On October 18, 2011, I lost a piece of my heart when my Dad, Nick Labaj, passed away.
He was a big part of my life, increasingly so as the years passed. After my Mom’s passing ten years ago, he and I became very close. We shared laughs, stories, a home for a few years, cooking secrets, friends, health concerns, sorrows and joys.
It was at the funeral home and funeral that I came to understand what a big impact he made on so many people outside of our family. Most kids think their Dad is great. I consider myself fortunate to be told just how great others thought he was. At the interment, one of my friends whom I haven’t seen in a few years said, simply, “Your Dad was cool.” This made me smile and cry at the same time.
He was very cool. He would come downstairs when we, the kids, were having a party, and raise a glass with our friends. When my Dad was in his 60s, he had “the safe sex talk” with one of my nephews. He had a great sense of humour that he’d use to make you spurt tea out of your nose, or laugh ’til you had to pee. He had great stories from the old country, Ukraine, and tales from the rough years in a labour camp in WWII Germany that would curl your toes. He worked hard and played hard. When he was given a prognosis of six weeks to live following colorectal cancer surgery, he refused to believe it and lived 24 “bonus” years, as he called them. He would kick your ass in Euchre. He would teach us life lessons. He would deliver lyrical Epistle readings in church on Sundays. He was tough. He was compassionate. He liked the music turned up loud. He was, indeed, very cool.
In his 90th year, he remained a force to be reckoned with, even as his health took a quick, downward spiral from August through October. Just a few days before he left us, he was still teasing his grandchildren, trying his best to muster up a twinkle in his eye, and putting on a brave face.
He left footprints in many hearts, as the literally hundreds of visitors at the funeral home and funeral would attest, as they paid their respects, offered their condolences and shared their own stories about my Dad.
Dad, you will be missed terribly and remembered always.