Gigi Karatchuk – Missed Twenty-Five Years Later

Today is 25 years since my Gigi Karatchuk died. Even though I was quite young, I remember a lot from that time. My view would probably be a tad different than how my parents experienced that time. After all, these views are coming from a child’s point of view.

My Gigi, a fisherman by trade turned dairy farmer, came across as a gruff and tough man, but his heart was in the right place. One time, I remember sitting on his porch steps with him watching the water spouts that were over Winnipeg Beach, I wasn’t even scared back then. (FYI-my fear of tornadoes spurred from the Edmonton tornadoes in 1987). And he always that that darn cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth, as if it were part of him. Gigi, my dad’s father, had started smoking at the age of 10, and by 67, it had taken his life. And even though it has been 25 years, it feels like yesterday some days.

There’s this song by Luba, “Everytime I see your Picture,” and it basically how I feel when I think about my Gigi. I miss my Baba Karatchuk, and I remember vividly bits and pieces of when she was sick. However, I think her death taught me to pay attention. When Baba died, my mom said that Gigi is going to need a lot of company from my sister and I. A house full of chips, cookies and tea? (yes, we drank tea at six and eight).

We would visit and Gigi would make tea, we would eat those Dare cinnamon twist cookies. And I would watch my Saturday morning cartoons there, too. Usually on Saturdays, Jennifer and I would go round up the cattle with Gigi. I never realized what a far walk it was, and with all the electric fences he would lift so we could go under, it’s a wonder he never complained that we were slowing him down!

One day Jennifer and I came home to the news from my mom that Gigi had found a lump under his arm.

My parents were with him during rounds of chemo and multiple trips to the hospital, while my other Baba and Gigi fed my sister and I puffed wheat cake and cut marshmallows into our cocoa. However, the cancer had spread to my Gigi’s bones, and there wasn’t much they could do.

In fact, the night before Gigi died, we were just coming home after a stay at our other grandparents. My parents used to live only 100 ft from my Gigi. I remember being at my Gigi’s place that night watching Iceman. My Dad and uncle were tucking Gigi in for the night. Little did we know that would be his last night. He insisted he wanted to die at home. However, the next morning, he had taken a turn for the worse, and my parents had a glimmer of hope that my Gigi could be saved. I remember sitting with my Auntie Bev in our house as paramedics carried my Gigi – 100 ft away – out of his home. I packed my red cloth purse with full of mandarin oranges because I was going to run away. My Auntie Bev said my parents would have more to worry about because they would be missing me as well.

Then I started to cry.

Next thing I knew, Jennifer and I were at my Baba and Gigi Taraschuk’s. But this time it was silent. Then we were taken into the den, just as we had been two years earlier when my mom came to relay the news that my Baba Karatchuk died. This time, it was left to Baba Taraschuk, as she tried to explain what happened in the ambulance and at the hospital. And my sister just asked, “Did Gigi die?” and Baba said yes. I just remember crying. As a young child, I remember weird details about Gigi’s funeral. And my tears hitting the floor of the funeral home as I shredded a tissue until it was just little bits. I overheard my sister crying because Gigi didn’t have his glasses on, and he needed them to see.

And a Bible with a cross on it near Gigi’s head.

Not long after the funeral, my parents were going through Gigi’s things, and they came across handwritten Christmas cards for the my older sister and I. The front is a snowy winter scene, and on the inside it’s signed “Gigi.”

I still have that card. Of course, any death is sad, but some good always comes out of the bad and tragic, as I view my Baba and Gigi Karatchuk’s death, who both incidentally died at the ages of 67. My Baba died of a rare blood disease, while Gigi died of lung cancer. Listen to your body, even if you’re not a smoker, you can still develop lung cancer. A wise man once said that if you’re feeling fine, that’s when you should go see your doctor. That man was my gym teacher, Mr. Jakobson, who died in 1995 of skin cancer.

If I could have my grandparents – all of them back for just one day – both Babas and my Gigi, I’d be a happy girl. But, we can’t get everything we want.

We just have to treasure what we had.