Dear Gigi Karatchuk,
It’s been 34 years.
I miss you. And I wish you were still here.
In college, I wrote a post on the 25th anniversary of your death: December 2, 1984. And those emotions are still the same. I still wish you were here. I still wish you’d met my little sister.
I wish you turned 101.
I wish you’d been a Chicken Chef regular so I could’ve served you coffee. Even though your idea of good coffee meant the spoon stood upright in the cup. Otherwise it was tea. And not even good tea.
As a child, I wish I understood that 67 isn’t old. It’s young, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a couple decades and a half from 67. When you and Baba both died at 67 years old, I thought my maternal grandparents – who were in their late-50s and early-60s – were ticking time bombs.
I wish I knew you were an alcoholic. I’m proud of you for entering Alcoholics Anonymous. You were fun-Bobby Gigi, but I didn’t know you were fighting demons until Baba was sick. You gave dad and my aunts the father, the person, who was in there all along.
I’m sorry my sister and I ate the majority of your AA two-year sobriety celebratory Vinarterta while you were at chemo.
You were receiving chemo for lung cancer which spread to your bones. The doctors could do little. In the early-80s, the cure was literally thoughts and prayers. I remember sitting outside the hospital with you. While gripping an IV pole, you rolled a cigarette – your only vice.
The morning of December 2, 1984, I watched from the east window as you were whisked on a gurney into an ambulance. We lived on the same acreage – two houses about 100 ft apart. That’s my last memory of seeing you alive.
The night prior, I was at your house watching Iceman, and my dad and uncle tucked you into bed.
But the next day, you were in an ambulance, heading for the Arborg Hospital. My aunt and uncle drove my sister and I to our maternal grandparents. I remember the phone rang, and my Baba Taraschuk called Jenn and I into the den. Two years earlier, mom led us into that den to say, “Baba died.”
We sat at the table, and my sister said, “This feels familiar.”
Baba started to talk about what happened at the hospital, and Jenn asked, “Did Gigi die?”
And Baba closed her eyes and nodded: “Yes.” My face crumbled as I looked at Jenn, who fell apart. I just remember Baba hugging me. We stayed late, and Baba and Gigi drove us home. As we weaved down the driveway, Jenn cried because the lights in your house were on – and you weren’t home.
You’d never be coming home. I would never see you again except at your open casket funeral. Where I sat behind my parents on the left side of the funeral home, shredding a tissue into angel-hair. Missing you so much.
I still search for you in the archives for commercial fishing – your trade before you switched to dairy farming. At the Manitoba Museum, there’s a photo of a commercial fisherman. The photo is grainy, however, I swear it’s you. There’s even a dangling cigarette. Whenever I’m there, I have a photo taken with him – on the off chance it’s you.
I’m sure you’re having coffee with your close friends, Mike Tucker, and Bill Palsson. Or you’re fishing with your grandson, Kevin. Or running with Roco, Cindy, Puppy, Brutus, Cindy II, CJ, Patches, and Nico.
I know you’re taking care of Baba. Let her know I miss my “Baba Paint.”
And, if you have a moment, could you please let my big sister know you really didn’t need your glasses.
I love you, Gigi.
Dedicated to my Auntie Marilyn; Auntie Barbara; and my dad, John.