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Saying goodbye after you are gone
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Saying goodbye after you are gone

When people die, sometimes it’s so sudden you don’t have a chance to say goodbye.

It’s one of those things about dying that most of us don’t want to think about it. Most of us, given the choice, would like to be able to say goodbye to our loved ones — and they certainly would like that, too.

Some decide, just in case they don’t have that chance, to leave a note behind for their family. That’s what Don Skelly did for his family — and he didn’t tell them it was waiting for them. They just stumbled upon it in a pile of papers after his passing.

Don, who was 97 when he died on May 3, called his note The Last Word.

“When I die, I just want to be cremated,” he wrote. “If it happens in Florida, scatter my ashes in the ocean at South Lido and, if it happens here, scatter my ashes in Lake Winnipeg.

“There is no need for a service, the only ones who would attend would be all of you. All of our friends are gone, my brother Robert has passed away and my brother Bill and I have said our goodbyes.”

To his family, Don said “all of you are my legacy, all of you have been my greatest joy and my greatest happiness. To have watched all of you grow and age and succeed, each on your own pathway, has been a great ride for me, so shed no tears, I went smiling and content.”

Don also had a few words he wanted to say directly to Patricia, his wife of 72 years.

“If it happens, and your mother doesn’t get her wish and I go before her, there are a few things I must say,” he said.

“We were married in 1949 and that was the very best decision I ever made. Your mum had to endure raising you while I worked all over the country, gone for weeks and sometimes months.”

Then Don let his family in on what may have been a secret he never told them. “Incidentally, that’s why I never took up golf. The last thing she needed to hear when I got back was that I was going to play golf. Instead, I took you fishing or to Birds Hill Park where we cooked hot dogs. Fun days.

“So my dear, how lucky I was to have found you those many years ago. I couldn’t have loved anyone more than I have loved you. Take care.

“P.S. If you do have a little gathering when I go, have fireworks.”

It’s a good thing Don left a note behind because, as the family admits, they were shocked by his passing even though he was 97. They called him the “Energizer bunny.”

But maybe there’s a reason Don left a note. Maybe it’s because, earlier in life, he had already been around death.

He was a much younger man when he enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force and trained across the country during the Second World War. He became a Flight Lieutenant and flew a Lancaster Bomber on missions over Germany.

Many flight crews never returned from those bombing runs. They never had a chance to say goodbye. And their families would have given just about anything to have heard from their loved ones one more time.

Maybe, years later, Don remembered that and it prompted him to write his note.

That’s why it was not only Don’s last word, but also a nice goodbye. Read more about Don. 

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason, Reporter

Kevin Rollason

How They Lived

Kay Hughes had a university degree but lived at a time when many women stayed home to raise kids.

Kay, who died on April 24 at 81, did fill the role of “matriarch of a male-filled household,” but when her three boys were older she went back to school, got a law degree, and served various positions at the Manitoba Law Courts. Read more about Kay. 



Jack Cahoon taught mechanical engineering at the University of Manitoba and was head of the department for 11 years.

Jack, who was 82 when he died on April 28, also wrote more than 100 papers in his 40-year career. He tested metals at zero gravity on what’s known as the “vomit comet” at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre, examined failed hip implants, and tested the plasticity of condoms.

He was honoured by being named a professor emeritus when he retired. Read more about Jack. 



Joan Litowitz worked for the Manitoba Telephone System for more than three decades — and after retirement, Joan, who died on April 29, at 84, was active with the MTS retiree organization, the Manitoba Telephone Pioneers.

Joan didn’t stop there. She gave so much help to UNICEF she was recognized nationally for it. Read more about Joan. 



Don de Vlaming was a chaplain with the Salvation Army, but he became known to the public later when he was diagnosed with dementia.

Don, who died on April 19 at 84, helped people on the streets of downtown Vancouver and in Anchorage.

After retirement, and a dementia diagnosis in 2014, he spent years helping the Manitoba Alzheimer’s Society, taking part in their public awareness campaigns by talking to the media about his life. Read more about Don. 



Gerry Sankar was born in Trinidad and immigrated to Winnipeg in 1967.

Gerry, who was 73 when he died on April 23, was a longtime teacher, mostly at Westdale Junior High and Linden Meadows, in what is now the Pembina Trails School Division.

He also served as president of the Pembina Trails Teachers Association. Read more about Gerry.



As a player, Peter Watt helped the St. Vital Bulldogs win two national championships. He was also a good coach.

As the Bulldogs’ head coach, the team dominated: they won the national championships by scores of 62-7 and 72-13 in 1968 and 69 and were later inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.

Peter died on May 9 at age 87. Read more about Peter. 


A Life’s Story

Rayleen De Luca was a tireless advocate for children.

Rayleen, who was 79 when she died on March 22, achieved a doctorate in psychology that focused on the mental health and well-being of children.

Rayleen not only became a much sought-after child psychologist here, she was also known as one of Canada’s foremost researchers for her pioneering work in the area of child sexual abuse.

Psychology professor Rayleen De Luca died in March after a battle with cancer. (Supplied)

“When I was in my darkest times, Rayleen was the sun that broke through the clouds above me and brought light and hope back into my life,” said one former client.

“Rayleen, I can say without a doubt, is the reason I’m still living.”

Read more about Rayleen’s life.



Until next time, I hope you continue to write your own life’s story.


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