Uncle Hugh died.
Uncle Hugh died and that is that.
My cousin Nick phoned to tell me just as I was going in to a work meeting. It took the wind out of my sails a little bit.
Hugh was in his 70s, getting on, and had been in bad health a few years ago, but he had been so much better. When I saw him last year when last he was back in Scotland he was on top form.
It was my Aunt Fran who found him – at his computer in his den in their home in Canada.
Uncle Hugh was a good, good man. A clever man too – Dean of the Faculty of Physics of Waterloo University in Ontario.
He was a proud Scotsman too. A Morrison raised in Edinburgh but with Orcadian blood in him.
He met my aunt, my father’s sister, way back when Moses was a lad and they were always the tightest couple you could ever meet.
They emigrated in the 60s with the prospect of building a new university in a quiet Ontario town. It must have been a great time, a great opportunity.
I spoke to Fran last night, an ocean away, to give her my love and to talk.
Uncle Hugh had had a good week, he had had a few beers at the weekend with his Scottish pal Jim Bryant in the Wellington – a taste of home with a Scottish beer or two on tap – in Waterloo.
He had played golf, and he had hiked. He had then gone to pick up one of his many grand-daughters or grand-nieces (I am getting hazy myself now as to who is who as the family grows) from her summer camp.
He had ferried the little one back to town and had helped my Aunt Fran babysit for a few hours.
Then, as I understand it, he had gone down to his den to tinker around on his computer.
He often did that – he was our family’s Professor Yaffle – and he was happy there. Fran told me how she had gone to bed, conked from the kids.
She woke about 6am, realised Hugh wasn’t there, went down to see what the hell he was playing at, and found him there at his computer, dead.
The young policeman told her later on that he had not finished an email he had been in the middle of before midnight.
Whatever it was that killed him, a heart attack most likely, it was quick.
Fran is bearing up, or at least gives a very good impression of it. She is a woman of deep and unwavering faith, and she has the support of a tremendous family around her. Three great children –(my cousins who I neither see nor speak to often enough, which is a shame on each of us )- and a sister with her own family – my Aunt Maggie – who also emigrated from Scotland and lives round the corner. They, we, are strong.
The funeral is on Monday and I don’t think I will be able to make it.
I am currently on a ferry to Northern Ireland just passing the Ailsa Craig for a long-anticipated break with my own clan and I will be with the family at my wife’s dad’s cottage in Donegal for the week.
Fran said something to me when I spoke to her last night.
She said “You are never prepared for it. No matter what. You never say ‘i love you’ often enough, and I didn’t say it to him the night he died.”
She’s right of course. None of us are prepared for anything in life. How can you be when it just barrels along towards us. It…happens. I know that all too much because of my own wife’s brush with The Big C.
All we can do is make like an anemone and let it wash over us, trying to catch a little crumb of joy wherever we can as it passes.
Hugh knew she loved him. Everybody who ever met them or saw them together would know in a heartbeat she loved him.
They were an item. As strong a couple as you could ever meet, in many ways the Ailsa Craig of our family.
Their door was open, their table laden, and their welcome warm. Always and to all.
Thinking of Hugh without Fran is difficult, and vice versa. Bacon without eggs, Morecambe but no Wise.
It will be a terrible time for my Aunt, but the wagons are circling for her just now. I don’t doubt that there will be a big showing for him on Monday in Ontario.
There will be a few of us here in the Old Country – many of his friends and family in Orkney, Edinburgh, wherever – thinking of him fondly. Glad we had the chance to know and share the same time and space with such a warm-hearted, kind and sage man.
And as I look out across an Irish glen westwards towards the Atlantic I will raise a glass to my Uncle Hugh and I will listen to what my Aunt Fran said, and I will tell the people around me – my wife and my two beautiful children – just how much I love them.