A Sad Anniversary


My brother many years ago.

December 12th is the 4th anniversary of my brother, Roger’s, death. I wrote this memory piece for him some time ago but am publishing it here as a remembrance of my wonderful brother. While this is personal, I have discovered on LinkedIn and other social media sites that writers are nothing if not a mix of people with thousands of very personal, very thought-provoking stories. And from the personal we draw the life-blood of our stories. If Roger were still here, he would be cheering me on with my writing.  This, then, is for him.

His Smiling Eyes

by Elaine Cougler

Roger died. At only fifty-four his heart gave out, his smiling eyes closed, and he left us. Left us all. His children and grandchildren, his wife, his brothers and sisters, and brothers and sisters-in-law, his many friends and many more acquaintances—he just up and died away, from us all.

He died on December 12, 2008 in the evening, at the hospital, after an ambulance ride during which he infuriated the paramedics with his humorous quips. They wanted straight answers from him to assess his situation but he just made jokes and they didn’t know if that was normal or not. Well, Roger was never in his life ‘normal’.

When he was born I was almost eight but he soon caught up to us older children. He mastered adding and subtracting before ever going to school and so quickly that Mom moved on to multiplication and division. Yes, he could do all that before he made his school debut. And he could read just about anything. I seem to remember him with the local newspaper, reading out stories to us at our large family dinner table.

He was a bit of a problem in school because he was way too advanced for whatever grade he was in and frequently found other frowned-upon ways to entertain himself. Once in his grade nine Music class—small, slight Roger played the euphonium!—the teacher lost control of the class, yet again, and ran, crying, out of the room. Roger stepped up. When his teacher finally returned the whole group was playing and Roger was standing at the front of the room conducting.

He had no patience for poor teaching or people who tried to tell him things he knew were wrong. He failed courses more than once, not because he couldn’t master the work but because he so infuriated the teacher or couldn’t be bothered to bore himself with the work they assigned. And he was funny. Although I wasn’t there I know that his class contributions could take the form of smart-Alec responses which entertained his classmates but earned him few points with his teachers.

Roger married young, became a father early, loved his kids and life in equal measures and bumped up against thousands in his treks across the province and the country. On more than one occasion he loaded his wife, three kids and one ‘adopted’ kid into the car and drove the seven hours to Chicago and back in one long uproarious journey. Why? He wanted pizza, specifically Chicago-style deep-dish pizza.

But he didn’t stop there. Any one of us siblings can name occasions where he totally embarrassed us. We never knew what he would say next or to whom. In restaurants he made the waitress his best friend, in less time than most people take to order. And, as often as not, he got to know everyone in the restaurant. He would get up and start circulating, joking, talking, laughing, gesturing and just, well, entertaining everyone. In the grocery store in my village he would stop people and tell them he was my brother, ask them how they were doing, what they liked to eat, where they made their money, why they lived in the village, all the while laughingly making them feel special and putting them at ease. Of course I was mortified. It took me years to learn to take it all in stride and just ride his wave with him. Once we were in Swiss Chalet and he ended up with a job offer to go there on Valentine’s Day a couple of weeks down the road and sing for the dinner guests. A paid job, but he never went. For Roger the fun was in getting the offer, not in actually doing such a mundane thing as showing up on time, doing the job, sticking to the plan. Of course with his deep bass voice and his prodigious memory he could have sung all night and everyone would have loved it.

He landed on our doorstep often, full of long funny stories of his exploits. He told of his time in court when he outsmarted the cop who had wrongly ticketed him, of his conversations and meetings concerning the Ontario Corn Producers where he astounded them all with his far-reaching thinking. The week he died he had been working on a plan for the Liberals to propose to Harper in order to prevent an election which no one wanted. His Ottawa friend moaned to me on the phone, “Now, I’ll have to find someone who can take Roger’s place.”

I asked him once to sing the role of Sancho Panza in Man of La Mancha, for which production I was the musical director. He came in to the show late (to fill a gap for us) after everyone else had been working for a couple of weeks. He was amazing. He never missed a practice. He quietly helped others with their parts, kept his practical jokes to a minimum and made me very proud. On the final night of the run we had a cast party and he stood up on the stage, quieted everyone and thanked us all for the experience of acting with the group, mentioning this one and that one. Pretty wonderful, as he totally outshone all of us. He had made his mark with the actors, however, and to this day I get people asking to be remembered to Roger from that time fifteen or twenty years ago.

Just as Roger’s life has ended too soon, so also must my remembrance of him be brief. His joyous laughter and his smiling eyes will stay in my heart forever. And even though he is not here in the flesh, I only have to glance up at his picture. From there he smiles at me still, in one continuous, kind and loving, never-ending grin. I wonder what he’s planning now.

Consider leaving a comment perhaps with one of your own personal challenges which has informed your writing.

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53 thoughts on “A Sad Anniversary

  1. Thank you Aunt Elaine for such a wonderful tribute about my Father. Many times in my life people would ask me how I could live with such a jokster for a father. It was all I knew. Yes many times he embarrassed me, however he also made me laugh like no one else ever has. The question that begs to be asked is not how do you live with him, It’s how do you live without him? I miss him greatly, but am so pleased that I have such wonderful memories of him and am able to smile every time he comes to mind. Thanks for helping me smile today.
    Love Kathy


    • Okay now I’m just about reaching for the Kleenex, so many lovely thoughts coming my way. Kathy, I think your question is right on the money. Wish I had the answer to how we live without those we’ve lost. Love you and thought of you this summer when I saw Pirates of Penzance and remembered our great chorus work together way back then. 🙂


    • We all smile Kathy; everytime we think of Roger and especially when anywhere near the most beautiful portrait of him which you gave to me. It is perfect. Those beautiful eyes and warm smile grab the beholder wherever they might be in that whole huge room. Thank you so much.
      Thanks also for what you have said about my little brother.
      Love, Uncle Brian


    • I’ve been through that one, too, Diane. Do you ever start to think it’s like a game where one team gradually steals all the other team’s players until there’s no one left? The older we get, the more people we see drift away, leaving us the memories. Of course we are so thankful for those. Thanks for visiting, Diane.


  2. That was beautiful, Elaine. It sounds like Roger knew he had to live in a hurry and he got the most out of life without wasting time. I’m sorry he couldn’t stay longer and I’m glad he had a sister like you.


    • How kind, Crystal! You would have loved Roger for his sense of humour, his prodigious wit, and his absolutely stellar brain. He did squeeze the most out of life, that’s for sure. A lesson to all of us, I think.


  3. What a beautiful tribute Elaine! We are lucky to have so many fond memories of a wonderful brother! One of my best memories was when he flew out to Edmonton for Valerie and Chad’s wedding. He got up and spoke on behalf of our family and, of course, did a wonderful job!
    He definitely had a BIG heart!
    Love Joyce


  4. Hello there Elaine. We’ve never met… I lived in Stratford from 1987 to 1988 after deciding to move there from Ottawa. While there, I joined the Liberal Party and anyone who joins the Liberal Party in Perth County was inevitably going to meet Roger Garner. And even after I left Stratford and moved to Ottawa, we never lost touch. In fact, when in Ottawa, he was known to crash on the couch in a spare room where I lived, and I, when visiting Stratford got to crash on a couch at his. I remember his place in Mitchell as I write this. He was a precocious fellow. Quick of wit and knowledgeable of politics, and I remember us driving down to Windsor together one to attend a convention, talking politics most of the way down, and meeting Paul Martin Jr. before he got into the game. Ah yes… the corn producers association! Who can forget? Nor do I forget his ability to tickle the ivories and sing, or befriend total strangers in restaurants. And it was upon his advice that I befriended a fellow Roger very much respected in Ottawa (Robin Russell), and today I am friends with Robin, and we both remember him fondly. In fact it was Robin who forwarded your posting on to me. Thanks for the memories. He left us far too early.


    • Paul, I thank you for this comment for what it says about my writing piece but, more importantly, for what it says about Roger. I’ve learned new things about him and am pleased that you have shared your connection.
      Roger was that proverbial rolling stone who never gathered any moss. He was always on the move. I’m sure he put on 300,000 kilometers a year, easily, as he loved to jump in his car and go. Just go, and see, and talk, and learn. Once I was with him in Prince Edward Island and he stopped to talk to a woman on a very back country road. We chatted for a couple of minutes and he asked if there were any sights we tourists should see while we were there. The woman told us of a secluded lighthouse and how to get there. We spent a couple of private hours exploring that lovely lighthouse high up on the red cliffs overlooking the brilliant blue sea. And all because Roger loved to talk to people.
      I wish you well, Paul. I know that Roger would be pleased that we have connected in this way.
      All the best to you,


  5. Elaine, you story really hit home for me. I could not even leave a comment yesterday. I too lost our only brother. He was only 57, and though he was not as knowledgeable as Roger it seems they were kindred spirts in their social graces. He also passed in exactly the same way. Your post is so beautifully written I am sure that Roger has met my brother Augie and they are both smiling and having a grand time together.


  6. Hi,
    Thank you for sharing a personal part of you that really touched my emotions. I read it yesterday, and I too could not leave a comment, because I thought about the last two or three really beautiful encounters that I had with my father before he died. They are so fresh in my mind like the morning light, because they were so uplifting, and they were encounters that I will never forget.


    • “I will never forget”. Your words make me think. I never forget those I’ve lost WHEN I REMEMBER TO REMEMBER. Most of the time life just gets in the way. This is why we need those still times when our thoughts can focus on important events, people, emotions, plans, and dreams. I am so glad my post helped you to have memory moments, Patti. Thank you for leaving your comment, especially about your dad.
      All best


      • Thank you, Elaine. He was a great guy. A simple man, a common laborer with a third grade education, but he helped me with my Algebra, when I had problems at the university. It was his dream. He had always wanted to go to school. I was his oldest child, and I believe he planned for me to go to school while my mother was carrying me. When I graduated from the university, I was fulfilling his dream. He stood off at the edge of the podium, and cried. He was indeed a great man.
        Love you, my dear friend.


      • This morning is so special to me. I’m not getting any writing done, really, but my heart is being filled up with all the wonderful stories and comments here today. Thank you, Patricia, for your story about your father. “He stood off at the edge of the podium, and cried” when you graduated. I am humbled by that kind of love. You are so blessed, Patti. And you’ve put the sunshine back in my day even though I can hardly see the screen through my wet eyes. xxoo Elaine


  7. Hi Elaine, just found this post while searching for relatives of Roger. My husband Dan knew Roger very well from when Roger farmed outside of Dutton. He often tells funny stories about him and we have a good laugh. We came to his 50th birthday party in Stratford which was the last time I saw him and his infectious grin. Greatly missed!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I wanted to say that my husband Dan knew Roger very well from his farming days in Dutton, and would often tell funny stories about him. His smile and laughter were as infectious as his voice was beautiful .A pleasure to know Roger.


    • Judy, thanks so much for your lovely words about Roger who has been gone now for almost 8 years. You reminded me of this post I wrote four years ago and I went back and reread it and all the heartfelt comments from people. You’ve caused me to sit and reflect again about how lucky so many were to have Roger in their lives. Always missed, but never forgotten!


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