Parenting 2.0

Celebrate his Life

Posted on: December 29, 2009

Rewind to yesterday at 6pm, and you will find me and Frasier walking the icy perimeter of the soccer field behind my house: circumnavigating the park on the path that was once soft snow but now, due to the rain and then cold temperatures has turned into an uneven path of foot holes and dog prints.  As snow falls gently to the ground, with just a slight bit of wind rustling the ice off of the surrounding trees, I can’t help but reflect on the life of Niko’s Great Grandad (my dad’s Dad), who passed away yesterday morning.

Emails started flying around like crazy among my family: first with the impending news – that his time was limited, and shortly after with the fact that Grandad T had passed.  Niko never actually got to meet this wonderful man and role model, but Borys, Carolyn and I visited him this summer when Niko was in utero, so he did sort of meet him (not sure if that really counts though). Anyway, as I was walking Frasier I couldn’t help but think about the path that was my grandfather’s life, and how it could be somewhat related to the one I was walking on. He forged a path for his life and while I am sure (hope) most of it was smooth, there had to be a few slippery and bumpy patches along the way. But, regardless of the twists and turns, he lived his whole life fully, completing his 92 year journey yesterday.

I also started thinking about how in 1949 or 1950, he would have been about my age, already with 3 or 4 kids (and 2 more to come later). I wondered what it was like for him being a 30 something during that time?  I only knew the side of him that was my grandad and it was an amazing side, but there is so much more to his life that I really have no idea about.  I guess my dad could fill me in on some of the details, but even he wouldn’t know everything.  Anyway, as the day progressed more and more emails were sent between my family and most of them were celebrating the wonderful memories we have of this amazing man.  Some of the details are as follows.  I take comfort in the fact that a little piece of Cyril lives on in Niko.

Greg: I will always remember visiting Dublin Street and watching The Goonies upstairs, the ice cream floats and his hole in one golf ball, amongst many other things. I remember the last time I saw him was when Nana was alive as well. We have a picture of our whole family with them at Dad’s old house, when we went to Nova Scotia on our family road trip a few years ago…

Marion: I too, thought of him, as Dad and I turned puzzle piece after puzzle piece over on Saturday night (all 500 of them – actually 499 – and left Audra to finish the last one — a trick of Dad and I am sure Grandad too!) and tapped them in place with a satisfyingly good feel. A rendition of Grandad moments — Swiss Chalet,  the laugh-n-shaff-n-gigglin-pin, the contagious smile and tickly fingers, the jokes and tricks, the long loungers out back to enjoy the garden in, and the Sunday meals enjoyed at their house.

Carolyn: I have many memories of Grandad floating through my mind.  Although my sisters and brother and I grew up far away from Halifax I always felt like we had a close link to our family there.  My parent’s made sure that we had time each year to get to know their parents and I am so grateful for that.

I remember Grandad being a very careful driver.  As we were driving out to Prospect one day we were stuck behind a long line of traffic.  He told me you should never blame the person at the front of the line — maybe they’re going slowly for a good reason.  Instead, the person at fault is the second person in line — the one who fails to pass and in doing so causes a jam behind him.  So, that is one tiny little life lesson from Grandad that I carry with me.  Whether I am negotiating the streets in Canada or East Timor or Uganda I try to never be that person who is second in line, blocking the way of those behind him.

Another thing about grandad is that he always made an effort to make us feel special when we came to visit.  Whether he brought us out for an Arby’s burger (my first Arby’s — previously I had been a confirmed McDonald’s lover) or brought us down to Shubenacadie to the wildlife park to feed the deer or whipped up a coke float in the kitchen (even when I was 30 years old) or offered up the delicious spice cookies …..  I remember him as gentle, kind, smart and so very very patient — always with a Menthos is his pocket, ready to share.

I also remember him as a good man —the man who volunteered at church, helped the Tran’s, looked out for the less fortunate.  He was I think, one of the most christian people that I have ever met in terms of his actions.

Grandad was a great man and a great example.  And I will take a piece of him with me wherever I go.

Alli: There were so many great times we had with Grandad: our yearly visits to Shubenacadie – then to Arby’s for sandwiches, driving the whole way in his Honda. Also, renting so many movies (mostly Disney ones, like The Parent Trap) from Uncle Dave’s movie shop and watching them all upstairs in that blue room at their house.  And how about all those times we drove him crazy tying his shoelaces in knots – remind me again why we did that?! I loved his garden and his “joie de vivre” about it – he was always happy to sit out back,  share his green beans (and Nana’s gingersnap cookies), and help out the local homeless kitties! And what about all those times he and Dad tricked us kids with the old toothpick in the mouth card tricks – that amazed me (for a little while). He also did many amazing things for charity and to help people in his community! Grandad (just like my dad!) was a wonderful role model and man! I love him so much and wish him well as he departs this world. I am really glad we got to visit him this summer: he was up to his old tricks telling tonnes of jokes and flattering Carolyn and I to the Nth degree and all in all he had very jovial spirits.

Dad: I am so glad that he lived long enough for each of you to develop your own memories of this man. He could have just as easily died long before you were born, having served in the military in the Second World War and you would have had no memories. But that was not God’s plan, he was kept alive long enough to meet his grandchildren and some of his great grand children. He had an amazing life and now is reunited with his lifelong love, your grandmother. It’s a sad time but also a time to celebrate his life and the great memories that you have of him. I am not sure why you ever tied his shoe laces together, but it was a ritual like a lot of others that stick in our happy memories!

Cousin Mike: My favorite story [from the visitation] was the visit from the Tran family.  This was the family who arrived 30 years ago from Vietnam with two small children, the clothes on their back, and no English.  They were ‘sponsored’ by Cyril and Shirley, but ‘adopted’ would be a better word. For several years they put their energy and love into assuring this new family took root in Halifax.  They now own a successful business, had two more children after arriving and they are now grandparents themselves. The whole family was at the funeral home tonight and clearly loved their ‘Papa’.  Mr. Tran would tell you he owed his whole life to Cyril & Shirley.  He left the funeral home arm-in-arm with his children and clutching the family portrait that the siblings had removed from the wall above the casket and given to him.

My own earliest memories of Grandad go back a bit. Patricia, Mark and Chris were still teens so he was still a father more than a grandfather — and I think a more serious man than he was in later years, though always kind, fair and generous.  He always had tons of energy and I remember as a kid thinking how strong he always seemed.  He had a bit of a ‘tough guy’ persona to me as he still smoked in those days, would wear those ‘muscle’ undershirts, and was always doing some type of dirty work around the house — painting the house, rebuilding the patio, refinishing the dining room set, or whatever.  And he and Nana used to travel a bit at the time and they were the only people I knew who went to those faraway places.  The best memories for me were playing cards on the living room floor (usually with Patricia or Chris), visiting the attic (and touching Greg’s model cars that we weren’t supposed to touch), and Nana’s big dinners.  Their house always seemed so big to me, and so lively.  It wasn’t until recent years that I noticed how small it seemed.  As kids we would occasionally have sleepovers at their house and I always wanted to stay there because Grandad made the BEST hot water bottles!

More recently I came to appreciate his stories and his excellent memory, and wished I knew more.  A few years back when his new memories were getting fuzzy he could still recite incredible detail from 60, 70, 80 years back.  He told me that he used to have a mail route for a short time in Halifax ‘before I met your mother’ (I told you his recent memory was shaky) and could tell me all the streets he walked and what buildings were there.  He could also tell you stories about visiting Lunenburg as a boy to see his grandparents and how it was a weekend excursion — it was about 4 hours then, but only an hour now.

The funeral was long but excellent.  Readings were done beautifully by Barb, Marion and Julie.  The priest had known Grandad and spoke at some length about his character and impact.  The most interesting part for me was when he said that he had been to see Grandad only a few days ago (Christmas Eve) expecting that he was going to comfort and encourage him … and it ended up the other way around, he left the visit feeling encouraged and uplifted having seen Grandad and his obvious “everything’s great” zest for life even in his final days.

Greg also spoke at the funeral, which was a great touch.  Unusual for a Catholic funeral but several people told me afterwards how nice this was.  He told some good stories – funny and poignant – but the best part for me was when he spoke about the example his father had set for all of them and how he hoped he had learned his lesson on how to be a good father and a good man.  It occurred to be that we are all benefitting from this example and some of us are trying to pass on this wisdom, integrity and character into the 4th generation with our own kids.  Grandad sure had a big impact.

Note:  The patch of dirt (below) in Greg’s hand is from the yard on Dublin St. and it went down with Grandad.

Cousin Laurie: I also remember the many visits to Dublin St.  Whether you were cold, hungry or thirsty didn’t matter in the least.  You got a hot water bottle, a drink and food.  The most memorable for me were the dreaded Xmas cookies.  They were in unrecognizable shapes, came with pink and mint green icing and would break your teeth.  I have some of the cookie cutters in my kitchen and apparently Grandad made some of them in his industrial arts class!!
My favourite dinner memory will always be the mini salt and pepper shakers between each place.  These so fascinated me that Nana actually made sure to leave me two pairs when she passed away.  It’s funny the little things that mean so much…
One of my favourite Grandad stories is one I recall every Christmas, especially now that I have my own children.  He told me on Xmas eve he would tell the boys sleeping in the attic that if Santa arrived and they were still awake there would be no presents left for them.  Then he would go outside and throw snowballs at the roof directly over their heads.  Imagine their panic and desperation to be quiet!!  Typical Grandad…

Joseph Cyril “Cy”
— It is with great sadness and respect that we accept the death on Monday, December 28, 2009, of our father after a long, full life. Born in Halifax in 1917, he was the son of Edgar Marshall and Vera Lenora. He is survived by his children, David (Patricia); Barbara (Louis); Gregory (Sara); Patricia (John); Mark (Kathy);and Christine (Kevin). He is also survived by 21 grandchildren; 16 great-grandchildren and sister-in-law, Hilda. He was predeceased in 2006 by his wife, Shirley G., after 66 years of marriage. He was also predeceased by brother, Earl. In the late 1970’s, Cyril served on a church committee to bring to Halifax two families from Vietnam. One of these families still resides in Halifax. Through hard work and education, they have become a wonderful success story. In Cyril’s eyes, this family became an extension of his family. We thank them. Cyril was a survivor of the Halifax Explosion in 1917. He played English Rugby on Wanderers teams before the Second World War. He joined the H.M.C. Dockyard in 1939, retiring from there 38 years later. He joined the Canadian Navy war effort where he actively served from 1942-1945. He was guided by his faith at Church, where he actively served for 66 years including parish councils and archdiocesan commissions. He volunteered for many years with the Oxford Home and School Association, Scouts and Girl Guides, National Defense Employees Association, Canadian Institute of Public Administration, United Way, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Hope Cottage and Knights of Columbus. He received numerous awards and honors for these efforts. To his children, his greatest accomplishment was that he was a great father. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the charity of one’s choice.

Homily given by Fr. Earl at [Gran]dad’s funeral on Dec 31 2009 (distributed with his permission)


Consider this recent memory of Cyril .

He now lives comfortably but away from his Dublin Street home and family.

He misses Shirley, his wife and life-long companion.

Any one of us present here at church,

seek out Cyril’s company and say hello.

A conversation ensues, the themes are not so important.

What is noteworthy is the light of loving presence

that shines forth from Cyril.

I last saw Cyril on Christmas Eve.

On this day last week there is no darkness.

The signs of our Savior’s birth are evident.

Cyril, a grand old man of 93, nears the end of his days.

He body says… “I am soon out of here.”

His spirit says… “I am here for the long haul”

Jesus says… “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

Cyril lives as the saint Theresa of Avila exhorts…

Let nothing disturb you,

Let nothing frighten you,

All things are passing.

God alone is changeless.

Patience wins all things,

The person who has God wants nothing.

God alone suffices.

Approaching Cyril who sits in his chair I greet him…

“How ya doing Cyril?”

Cyril looks up at me and lights up…

Although he does not recognize me – at least not in the usual way.

He says little but he speaks with a prophet’s voice.

“It’s good to see you.”

“Life could not be better”.

He gaps my hand with the authority

of a trusting loving heart

reaching out to a neighbor.. and a son who isn’t,

but who is made to feel like one.

I came to encourage Cyril.

Instead, it is my heart swells with encouragement.

In this brief encounter a précis of life’s meaning is told.

Cyril died knowing he is God’s beloved.

Cyril life-message is remembered today as an affirmation

that we are as Cyril – no less God’s beloved.

The cycle of our human life is complete with the death of JC.

Cyril was born,

lived to celebrate and suffer onto death

—everybody’s ordinary human condition.

In truth, there is nothing extraordinary about the life of Cyril

except in the extraordinary manner to which he was wedded to ‘our common life’.

Cyril loved being a human being.

He deeply appreciated the gift of our human life

and easily smiled his way into all of our lives.

He was very comfortable ‘in his own skin’

and gave this example for all of us to follow.

While his body in later years knew better that

‘life could be and is in fact tragic’

– he knew as do we now in remembrance of him

that on a deeper level life is:



This is so because our journey leads to a loving union with God, no less!

How could JC speak these words

so that it worked for him and became true to us?

The God of Cyril is God, the Compassionate One.

Our God is ‘the one who is ‘with suffering’ – compassion.

Our God is Jesus who is born in a manger to poor, unmarried parents,

with little to their name according to the standards of ‘this world’.

God choose to become human.

Jesus’ life give testimony that it is not just OK to be human but very good indeed!

This is a central truth about Cyril’s life.

As a baptized Christian,

he like all other Christians,

is assigned to tell some small part about God story of salvation.

What it is, is a simple and most basic reality.

Let me repeat myself.

Cyril, you and me are God’s beloved.

God gives us a way, this truth and much life – eternal life through our shared life with Jesus, born of Mary and fostered by Joseph.

JC, the Christian, instinctively resonated with this reality.

There is Christ in every Christian.

Cyril’s life testifies to his heart-felt knowledge.

In his heart he knew Christ – God who is love, loving.

God wants to tell us God’s great story of love

for our broken, wounded, and too often ignorant human race.

This is the message of Jesus…

The Prophet Isaiah speaks…

“For a child has been born to us, a Son is given to us.”

God is our flesh, our blood, our bones.

God becomes human that we become God, who is love, loving.

Cyril knew this.

In this heart – where is found his deepest life desires (orientations) Cyril choose to be as Christ and to do as Christ.

And so Cyril loved us.

In life he followed the words of St. Ignatius Loyola who is quoted…

“Authentic love shows itself in deeds over and above words.”

With Cyril in mind we read the words of

this parish’s patroness:

“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest things right, and doing all for love.”

Cyril could not always ‘do’ things for others –

but he was ‘present’ in life to the end.

He lived within his means of opportunities for loving others

and we are better for it!

I am not saying he’d understand his life as now described by myself

BUT I speak with images about ‘the truth that Cyril lived’.

Let us consider how Cyril is today admired.

His life was inspired [fueled] by his active everyday participation

in the Church’s sacramental life

BUT he was not a person to rest easy in the pews of this Church

while there was work making God’s Kingdom on earth a reality…

here and now, in full of view of anyone and everyone who cared to notice!

First within the confines of his Dublin Street family home

Next in our neighborhood Church and school

Later in the streets of Halifax and among the homeless and otherwise disadvantaged

No less, was he a citizen of this world.

Where he could not go to the world, the world came to him, even Vietnam!

Cyril, being a man of God, was a who reflected the likeness of God as Father,

As such he was largely a man of hospitality; of welcome and good humor.

One of his most striking attributes was his inclusiveness.

While Cyril turned away (defended against) evil doing,

what is hurtful and is death dealing to other persons,

Did he ever turn other people away? I think not.

Try this image for Cyril.

His life was sacred space wherein God’s charity is given a face.

I suppose he must have exasperated his dear wife,

Shirley, because the number of loving activities he juggled were many.

{Cyril is not a canonized saint, yet today we highlight many holy [healthy] aspects of his life… and well we ought to do so our focus gives God’s glory.}

The glory of God is humanity fully alive.

Cyril was lived so to give life to others!

We’ve all read his obituary.

He spent himself early, middle and late in life as though there was no tomorrow.

The Knights of Columbus

St. Vincent de Paul Society

His work towards the making of good public schools like Oxford

His service on parish councils and Archdiocesan Commissions

These are things that live today with the imprint of Cyril on them.

There were times when his efforts got acknowledged,

more often his work went unnoticed in the middle of a summer or winter night.

Cyril was not a pie in the sky kind of fellow.

He was a mystic of active service.

There are four basic elements in life.

They are air, water, fire and earth.

Cyril’s element was earth.

The English word ‘human’ is rooted in the latin word, humus – earth.

Cyril was grounded.

His life was spend meeting basic human needs,

and largely the needs of other persons.

Yet, Cyril was not all earth.

He was a breath of positive, fresh air,

he had fire in his belly,

and gave full expression to essential fluid emotions

required for good mental health.

He lived with life with a high level of integrity, girt,

determination and much grace. He was a gentleman!

He was not without special attachments in life.

I suggest to us that…

his attachments pleased God

and pleased many of us who love Cyril.

Now this tribute comes to an end…

The Old Man of Crete

We must all let go of the securities, the defenses, the devices which the world recommends. Our gain is in the loss.

Once upon a time there was an old man from the island of Crete. He loved his land with a deep intensity, so much so that when he knew he was about to die, he had his sons bring him outside and lay him on the ground. As he was about to expire, he reached down by his side and clutched some earth in his hands. He died a happy man.

He now appeared before heaven’s gates. God, in the guise of an old, white-bearded man, came out to greet him. “Welcome,” he said, “you’ve been a good man. Please come into the joys of heaven.” But as the man was about to enter through the pearly gates, God said, “Please, you must let the soil go.”

“Never!” cried the old man, stepping back. “Never!”

And so, God sadly departed, leaving the old man outside the pearly gates.

A few eons went by and God came out again, this time in the guise of an old friend, an old drinking crony. They had a few drinks, told some stories, and them God said, “All right, time to enter heaven, friend. Let’ go.” And they started for the pearly gates. And once more God requested that the old man let go of his soil, and once more the old man refused.

More eons rolled by. God came out once more, this time in the guise of the old man’s delightful and playful granddaughter. “Oh, granddaddy,” she said, “you’re so wonderful and we all miss you. Please come inside with me.”

The old man nodded as she helped him up, for by this time he had grown very old indeed and very arthritic. In fact, so arthritic was he that he had to prop up the right hand holding Crete’s soil with his left hand.

They moved toward the pearly gates, and at this point his strength quite gave out. His gnarled fingers would no longer stay clenched, with the result that the soil sifted out between them until his hand was empty. Empty-handed, he entered heaven. The first thing he saw was his beloved island.


JCT Funeral Mass–Dec 31, 2009

Musings by son Greg

I am Greg and I am very proud to say that I am Cyril’s son

It is sad to know that dad has passed away, but is very comforting to know that he led a very full and wonderful life and he left us with many great memories.

You are probably familiar with the term “life altering event”. Dad had one of those too. —It wasn’t when his first grandson, Michael was born, although that was a very important event for him!

–It wasn’t when his first child, David was born, although that too was very significant event for him.

–It wasn’t when he married his life long love and wife of 66 years, Shirley, although that too was very important to him.

–It happened long before any of these events.

Dad’s “life altering event” happened when he was 7 months old!

At that time, Halifax experienced a cataclysmic event, the great Halifax explosion. The explosion destroyed his family home, and in recovery from that event, dad’s dad, my grandfather; built a new home on what was then the outskirts of the city of Halifax. That home was built about 100 yards behind this altar, on Dublin Street.

That home became his home for the next 88 years! He never moved out of there until 3 years ago when his wife died and his health prevented him from living there alone.

During that 88 year tenure, this home became the base of all of his life’s missionary works.

Yesterday, at the wake, I re-met an old childhood acquaintance of dad’s. Al (not sure if he is here today or not) grew up with dad. They played together in that house as young children, much as I had some 30 years later. Al regaled me with stories of their adventures as young boys and men, and I thank him for adding to my store of memories about dad.

At the wake, some of us got into a discussion trying to find a single word that described dad to a “tee”. We finally landed on the word “welcoming”, and we think it fits very well. In fact, Father Earl, in his homily today used that very word when talking about dad. Most of you in attendance here today are here, because in some way or other dad welcomed you into his personal, work or religious life.

I recall two events that demonstrate why this word is so appropriate.

Let me preface this example, by saying that my mother wanted each of her 3 boys to be priests. She fully expected that it would be we three, celebrating their funeral masses, rather than Father Earl and his gang up here on the altar. However, as you can see, that’s not quite how it played out.

When my lovely wife Sara agreed to marry me we were very excited. We rushed off to see Jim and Frances to ask their permission as well as to share our joy. Jim, although a little reserved, after all it was his oldest daughter; and Frances were very happy along with us. We then rushed up to Dublin Street to share the news with mum and dad. It was a nice sunny day and they were out in the yard doing some gardening, mum down on her knees weeding. When we showed her the ring, she asked what it was then said “nice” and turned back to her gardening. Not the overwhelming excitement that we expected. Dad, on the other hand, was very excited and jumped around and hugged each of us and really welcomed Sara into his family.

The second example was driven home to me yesterday at the wake. As Father Earl said in his remarks, dad’s welcoming style spread even to Viet Nam. Yesterday I saw expressions of love and respect from the Tran family, that truly drove home the concept that dad was a very welcoming person. He acted as host to help the Tran family settle in Halifax, when they emigrated here some 30 years ago. The Tran’s, in their respectful manner yesterday showed me, that to dad, they were every much his children as well.

In closing I want to express a few thank you s:

–I thank each and every one of you for coming here today to help share our sadness, but more importantly to celebrate dad’s full and wonderful life.

–I thank Father Earl for his very eloquent, moving and personal remembrances of dad. I only wish that I had a tape recorder to record and replay that talk over again. I will ask him to provide us with a copy of the homily.

–I want to thank my brothers Dave & Mark. Now you might wonder why I am singling out these two, rather than including all of my brothers and sisters. Well, my three sisters and I do not live in Halifax and over the past 3 years while dad was in failing health, there were countless decisions that had to be made and details that needed to be tended. Dave & Mark, as the Halifax residents were left to do all of this work; and they did it admirably and with great compassion and love. They really got it, they deserve our special thanks.

–I started out by saying that I am proud to be Cyril’s son.

So I want to thank my dad for every day setting the example of how to be an excellent husband and wonderful father. He set the model for all of us and I try to emulate those examples constantly.  I hope that Shirley and Cyril are some where up there floating around looking down at these proceedings and saying: “those are our children and we are proud of them”!

Thank you.

Note: The pictures below are from Grandad in the 1920s.

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2 Responses to "Celebrate his Life"

[…] be having a little girl. Carolyn and Eliot decide to make Uganda their permanent home (for now). Grandad T passes […]

[…] I know it wasn’t ‘tears from heaven’ as I do know she is happy and content now with Grandad by her side.  The two of them bring to my mind holiness, peace, grace, love, respect … they were so in […]

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