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Words when there are no words

February 12, 2017

I started this blog in 2011 when my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The cancer had spread to his brain and it became difficult for him to talk about the things that we’d always talked about. So I took pictures of my 2 dogs, put them on this blog with silly captions and hoped that on the good days it would make him smile.

When my dad died in 2012, I posted a picture of us on the blog as a tribute and a farewell but I kept the blog going because it was fun and silly and it made my husband laugh. I don’t post here very often anymore but today I appreciate the space for my words when really there are no words that will do.

3 weeks ago my younger brother died unexpectedly and suddenly the future feels unfathomable. My blog header is a picture of 2 men, walking 2 large dogs on a snowy winter’s night – not unlike tonight. One of those men is my husband Jeff and the other is my brother Greg. Greg was such a big part of who I am and where I’ve been that it’s hard to imagine my life without him. It’s too big, too much. So while I am quietly wading through this thing we call grief, I also feel pulled to shout his name from the rooftops. To tell the world that he was here and he was loved and he mattered.

And so here I am. And here he is.


2 weeks ago, I had the heartbreaking honor of eulogizing my baby brother.


This is my brother Greg. He was here and he was loved and he mattered.



January 28, 2017

Thank you all for coming.

I’m Greg’s big sister, Allison. Let me start by saying we’re so very touched and grateful to have you all here. Thank you, many times over, thank you.  

I have a treasure trove of stories about Greg that I have been saving for years, thinking someday, little brother, I will raise a glass at your wedding and tell your new in-laws all about how we put furniture polish on the bottom of an old blue toboggan and sent you sailing down a snowy hill on Bayview Heights with nothing between your arse and the ground but a piece of cheap plastic and an old snowsuit. Sorry about that mom.

I am heartbroken that I won’t get to celebrate my brother on his wedding day, but I don’t think that should stop me from sharing some of those memories here today. I hope I can get through this, but I’m sure you’ll all understand if I don’t.

I had been angling to be a big sister for a solid 9 years before mom and dad took the plunge. I’d nearly given up hope when I crawled into bed with Mom one Saturday morning, and she looked at me with a grin and said “we have a surprise, guess what it is”. I had it on the second guess, she was going to have a baby and I would be a big sister.  The next few months were exciting times – picking out names, buying cute little overalls… being scandalized when mom told me she didn’t care if it was Good Friday, she would eat her bologna if she bloody well wanted to because she was pregnant… I realize now that was probably Greg’s personality, shining through.

So while I am Greg’s big sister, and while Anna is MY baby, in many ways Greg was my first baby. I excitedly waited for him to arrive, I fed him, I dressed him, I rocked him. I was blessed to be there for all of the firsts.  And, much to his dismay, I was responsible for naming him “Gregory” when Dad and I outvoted Mom’s first choice of Luke.

The memories I have of Greg as a little boy will bring me joy and laughter for the rest of my life. He was truly one of a kind.  A bright blonde bundle of energy, whipping around the house pushing a dump truck full of Pepsi cans, stopping every so often to rest in his blanket fort or to break a pair of Dad’s glasses before taking off again.

Greg has always had a great imagination, all while working a bit of an angle. When told no, he couldn’t drink ginger ale with breakfast or eat a bag of cookies just because he wanted to, he promptly told us about a magical place called Gregoryland and in Gregoryland Pepsi was on tap, cookies rained from the sky and you could play your Nintendo all day long. When my mom got a pretty drastic haircut, his world became divided … into the days of Old Mom and New Mom. When New Mom said it was time to go to bed, Greg informed her that Old Mom had let him stay up all night and watch tv.

Greg was also pretty fearless on a bicycle. There was a decent sized hill at the end of our street and he often peddled to the top so he could rip right down again, taking the turn at the bottom at full speed. Unfortunately, this was in the 90s when helmets weren’t really a thing in rural Newfoundland and I remember one day when he came running home, bruised and bloodied after a nasty wipe out. My dad later referred to as a 3 point landing – forehead, nose, chin! Greg shook it off and kept on going.  Something that he would continue to do for years to come – shake it off and move forward.

Most of us know Greg as a musical guy and although the guitar was perhaps his true love, his foray into the musical arts started at a young age, when he and I performed a 2-person Christmas concert for our parents. Greg sang and I accompanied him on the Piano. The only song that we knew was Jingle Bells, but hey it’s quality not quantity, right? A little later, Greg took up the tuba. Imagine my surprise when I called my parents from university, only to hear the dulcet tones of the tuba booming away in the background… “oh, that’s just Greg” Dad would say, “practicing his tuba”. We were a family of music lovers, so naturally Greg’s tastes were pretty varied. I think he had good taste though, after all he only complained about my music once, after a long summer of driving around in Dad’s old white pickup truck, with The Hip’s Road Apples on repeat. 

Greg also had what I would consider a creative streak. When some roughhousing with friends resulted in a large hole in the wall halfway up the stairs at mom and dad’s house, he deftly covered it up with a wall calendar and pretended that nothing was amiss. Mom was surprised to find a calendar on her way upstairs, placed haphazardly below my baby pictures, and with a few pointed questions, Greg soon came clean. Dad signed him up for hockey, secretly hoping his boy would love the game as much as he had. Greg loved parts of the game, I’m sure. But what he loved best was skating back to the goalie and having a chat. You can’t get much better than that.

It’s safe to say that Greg made us laugh on a daily basis. He was a quirky and silly, with a unique sense of humor and way of looking at the world, telling Mom one day that Dad must be going bald because his brain was so big that it was pushing all of the hair out of his head. Not surprisingly, Dad seemed to like that explanation and relayed it to friends and colleagues whenever he had the chance.  Greg was also sweet, caring and affectionate. A big old teddy bear, he always had a kind word, a hug or a compliment. He was a gentle soul and an easy guy to connect with when people took the time to get to know him.  Even as a teenager, he humored us by going along with camping trips, road trips and fishing trips, with very few complaints along the way. And Dad, if you’re listening, I went on some of those fishing trips, they were worthy of complaint. 

When Greg first moved to Ottawa a couple of years ago, he spent a few months with Jeff and me. And even though we still have the spaghetti sauce on our ceiling to prove it, I’m grateful to have had that time for us to reconnect as adults. He often referred to Jeff as his brother, and loved him as such. They had an easy and comfortable relationship, which made me very happy. Greg eventually found his own place, but he happily came back to cut the grass and do the weeding, so much so that our elderly neighbors came over to ask where I had found him, and could he pull their dandelions too.  Greg genuinely liked to be helpful –   he has helped Jeff move at least 2 treadmills, this fall he got up at 6am to bike along carrying Gatorade while Jeff ran what was perhaps an ill-advised marathon, and last year he helped us carry Anna’s nursery furniture up the stairs and into her room when I was too pregnant to do anything other than groan and eat.

For as much joy as Greg brought to our lives, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that his own life was not always easy.  The world we live in can be cruel to those who struggle, and Greg did struggle. But he was resilient and he was determined and he just kept plugging away, putting one foot in front of another, even through the darkest of days. It seemed he had found his footing over the past couple of years, and we were all so happy for him. He loved what he was studying, he had made new friends  in a new city, he was enjoying a work placement with the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre, and he was so proud to be an uncle. I would often get emails or texts out of the blue, asking about Anna. He usually ended those conversations by saying “I love you all so much!” And he did. You see, Greg was blessed with our mother’s heart, and when he loved, he loved big and without reservation or judgement.

Looking out at all of you today, I can see that Greg was many things to many people. I’ve heard from so many folks this week, and I’ve been so touched to hear what he meant to all of you. To me, he’ll always be little Gregory, and I will miss him every day for the rest of my life.

We lost our dad a few years ago and over these past few days I’ve found it comforting to imagine Greg, in his hoodie and jeans, ambling up to our father. Our dad pulls him in for a hug and says “Son, you’re early… but no matter, I’ll deal you in… do you want a beer?” And then they sit at a table, with our grandfathers Mike and Murray, and our uncle Joe, and they laugh, and talk, and catch up, and they have the best damn game of poker that any one of them has ever played.

There is nothing I can say to make this easier, or to make it better. I can only carry these memories forward in my heart, one step at a time, one breath at a time, with hope that I can someday rediscover a little bit of Greg in all of us.

Until next time, little brother. I love you.


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