This week, our family suffered an enormous loss as Neville Swann , a husband, father, granddad , brother and my Uncle passed away. An early morning phone call broke the news and after receiving blessing from my Auntie, I would like to take a few moments out of your day to share with you a couple of memories about a man who had a tremendous impact on my life.
For as long as I can remember, my Uncle Neville and I had an incredible bond. As a child, I would spend hours sitting on the living room floor chatting up a storm while he brushed my hair for hours. On the days that I would stay over , after he took my Auntie to work, he would drink cups of tea with me while flipping through old photographs telling me stories from years before. Like most from his generation, my uncle had an incredible work ethic. He spent is his years building brick houses that now line the roads of Greater Manchester. Despite spending countless hours at a physical job, he still took the time fill my childhood with laughter, do it yourself projects and constant reminders to clean my room when I came to visit . In my teenage years, he gave me the nickname “Lizzy” from my middle name and insisted on using it after discovering how much I hated it.
Uncle instilled in me optimism . Allow me to give you an example. I visited England a few of times after we moved to Canada. Quite often , my uncle would talk me into going hiking with him to the Lake District, hiking up green English valleys. After awaking at a horrifically early hour, he would lace me up in my Auntie’s walking boots and would assure me at the bottom of the hill that the climb that it would be ‘ easy’. I can not tell you the amount of times he told me the top of the hill was ” just round the bend” . The kicker to these hikes can be summarized by this photo:
Please take note of the map around my neck. To say that my sense of direction is humiliating would be an understatement. Nevertheless, I was tasked with compassing these hikes. He knew these mountains like the back of his hand, the name of every lake, the height of every hill. This was his element. When we reached the top, he would take the time to tell me stories of his past hikes while we chewed on cheese and Branston Pickle sandwiches.
My uncle also had charm about him that was undeniable. He and my aunt often blasted show tunes, Fiddler on the Roof’s ” If I were a rich man” through the house and encouraged me to sing at the top of my lungs. Kate and I would endlessly ask for ‘the whistle song’ to be played over and over. Kate now owns this album and can whistle the entire tune. We will forever associate this tune to the memories of our Uncle and dancing around living room table.
Last year, I felt a pull to go back to England with the purpose of visiting my Uncle Neville. I had been prepared by my family of his deteriorating health and that he wouldn’t be as I remembered. As I entered his room and saw him for the first time in years, a smile filled his face that stretched from check to check. ( and of course a few tears). As we sat with him, he would make funny comments to my cousins and aunt and occasionally burst into laugher over his bar of Dairy Milk. Nothing had changed. Sure, the shell of his body looked different, older and frail, but the soul of the man who always made me feel like magic in a way I can’t even describe to this day, he was still there.
It occurred to me yesterday as I combed through photos, letters and memories of my Uncle that the legacy of someone only leaves us if we allow it to. Neville Swann’s legacy of truly loving his family, keeping a sense of humor and pushing to the top of that mountain is one that will live with his family for an eternity.
We will miss you x