His name was Fred
(Story originally published in Winnipeg Free Press in 2002 – I’m republishing it here today in loving memory of my big brother.)
A truck driver was tragically killed when his semitrailer went off the road on a notorious highway east of Kenora. The story made headlines: Deadly stretch claims 12th victim. A graphic photo of the smoldering crash site was published in the newspaper. Sensational images appeared on television. Another accident. Another statistic.
Stories like this are in the media just about every day. We see them, we hear them, and after a while, we become desensitized to them. I, too, would simply tune these terrible tales out in days gone by. Seldom did I pause to consider the impact of the loss. But this time it was different. This time, the life taken was very close to me. He was part of my family.
His name was Fred.
He was a big brother. The oldest of 11 siblings, Fred Schick lead the charge for his six little sisters and four younger brothers. He was our comrade, role model, and bringer-home of bacon. He gave us gifts and guidance, and kind words when needed. He was stubborn and short tempered. He was thoughtful, thinking of us often. He took care of us when he had to, and cared about us. We cared back.
He was a son. The first born to a couple that could not co-exist, Fred was first to experience the dysfunctionality of our large clan. He learned lessons the hard way, having no older brothers or sisters to teach him how to plot the course. He blazed a trail for the rest of us, achieving successes and making mistakes. Along the way he taught us everything he could. It was a thankless job, but we’re thankful he did it.
He was a father. Or maybe that’s what he wanted to be most of all. His son was born one spring day in the early 1980s. Not a healthy infant, his fleeting life was gone before the end of summer. Fred lost his first baby. He was given a second chance when a beautiful daughter was born a few years later. This time the parental foundation was crumbling, and eventually broke apart. Fred lost his second baby. But never lost hope that one day they would get to know each other.
He was an uncle. Over the years his siblings brought many children into the world, and Fred got to know them all. He was curious about everyone’s lives, and asked lots of questions. He was always hanging around, and at times when he needed a place to stay, we joked about how he was a ‘couch thing’. The loudest of the bunch, he had a hearty laugh and grouchy disposition. He sang well, but would never own up to it. He had a big soft shoulder, and even bigger heart. He was fair and fun, and a fixture at family functions. We all knew him well.
He was a spouse. One day a woman came into Fred’s life. They found one another, and became best friends and companions. Together, their lives had more meaning. They fell in love and shared a home. They shared families, thoughts and dreams. They bickered and bothered. They gave and received. They dragged each other down, and lifted each other up. Together, they were complete.
He was a friend. Whether old school chums, boys he coached, or buddies from work, Fred saw a pal in everyone. He took interest in what others did. He socialized well when he wanted to, and got moody and withdrew when he didn’t. He was humble and honest, and spoke his mind. He often went out of his way, and gave more than he had. He was sincere, and made others feel important. He knew many people, and liked most of them. They usually liked him back.
Fred loved life. Whether good music or fine food, fishing or football, dancing or driving, he made the most of the time he was given. In 49 years, he laughed and loved more than some people do in an entire lifetime. Just by living, he touched every single one of the 400 people who attended his funeral service. It was standing room only that day, with everyone there to honour the real life behind the loss. How proud he would have been to see that. How proud we were of him.
Fred lived with a smile on his face, laughter on his lips, and love in his heart. He took time to make time. He worked hard, and played harder. He appreciated and celebrated. He learned and listened. He taught us many lessons in his life. In death, he taught us one more.
Sometimes it takes a tragedy to make us realize we are truly blessed with this thing called life. Instead of really living, we procrastinate, put off, complain. We resent people, dread places, shun things. We get angry, feel sorry, pass the buck, take for granted. We get caught up and swept away. We neglect and avoid. We forget.
Take a moment now to remember your life and loved ones. Acknowledge all that you have, and the people who mean the most to you. Make a vow to live each day to the fullest, because life is all too fragile. In one sudden instant it can be taken away. Without warning. Just like that.
Just like my brother’s was.
His name was Fred.