Paying it backward

On or about May 26th, 1944, my 23 year old second cousin Trooper Kenneth White was killed in action. He was in a tank somewhere in Italy when something bad found him and sent him to his maker. When the messenger arrived, Ken’s father, my Uncle Joe, had one sad response, witnessed by his then 19-year old daughter Kathleen: “nobody will be there to say God bless over his grave.”

My Uncle Joe had a pretty tough life. He dug more than his fair share of graves as a member of the King’s army in WWI. He lost the family farm during the depression, and had to put his kids in an orphanage. He lost his eldest son in a horrific war. He buried 3 wives. He was also one of the sweetest, most hilarious men I’ll ever know. And he was my mother’s favourite uncle.

For 70 years, our family thought his son Ken was killed in Sicily. Recently, my husband discovered that Ken actually met his end somewhere in the Liri Valley and is buried at Monte Cassino, Italy.

On Friday, my mother – born one month after Ken’s death – will board a plane with a now 88-year old Kathleen, Ken’s last surviving sibling, to travel to Monte Cassino. She’s going to support Kathleen who couldn’t go alone, but also to honour her Uncle Joe. Did I mention this is my mother’s first trip out of North America?

We often talk about paying it forward, especially those of us who think we’ve made it to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy. But we should pay it backward too. When an opportunity to close a sad chapter, even 70 years later, appears, seize it, like my Mom is.