crushed his legs when his kids were young. He buckled down and studied by correspondence, eventually landing a job. That’s when he met Aunt Marylou, who was also working as a teacher in Petrolia, Ont.
They fell in love and married in 1992. I was a junior bridesmaid, my mom the matron-of-honour. We wore baby blue dresses adorned with Aunt Marylou’s favourite flower, the Lily of the Valley.
Through the years, my aunt and uncle always made time for visiting my siblings and I. They would spoil us and take us shopping. We’d have sing-alongs to Uncle Mike’s by-ear guitar music. Their visits were always highly anticipated and usually ended with tears as they made the three-hour trek back home to Alvinston, Ont.
When I moved to Saint John, Uncle Mike and Aunt Marylou were the first to visit me, bringing along their grandsons, Aidan and Nolan. We rode the Reversing Falls jet boat ride, dined at Grannan’s and had a dance party in my tiny living room.
Every time I saw him, Uncle Mike would always have a shaky hug and smooch. He’d always say ‘I love you.’ And he always wanted to talk about “life.” “This is the thing about life,” he’d say. “Sometimes in life this happens.”
He was wise, and probably wiser than all of us up to his last days, when he took out my Aunt Marylou on her dream date, when she got to meet Dean Brody before a concert in London. He also winterized his many vehicles, watched 20-year-old home movies and left a wedding album from his first marriage open on his work bench.
So “in life,” we grapple with his death. And when I went back home for his funeral this week, all I could do with cry with my aunt and hold her tight. Blink back tears as I watched my beloved grandparents feel her pain, and hug my parents, brothers, sister, niece and nephew with everything I could.
It’s so scary to think the death I pick words to describe almost every day can creep into my life, and like everyone else, it’s so not fair.