My father-in-law, Ken Noble, died on Sunday, July 18, after a long fight with an undiagnosed respiratory illness. We were lucky enough to have him spend his last days in hospice care here in Peterborough. With all of Ken’s children living here in town, it meant that people were able to have quiet visiting time with him before he died.
My dad died 17 years ago, and Ken has been my dad since then. He was also my boys’ grandfather, and he excelled at that role. One of the things I loved most about Ken was the way he worked at getting to know my kids. He always asked questions about what they were doing and what they were interested in, even if he didn’t always understand the answers. When my older son grew into something of a gearhead and maker, Ken was thrilled, because he did understand the answers!
I want to share a few things that Ken taught me along the way. One was to always make sure to tell the people you love that you love them. I know it seems obvious, but Ken never let me head back to Peterborough from time at the lake without telling me he loved me. When I went through post-partum depression after each of our boys were born, Ken always, always, made sure to lavish extra hugs and love on me. He didn’t know how to talk about what I was going through, but he knew that I needed to hear that I was loved. I don’t know if he knew how much of a gift that was for me.
Ken also taught me, and our boys, about having a sense of place. I am a first generation Canadian on my dad’s side. When I wanted to take my kids to connect with my late dad’s past, I took them to High Park in Toronto, where he had played as a kid. We walked the spaces where he had raced bicycles, and wandered over to Grenadier Pond, where he skated. That sense of place and where you are from is more concrete on my husband’s side of the family. We buried Ken on Friday in a small cemetery near his home and the historic church he worked on maintaining. Two of the stones in that cemetery bear the name my older son now carries. The small lake where my in-laws lived, and the home they designed and built there (with my husband’s help) were home away from home spaces for the 4 of us. My boys were the 7th generation to help make maple syrup in the Noble family sugar bush, and when that space became too much for my father-in-law to manage, we created Sugarbush 2.0 in the maple bush at the lake. While the lakefront home has now been sold, the sugarbush now belongs to my family of 4, and that is a remarkable thing to me. Ken was a guy who was happiest when he was outside – cutting wood, walking trails, tapping trees, taking the pontoon boat up the lake – and I am thankful for the way he modeled that for my kids. The 6 of us (My family of 4 and Ken and my mother-in-law, Joan) would often schedule “car camping” time in Algonquin in the same weeks, so that we could spend time outside together.
I need you to know that Ken wasn’t perfect. He was a charmer, and always willing to lend a hand, but it was sometimes hard to get him to go deeper – past that exterior. He sometimes put up walls between himself and his immediate family. He dealt with depression, but didn’t have the words, for a long time, to call it that. He was not the easiest guy to live with, and my mother-in-law has all my respect for the work she did in a marriage of 60 plus years.
He was a man of his generation, living almost his entire life in rural Haliburton County. That meant that he and I butted heads along the way, especially when a racist or sexist comment came out of his mouth, particularly when it happened in front of my kids. That brings me to the last thing that I will carry with me about Ken. Despite being a man of his generation, and raised in an era and a place where racism and sexism were part of the furniture and where one never, ever, talked about feelings, my father-in-law was willing to learn, and willing to work at being better. He and I built a relationship, and that meant that when I needed to address something he’d said, I felt safe in doing it, and he was willing to listen. That, too, was something that we modeled together for my kids. Whether it was helping my husband bathe the grandsons (which he had never done as a father) or learning to use appropriate language when talking about Indigenous women or people of colour, Ken was willing to learn. He embodied, in some ways, that idea of “know better, do better” and I am so very glad that I got to be part of that learning with him.
On Sunday, after Ken died, we came home and toasted him with an ice cream sandwich, which was always one of his favourite treats. I would invite you to do the same in his memory, with the people you love.
We buried Ken on Friday, in his much-loved Essonville cemetery, after a funeral that was a combination of sincerity and silliness (as many are). The Zoom link had no volume, which meant my mom did her usual social co-ordinator thing and made friends with everybody in the Zoom room, but also meant people missed my husband’s amazing eulogy for his dad. (Let us know if you’d like a copy e-mailed to you, though we’d ask you not to share it on social media). From here, we go on.
Ken’s obituary can be found here: https://memorials.gordonmonkfuneralhome.com/kenneth-noble/4670650/obituary.php