From Dr. Singh’s Son
A couple of weeks before Dad passed away, a friend of mine posted, online, a link to a beautiful column in the New York Times. It was written by a gentleman named David Malham, a grief therapist who has contracted ALS, the same disease that ultimately took my Dad.
Mr Malham writes that he has many “calming truths”! in his life. He likes himself, he has enjoyed a good life, and has been blessed with a wonderful family. It is his family that, indeed, is initially his biggest worry and concern. He tries, for example, to think about ways he can make his eventual passing easier for his wife, to help relieve her grief. But, then he realizes this is nearly impossible. Grieving is completely normal, he says. It is healthy and it is important. And he writes something that I think will stay with me all my life. He writes: “Grief, after all, is the price we pay for love”
I loved my Dad so very deeply. And the grief I feel is profound. The fact you are here to join our family in our grief, and to grieve as well, is a source of incredible comfort for us. Heartfelt thank you to each and every one of you for being here today. I stand here today, as an incredibly proud and fortunate son, to pay tribute and celebrate the amazing life of my father, Dr Gur Singh. As accomplished a doctor, public servant, and philanthropist as he was, he somehow found the time and energy to be an incredible, wonderful, totally loving father.
I have always been in awe of my parents story as immigrants. My Dad first came to the United States in 1961. He travelled by ship from Mumbai to the UK, and then took another ship from the UK to New York City. Upon arriving at the dock in New York City, the first people my Dad encountered were not immigrations and customs officers, it was a television camera crew. You see, my Dad, all through his teens and early twenties, kept a beard and wore a turban. And the arrival of my Dad was news.
And New York City of 1961 was very different from the New York City of today. Very few people there had ever seen a man with a turban and beard. A lot of the time, people would turn away from him. My Dad was 25 years old, oceans away from his family and his friends. But he was determined to perservere.My Dad was a trailblazer years before he arrived in Kamloops.
One other interesting story from my Dad’s first days in North America. Again, hard to believe now, it was very hard to find a Indian restaurant in New York City in 1961. My Dad was not only probably homesick, the food was so bland. But, then, he discovered Pizza. Sauce and toppings, not too dissimilar from curry. The flatbread crust, somewhat like roti or Nan bread (albeit quite a bit harder). No surprise then that my Dad had a great fondness for pizza for the rest of his life.
After my Mom and Dad were married and they had moved to Kamloops, my Dad’s life was extremely busy. Being the only Neurosurgeon in the BC Interior for many of the early years, Dad was on call 24/7. But, you know, in all that time, my family never felt without his love. My Dad, although he was away a lot, we always also felt his great love and pride. I remember being very young and my Dad taking me to the hockey game and saying to his friends, with great love, this is my boy, this is my son.
When he would come from the hospital in the early years, he would almost always (felt like always) come home with Smarties from the hospital gift shop for me and my sister. I have obviously retained some of that Smarties weight. And I’m not sure how my sister dodged the bullet.
Dad was obviously pretty interested in us getting good educations. I remember him quizzing us on the rides to school in the morning. And he could be tough. I never did get that boy scout first aid kit from McAllister and Howard, when I was 9 or 10 I believe, because of that wrong answer in a multipication question. This despite quite a tantrum on my part.
He supported us financially and emotionally in our educational pursuits, even though he still was a bit fuzzy about what my Masters in Professional
Communication really gets you. He gave us every opportunity for a strong foundation for our lives. One of the proudest moments for Dad was seeing my sister be awarded her PhD last year.
My Dad’s years of education led him and sustained him in the practice of Neurosurgery. I want to thank all the people who have sent messages over the past 10 days of how my Dad helped them walk again or how he saved their lives. These stories have been incredibly comforting and our family has had the good fortune of hearing such stories all our lives.
I remember, as a teenager, browsing through a store in Aberdeen Mall. I hear a couple of people talking about my Dad. Goes something like this.
Person 1: “Yes, Jim has Dr Singh as his surgeon. He is so lucky. Dr Singh is the best neurosurgeon in Canada”
Person 2: “I heard that. Wasn’t he also called when JFK was shot?”
The JFK story was absolutely untrue, according to my Dad. But, the fact that people even thought this story might be credible is pretty amazing.
Despite his incredible reputation, Dad never gave us the sense that we were better than anybody else. He was a pretty humble and grounded guy. When people gave him accolades about what a great doctor he was or how he was so respected in the community, he would often reply with “well, I don’t know about that”.
Dad didn’t always agree with what I did or how I did it. But, he supported me even though he worried greatly sometimes. I started a clothing import and retail business in my 20s. Mom and Dad both were not happy about this but they both supported me. They let me make my own mistakes. And when the business failed, they helped me immeasurably in picking up the pieces.
Later in the life, I actually developed a bit of a habit of being careful what I asked my Dad for because in all likiehood I would get it. Or, if wanted a bit of cover in agreeing to a request, he would ask my Mom to give it to me. Dad greatly nurtured my interest in community work. When I moved back to Kamloops in 2000, Dad encouraged me to join Rotary. After I joined my Dad as a member of the Rotary Club of Kamloops, I was given great opportunities for developing myself and for serving the community.
When I expressed interest in attending the 2005 Rotary International convention in Chicago, Dad said lets go. He funded the trip and we had an amazing time. He built his schedule at the convention around the activities that were of interest to me. When I decided to run for city council in 2005, Mom and Dad were my greatest supports. When I screwed up in my first term (which happened from time to time) and after losing a seat in 2008, their love and counsel supported me through.
In 2011, when I had got permission from my wife to run again, Dad said to me that he would volunteer to be my campaign manager. The only condition that I had to agree to always follow his advice. I said, “Dad, why don’t we make you senior campaign advisor”, and we both had a good chuckle. But, lets be truthful. My Dad was always my campaign manager, joined by my Mom. He was the best campaign manager. Always there, always ready to lend a hand. And its very much due to his and their wise counsel, that I have had some measure of success in my community work.
Dad involved me with his greatest community passions – the Gur Singh Invitational Golf Tournament and the Celebrating Survival Dinner, his fundraising efforts for the Kamloops Brain Injury Association. I didn’t ever really have a set assignment though. I was kind of like his executive aide. It was such an honour to be with my Dad, take on various tasks he asked me to do on the day, and to watch him and learn from him.
Dad’s driving desire was to create the best experience for everyone. He was a fairly relentless fundraiser, in his warm and funny way, but what I always marvelled at was his ability to find extra spots at the golf tourney or to squeeze extra seats at the fundraising dinner. He simply wanted everyone to have the best best time.
Dad was so devoted to us – his family. He totally adored Mom and I know, on whatever celestial Golf Course he now inhabits, he still totally does. He was a proud brother and a wonderful uncle. He loved his Grandchildren beyond measure. His face always always lit up when he saw you, Joss and Cella, and he really enjoyed his acts of bribery to encourage you to get good marks. I feel like being my parent’s son is like winning a cosmic lottery.
My wife, Marsha, wants me to share how welcome she felt by my Dad and my Mom, how loved. Marsha is incredible daughter in law who my parents no longer considered a daughter in law. She is also a daughter in our family. And my Dad was really proud of her accomplishments and thankful for her good nature.
Last August, when my Dad was diagnosed with ALS, he said it was the one disease he never wanted to get. But, he accepted it with a grace and a generosity that inspired me and will inspire me every day. I still can’t believe that, after all the things he did for me, he so often thanked me for helping him in his care. That still feels so wrong, but that was my Dad. He was finding it difficult to keep his spirits up, yet he was so mindful of the needs and appreciative of others.
In the past 7 months, I got to spend a lot of time with my Dad. He was so easy to spend time with. Even though he was getting more sick, he was never bitter. He was always gentle, loving, and calming. I will so deeply miss our coffees and our lunches and chit chatting with him about so many different things.
I am thankful that we also had the opportunity to talk about his life and his eventual passing from this earth. I got to say “I love you Dad”!many times these past months. About two weeks ago, as Dad was settling into bed and I was about to leave to go home, I again said “I love you Dad”. And he replied “I love you more”.
Thank you Dad for everything, for more than I can ever say.