On reading the death notices

It’s always a jolt to recognize a name in the death notices. Maybe the jolt lessens but I’m not there yet and so last Saturday when I came downstairs and picked up the morning paper and slid my eyes rapidly across the names, June Laking sped up to the front of my thoughts.

June was Leslie Laking’s daughter. Several weeks ago I interviewed her about her father as preliminary research for the obituary I was writing on him. It later appeared in the same paper that now contained June’s photograph and a couple of paragraphs summing up her life and work.

I called June that day and gave my usual introduction: I’ve been assigned to write an obituary on your father and would like to interview you about his life. She asked me how long the article would be, how many words, and I said it would pretty much fill a page.

“It has to take up at least a whole page, ” she insisted. “Do you know how important my father was? My father was awarded the Order of Canada.”

She was firm. Convinced he had to be suitably honoured. I said I’d do my best. I didn’t say Orders of Canada are a dime a dozen in this business.

There were a few fact-checking emails with June after that; there might have been a brief phone call, then silence. Leslie Laking’s obituary was published and it was given a full page. I remember thinking: I hope June is pleased, that my words and the stories I selected to tell represent her memories well.

June Laking grew up on the grounds of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario. Both her parents were horticulturists and her one sibling, Ron, is a landscape architect.

“In honour of June, the family wishes their guests to dress in coloured clothing,” it said in the death notice. The flowers, that’s what comes to mind for me in reading that. I think about the flowers that filled her life.

June chose nursing as a career but the roots ran deep.

What I’m left with are thoughts on that interview I did with her, this death notice in front of me now, and a wish that I hadn’t stolen away twenty minutes of her life–instead of talking with me, she should have spent that time with her husband Brian, or with their children, grandchildren, her friends.

But I digress.

Thank you, June.



About Nor

I'm a creative non-fiction writer, with a special interest in memoirs and obituaries--life stories, local histories with flesh & blood anecdotal details. I'm also beginning to create podcasts of people's stories and expanding their audiences. I'm a diarist, an editor, and a political activist. I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and spend days tapping keys or staining my fingers in ink.
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