“Indestructible” – that’s how my brother described our Uncle Bud (Bronice Sylvester Rumleski) when we found out he had developed pneumonia following cancer surgery and was in the critical care unit.
After all, he had already beaten cancer once and following his surgery last week, doctors said the second tumour had been successfully removed. He had suffered a stroke 15 years ago and lived independently despite a paralyzed right side. And with a heart rate of 188 beats a minute when he was rushed into ICU following his pneumonia diagnosis, he somehow survived that too.
But despite his sharp mind and a fight in him that was unparalleled, his body finally gave out. A massive stroke left him unconscious. We prayed and cried and then said good-bye when there was nothing that could be done for him.
But such a force of life was Uncle Bud – Bunny we called him when we were kids – that even though he could no longer talk when the breathing and feeding tubes were inserted, his nurse said to me, “He has a great sense of humour.” That was Uncle Bud – always laughing, joking, a quick wit. It was remarkable to me that she picked up on his humour despite a silenced voice.
Bud was the second oldest of eight children who grew up with little on a farm outside of Matheson in Northern Ontario. While they all worked hard on the farm and struggled to make ends meet, there was an enduring love and a love of music. All of the kids were musical and Bud played guitar and sang. It was music that sustained them.
Here is Bud, right, with my father and my grandmother.
As he grew up and ventured out on his own, Bud worked hard at different jobs, including in a mine. Working all week below the earth, he would come out on weekends and spend his paycheque on others. His generosity was a lifelong trait. If he was down to his last nickle, he would give it to you. He loved giving to others and never cared how much he had.
Uncle Bud married and he and his wife had a baby named Eddie. Baby Eddie died before I was born in a car crash that also claimed the lives of Bud’s father- and mother-in-law on Highway 11 near Kirkland Lake. On trips up north to visit our extended family, my mother and father would point out the rock on the highway where Bud’s family was killed. It stayed with me my whole life and I thought about the pain he must have endured.
Before he had his cancer surgery, Bud asked that his ashes be spread at the farm near Matheson, at the graves of my grandparents and in Kirkland Lake, where little Eddie’s body was laid to rest. Decades later, Bud still wanted to be close to his baby.
Along with his humour and generosity, I will remember the patience Bud developed later in life. Because his right side was immobile, he was taken to a retirement home. But he wasn’t content there. He moved several times until his sister found him a perfect little apartment on his own in Brantford. Bud was determined to live independently and that he did.
We all worried about him being on his own. There were limitations to what he could do. It once took him two hours to get his suit coat off after a formal outing.
But Bud proved he could do just about anything an able-bodied person could. He took up arts and crafts. It amazed me that his good hand, which had a tremor, could delicately glue tiny beads on his artwork or paint or use a screwdriver to assemble things. He once constructed a tiny boat inside a glass jar.
Of course, everything he made, he gave to others. This rough-and-tumble guy, who used to be strong as an ox, developed a serenity and spiritual side through his art that was beautiful to behold.
And when I reflect on my uncle’s life, I will never forget that day he came to my rescue when I was stuck in a creek on the back of our property. I was about 13 and my brother and I were exploring. As we waded into the stream, I became stuck in the mud and couldn’t move. I started to panic because there was water all around me and I couldn’t get out. My brother went running up the hill to get help.
I will never forget the next scene for as long as I live.
We had a fence at the back of the house, before the property sloped down to the creek. I looked up to see Uncle Bud hurdle that fence like a track athlete. He came sprinting down the hill full tilt. He waded into that creek and he grabbed me in his strong arms and pulled me free.
Thank you Uncle Bud. My hero. RIP.