Archive for October, 2009

Geoff Shepherd: A Celebration of Life!

Geoff Shepherd: 1925-2009

On the night of October 2nd, Geoff Shepherd at the age of 83 passed on peacefully at home. Beloved husband to his late wife Dilys (1999). A loving father to Denise and her husband Jim, Val and her husband Ron. Proud Grandfather to Carol, James, Jeff, Ron, Natalie and Great-Grandfather of Benjamin, Evan, Lily and Jaxon.

Yesterday I lost not only a Grandfather but one of my closest, most cherished friends.

Since his passing, I have been surrounded by friends who have been of great support in this time of healing. In recounting our times together, many have expressed how fortunate I was to have had a relationship with Granddad that neared more of a brotherhood. A friendship that some never encounter in a lifetime. I have always been tremendously grateful for my friendship with Granddad. As I continue to tell the many tales about my times with him to my community, the same sentiments are continually repeated: amazement and envy. With every passing day, I understand even more how truly blessed I have been to have him so closely woven into my life’s story and recognize the value of his imprint on my journey.

Growing up in England, Granddad didn’t have much impact in my life. He was a “typical” Granddad. Holidays, presents and pictures were all I knew as he lived on the other side of the country. At the age of 7, my family decided to immigrate to Canada. As before, my Granddad and Nanny would ‘cross the pond’ to visit and stay with us from time to time. It was in my first year of high school that everything started to change.

The catalyst was my Nanny’s unexpected passing. As a typical 14 year old, I never gave it too much thought at the time at how this event must have devastated my Granddad. Not only did he lose a loving partner of 48 years, but his overall life story that he had planned was ripped away from under him. My Grandparents were World-class travelers. When they weren’t visiting with us in Canada, they were traveling Europe; their lives a continuous vacation. They had settled into a great community of friends in the south of France, where they spent the later of their days.

After Nanny’s passing, this lifestyle changed for Granddad. His time spent in Canada become longer and his worldly travels fewer. Finally, he moved into our home where he became a sort of roommate to me, his room being directly across from mine. Looking back that should have been so odd for me, but that was just how things came together and I never questioned it.

Granddad spent his days listening to classical music, walking our dog gypsy, swimming, cooking and reading the paper. His evenings were spent with a scotch in one hand and the channel changer in the other. Everyday when I got home from school, there he was, studying some language, quizzing me on current affairs and preparing some type of soup in the kitchen. Granddad always made dinner. No pizza or processed foods. Fresh veggies, sprouts, meat and some type of herb, spice…. or branches.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my Granddad was molding me. I find that through watching him over the years I have come to respect and enjoy the real fine things in life: family, food, friends, conversation, music, reflection and, of course, a fine glass of scotch.

Granddad was with me to experience a great many of my firsts in life; the first time I drank too much (can still hear him as he laughed from his chair), my first cigar, gifted by him, which didn’t agree with my stomach (again, he laughed from his chair). My entire teen years have my Grandfather throughout them, from sharing wisdom, teaching and lending an ear. He was a great listener.

During the Second World War, he served the English Royal Air Force proudly. His love and fascination with planes born from these years never left him. When he started taking flying lessons in Sarnia, I remember him taking me up in the plane and flying over Sarnia passing over mine and my aunt’s house. He would let them know he was coming before hand and they would be out in the garden waving away!!

My relationship with my Grandfather changed drastically when I turned 21. No longer was I the teenaged roommate. I was a young man, working full-time and out on my own. But we always found a way to schedule times together almost every week. Granddad would come for dinner and we would cook our meals, watch shows together and he would spend the night. During these times our talks matured. He really opened up about his life. Failures, triumphs, fears, regrets, love and the day to day grind. Without realizing it, he became my confidant.

Geoff was getting older now entering his 80s, so traveling to Europe on his own became more demanding. He required a companion on his travels to do the heavy lifting, the hours of driving, the drinking and dining. I was the fortunate one who became this travel buddy. Every September, for 3 consecutive years, we set sail for Europe. The agenda was pretty broad: go to Switzerland, Italy and France. The rest we made up on the go, speeding down the auto route sporting a Mercedes Benz, sipping on the finest wines and eating the freshest of foods. This was Granddad’s style, Granddad’s way of life.

Geoff had acquired many a friend over the 40 years of travel to Europe. We stayed at Hotels which were once bed and breakfast havens that had flourished over the years. Geoff was on a first name basis with the proprietors at all these hotels, which were a family grown business he’d seen develop from the ground up. They were his community across the continent, some of his closest friends.

I was introduced to his “other family” in a small spot on the southern coast of France called Val-Rose. It is here that he and so many other vacationers from England settled in their trailers. Geoff spent over 10 years of his retired life there with his wife and, after she passed, another 10 years visiting. He made lifelong bonds with new and old friends here. We were always welcomed when we arrived. Lots of conversation, food and of course good drink. The residents are so amazing and I am so thankful he introduced them to me. These people are so full of love and contentment. Val-Rose embodies my Granddad’s way of life. It is his truest home. It is a place I hope to visit many more times throughout my life.

Geoff and I were to set sail again this year. Unfortunately, his body could no longer keep up with the energy of his mind and soul. Witnessing the failing physical form of a man so vibrant and full of life was one of the hardest times in my life. Knowing it was even harder on him made it all the more painful to experience.

On the eve of what should have been our departure for our fourth tour to Europe, I was by my Granddad’s side at the Sarnia hospital. After pouring us each a healthy glass of my finest scotch, we looked each other in the eye and knew what the other was thinking. We cried together. We cried, knowing “you’re going to get better” didn’t need to be said, this was no time for superficial pleasantries. Our bond, the love and respect we have for each other was too genuine for such palliative falsehoods. Through tears, I expressed my greatest sorrows in losing him, in his not being able to meet my future children. He apologized for not being able to meet my future wife and attend my wedding. He wished I were 20 years older or, better yet, that he was 20 years younger.

In his last weeks, Geoff was constantly surrounded by his loving family. He was peaceful and he was ready for his next journey. Granddad and I talked about death from time to time. Having seen the world as he had, having experienced as much as he could, he wasn’t afraid of what was to come. Death, for him, was the next chapter, the next adventure.

Granddad, wherever you are, I wish you all the best in this new adventure.
I will forever recount stories from your journey and will never forget our times together.
Know that I will carry you in my heart, always.
Your Grandson, your friend.