my best friend

This is the post that I had hoped never to have to write.

As some of you already know, awhile ago I wrote that Don had retired due to health problems. Unfortunately, on the evening of Saturday, September 6th, he passed away from complications related to his illness. Despite writing about so many events of our lives here on my blog, Don and I have always been very private people and, some time ago, we made the decision that I would not write much about the circumstances of Don’s illness as we felt it might begin to overshadow other parts of our lives. In our case, I believe it was a good choice as we continued to live our lives as “normally” as we could under the circumstances.

However, now is the time to say more. I do so, in part, because I think it’s important for everyone to hear and learn from our experience.

Late last November, Don was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). For several months, he had been bothered by a persistent cough. He was seen by two different doctors on several occasions. As he was a never-smoker, it seems that lung cancer was never suspected, so an assortment of inhalers and antibiotics were prescribed. Along about the time I left to go to Oregon and California for a month, another doctor finally chose to send Don for a CT scan. Don went for the scan and received the results a couple of days before I returned home. The scan revealed a lung tumor as well as lesions in other locations. We immediately knew that we were in for a major battle. In the months that followed, Don was treated with 3 different lines of chemo and a couple of sets of radiation treatments in an attempt to stamp out the tumors.

Lest anyone think that the past 10 months were all about cancer, that’s not precisely true. Actually, in between treatments, things went along relatively well at times. I was just going through my photos yesterday and reminding myself of all of the fun day trips we had around the region. In springtime, as soon as the snow melted away, we hiked in to the boardwalk over the pond at Baird Woods in Lanark, and at other locations such as Mill Pond Conservation Area, and Murphy’s Point Provincial Park. Also, every day, we and Sabrina walked the trails here at our farm. Always an active and very athletic man, Don maintained a high level of activity and physical condition in spite of the relentless nature of the illness and its treatment regimens. For anyone who is battling cancer, I urge you not to regard Don’s story as one of loss, but instead, as a testament to the power of determination and positivism. A fellow online friend battling the same cancer never fails to sign off his messages with “Never surrender”. That pretty much described our motto as well. Never surrender.

Well enough said about the illness. I don’t want it to take anything away from honoring a man who really was, in almost every sense, perfect. Don and I would have been married 34 years this coming September 25th. We were probably about as sympatico as two people could be. Not entirely alike, but always on the same wavelength. Friends and family keep remarking on how Don never failed to treat everyone with kindness and caring. He was among the most gentle people I’ve ever met, and was always one to listen with interest to everyone who shared their thoughts with him.

As a husband and friend, he was my best companion, whether we were paddling our canoe down a river, or hiking on the Canadian Shield. Over the past couple of decades, we had the good fortune to hike in much of eastern Canada, as well as trails in Arizona and along the Pacific coast in Oregon and California. We had planned to spend the rest of our years exploring other regions. In fact, just a few weeks ago, Don asked me to order in some hiking guides for the U.S southwest as we intended to spend part of this winter checking out some new trails.

Obviously, Don’s death is a great loss to me and to all who knew him well. For myself, I haven’t even begun to figure out how to carry on in his absence. However, I know that, whatever I do, it is with Don’s blessing. As the events of the last couple of weeks unfolded, he told me not let his death pull me down, but to try to move on, even if it meant leaving so much of our past behind. I should not feel some obligation to stay the course in any way. He urged me to get out and travel, explore the world and find those places that would most interest me. Of course, I shall miss the fellowship of his wonder at the natural world. For many years, it was Don who diligently recorded our nature observations with precision in his neat, flowing hand. Also Don who frequently pointed out an interesting caterpillar or peculiar fungi. I will so miss his sharp-eyed observations and eagerness to discuss each new find.

Anyhow, I just wanted to share a little of how we have spent this past year as, side by side, we fought a cruel and relentless foe. Don’s bravery and determination never wavered for a moment though the road was often rough and uncertain. Along the way, we have met and come to know many doctors and nurses and so many were quick to comment on Don’s remarkable ability to bounce back in spite of many setbacks. I was always in awe of his ability to endure the impossible with patience and incredible fortitude. He was courageous and I will miss him so.

Please take a moment to gaze upon these images which I have pulled from my photo collections from hikes both near and far. I ask you to remember Don as he would want to be remembered.


83 Responses to “my best friend”

  1. NIna Says:

    I remember reading your first mention of an unexpected illness that had changed the course of your lives and feeling an uneasiness at the sound of what it could have meant–so very sorry to hear more details of this sadness.
    My daughter’s best friend died of the same cancer at the age of 21–a ruthless disease, taking so many, so unfairly.

    I will think of you out and about in your garden and yard, watching spiders and seeing them so clearly, as you do.
    And know that Don is with you with each discovery, as you have enjoyed so many wonderful times together.
    My sincerest sympathies…

  2. Scott Campbell Says:

    Bev, my sincere condolences on Don’s passing. It has been some 20-25 years since I worked with Don but reading your blog brought back many memories and is a very fitting tribute to Don. It was Don’s remarkable ability to make light of any situation and the many conversations about his wife and “kids”, still bring a smile to my face. His spirit will endure forever.

  3. gerry rosser Says:

    I am not a regular reader. I “mine” “Changing Places” blogroll sometimes, it is populated by interesting folks.

    Even a stranger can sense the goodness in people, and sadness. You have my heartfelt sympathy for the loss of your true companion.

  4. Rose-Marie B Says:

    Bev, what a wonderful tribute, may I add my sincere condolences for your loss. I remember reading over the years your posts to the nature list…”Don and I”…canoeing here, hiking there, examining everything along your path, and thinking, gee, wouldn’t it be nice to have a companion who shares a love of nature and exploring. In reading about Don in your tribute and from comments from people who knew him, it becomes obvious that even for those of us who never had the opportunity to meet him, we have lost a kindred soul.

  5. Heather Hughes Says:

    Hi Bev,

    I was stunned to see the announcement in yesterday’s Citizen. I’m so sorry to hear about Don. I’m especially sad that you folks won’t get to visit with me in Kilmarnock as I so much hoped.

    My thoughts are with you – if there is anything I can do please let me know. I always enjoyed Don’s company when we did get together those few times with the former EOBM group

    Take Care of yourself Bev and contact me when you’re ready for some company.


  6. Sue Moffett RN Says:

    To Bev & Sabrina – my heartfelt sympathies to you both during this very sad and difficult time. It was my pleasure to get to know each of you on my Friday visits. Don had such a positive attitude and you both fought so very hard, with more knowledge than most doctors and nurses, regarding his disease & treatments. I walked away each time knowing that Don was in the best possible care, at home with his ladies.

    Thanks for allowing me into your lives, I’ll miss the smile that greeted me from the corner of the couch with the new beard, your wealth of information and Sabrina’s nudges.

    Godspeed Don, you’re in the arms of the angels, may you find some comfort here.

  7. Cate (kerrdelune) Says:

    Bev, when you mentioned a while back that Don was retiring due to illness, a bell went off in my head, and I felt very uneasy at the time. I lost a dear dear friend to this cancer some time ago, and her passing still hurts.

    The life of such a blithe and loving spirit should be celebrated, and there can be no finer remembrance for a partner and friend than the loving words you have written here. The world is a poorer place for Don’s passing, and I am truly sorry for your loss.

  8. Garnet & Bernice Humphries Says:

    Dear Bev: We were shocked to read in yesterday’s Citizen that Don had passed away. Our deepest sympathy to you, Sabrina & your families. Your tribute to Don was beautiful & described him perfectly. Such a kind, caring, intelligent man & it was a privilege to work with him for a few years. He will be missed.

  9. Susan Samila Says:

    Dear Bev — I am so sorry to read of Don’s death. I haven’t seen either of you for a long time but remember a profoundly connected couple, two people so deeply appreciative and caring of the other. Don himself always seemed to be a person at peace with each moment as it came along during the few walks that the three of us did together. And this quality appears to shine in the top photo of your sad but inspiring tribute. Bev, I am certain that you both shared an extraordinary love and recognition for each other to Don’s very last moment. May this sustain you during these next days and weeks.

  10. Lynda Fitzpatrick Says:

    From your neighbour and friend, I send my deepest sympathy.
    We have talked, we have e-mailed. At one time we could look across the fields and see each other in our backyards. Hear our dogs bark! After many years the fields have been filled in with trees (many of them planted by you and Don). I still hear Sabrina bark from time to time.
    I love the pictures you posted of Don. It is Don. Don with Sabrina. Don hiking. Don with a book.
    Don was a kind, gentle, generous soul. He never needed to be the center of attention but stood tall in the background. Don’s friend Shaun said he had memories of Don’s laughter. I can hear his laughter also.
    Many a fall Don would cut trails at the back of our properties with his “billygoat” (a heavy duty lawnmore that cuts through brush). It created great trails and access to nature. Thanks Don.
    Over the years Don has helped me with problems with my vehicles. I would be telling Bev my woes and she would say “Oh, Don can help you with that”. As the manager of the parts department of a car dealership, which must have been a intrepid feat, Don always came up with the answers.
    I see Bev and Don with Sabrina walking the fields observing nature.
    I see Don with a book in hand.
    I hear his laughter.
    Thinking of you both.

  11. bev Says:

    Bryan – Thank you for the kind words about Don. You’re right.. he was a kind and genuine person, and always so easy-going.

    Jim – You’re absolutely right! Don would get a smile out of finding you speechless on this occasion! Don always liked working with young people, so please be sure to let David know that Don enjoyed working with him very much.

    Mona – How nice to hear from someone who knew Don in his high school days. Yes, he really did have a wonderful life. Every day filled with a lot of fun and love.

    Tina & Ron – Thanks, Tina, for leaving a note for Ron. Don considered Ron to be one of his best friends too. They both go back such a long way together. Yes, remember Don for his love and laughter.

    Larry – Thank you!

    Nina – Thanks. Yes, NSCLC in a truly evil disease. It’s on the increase and many people aren’t aware that it often kills non- and never-smokers, so frequently goes undetected until it is advanced. It kills more people than all of the major cancers combined, and yet gets the least amount of research funding of any of them.

    Scott – Thanks and “hello” — it’s been a long time but Don had spoken of you even recently. I’m glad you have good memories of him.

    gerry – I was hoping that the “goodness” part would come through loud and clear, so very glad to read that that’s what you found here.

    Rose-Marie – Yes, Don really was the ideal companion – it’s not that often that two people have such a strong common interest. It was really quite a precious thing.

    Heather – Things were kind of sudden, so yes, a bit of a shock for everyone. We had thought things were going along okay, but complications are common with this disease, so we were always half-expecting that things might not go well. Thanks for your words of support.

    Sue – I’m so glad that you found your way here and wrote the note that you did. Don was so happy to see you that last Friday morning when you were by — he had been wondering if we would see you that day – and I’m very glad that he did. He always enjoyed your visits very much! (-:

    Cate – So sad to hear that you lost a friend to NSCLC too. Thanks for your kind words about this tribute.

    Garnet & Bernice – Good to see your comment here. Garnet, I know that Don felt that the years spent working with you were some of the best.

    Susan – You have always been so perceptive, and you’re so right — Don and I shared a level of connection that went far beyond that of friend and partner. In many ways, I think we were more like two sides of the same coin. I’m rather lost without my “other half”, but we did have a very special year together — and that counts for so much.

    Lynda – I enjoyed reading your comment so much. So many nice recollections. You’re right.. Don was quick to smile and laugh. I shall miss that so.

  12. Clapper Says:

    I’m sorry to read of your loss. The quiet and loneliness must hurt terribly. You have a lot of friends here to share your thoughts with. Your positive attitude will help you get through this. If there is anything we can do, simply ask.

  13. Megan Says:

    Aunt Bev,

    I just wanted to say that what you wrote about Uncle Don was really great. I found out about his passing away hours after my plane landed back in Edinburgh, for another year of school. It was so hard to wrap my head around the fact that he was gone, as I had planned on visiting him this summer but my crazy schedule hadn’t allowed it, so I wanted to see him when I was home for Christmas. It has also been quite a difficult week trying to understand and come to terms with this, as I haven’t had any family around. However, when my Mom sent me the link to this tribute, it made me stop and think of all the happy times and all the great and amazing things that Uncle Don had done in his life. So now when I feel sad I try to think about those times, and if it is especially hard, I read over this again. I love being able to look at the pictures of Uncle Don just as I remember him! Thank-you so much for writing this to share with people what a great person Uncle Don was, and for helping us remember him in the good times, not as he was when he was battling this illness.
    So, I just want to leave you with the one vivid memory of Uncle Don that I have, besides the one of him wearing shorts in the winter… I never could figure out how he didnt’ freeze. I remember when Kyle was little, he used to call Uncle Don ‘The Egg Man’. He used to see Uncle Don bringing eggs to Grandma & Grandpa, and later just Grandma. Since we didn’t see you two all that often, he didn’t realize it was Uncle Don. It wasn’t until Kyle was about 9 or 10yrs old that someone finally caught on and explained to Kyle that it was actually Uncle Don!

    My thoughts and love are with you during this difficult time.
    Megan xoxo

  14. bev Says:

    Claapper – Thanks. Yes, it is a sad, lonely time and probably will seem that way for awhile.

    Megan – Hi! I’m glad you found this page and that it helped you to deal with Don’s passing. I think the photos have been helpful for everyone visiting the page. I loved the “egg man” story. I don’t think I had ever heard about that before! I hope all is going well for you at school. Don was always very proud that you were pursuing your studies.
    Take care, love, Bev

  15. Pat Guilfoyle Says:

    Hello Bev……..I want to extend my condolences to you and everyone close to Don. Recalling the years when we all worked together (and then drifted off on different paths)I feel a sense of loss. I remeber Don as one of the calmest,
    gentlest people I have ever known. He also had a sense of
    humour that made being around him a pleasure.I hope the
    memory of your years together eases the pain of his passing.

  16. C. Corax Says:

    I’m sorry to read about your loss, Bev. The photos and stories paint such a beautiful picture of who Don was, I cannot fathom how deep your sense of loss must be. I wish you peace in this time of grief. May you feel him at your side when you walk in the places you love.

    I am an infrequent visitor to Burning Silo, but I’ve loved every post I’ve read. Take care.

  17. Jim Jordan Says:

    Don was a gentle guy and had a very dry whit but he was as strong as steel when it came to standing up for his and other peoples rights.When you were first together you made a stand about an injustice and Don was right behind you backing you up all the way.Most people have said how gentle he was but he was also a very strong person.I spent some years working with both of you and even when you were just getting together I noticed this about Don.I am sorry that I only saw you a few times over the years after Ottawa Ford but I often thought of both of you.I am thinking of you to-day and I know it is easy for me to talk but I guess you have to be thankful that you got to spend these years with such a super guy.If you feel so inclined please contact me.
    Love you Bevly
    My regards

  18. bev Says:

    Pat – Thanks. I’m glad that so many remember Don as I remember him.

    Corax – Thanks – I am sure that I will feel Don at my side when I’m in those places we spent much time together.

    Jim – I’m glad that you mentioned Don’s strength and principles. Don believed that fairness, honesty, and equality were basic to how we should live our lives, and he wasn’t afraid to stand up for his beliefs. That’s something I particularly loved about him and that few people actually saw as his manner was always so polite and quiet. Beneath that calm, gentle exterior was a man with a great deal of strength and integrity. I’m glad you found your way here to my blog to write about our “early days” working together.

  19. Beverley Kelsey Says:


    When I first got the news I just couldn’t believe it! My first thought was of you and how you were doing. Being cousins I have known you all of my life and first met Don while I attending Osgoode High. I quess you could say, ‘I saw him first’ ;-)

    I was so proud to stand beside the two of you as you both dedecated your love for each other. It seemed like I witnessed two old soles being re-united once more. What you and Don accomplished in life together makes the rest of us envious. You should be proud.

    May you find peace in the coming weeks and months. Would love to see that warm wide smile of yours again.

    Love Always, Bev

  20. bev Says:

    Hi Bev,
    Just a couple of days ago, I was just looking at the photos from our wedding and thinking about you. You’re right, I guess you did see Don first! (I had forgotten that you went to the same high school).
    Thanks for writing this. It was nice to read your remembrance of Don.

  21. Edward Kay Says:


    It’s hard to believe, but I first met Don when I was just 15 and you, my big sister, had recently started working at Ottawa Ford. It was clear from the moment that I first saw you two together that there was powerful chemistry between you. And it’s so amazing and wonderful that that never changed in all the decades you were together.

    Don’s character always remained the same over the years too. He was kind and compassionate, strong in his convictions, and absolutely in love with you and devoted to you. That never changed. In his quiet way, he always expressed himself on many topics. And in his actions, he always showed his love for family and helpfulness to friends.

    One story in particular comes to mind. Just a couple of months before Don realized he was ill, our brother Randy and I drove to New Hampshire to pick up an item of our family history that I had spotted on eBay and purchased long distance. It was an amphibious vehicle called a “Penguin” that our father had designed and built during the 1960s. Bev and Don had agreed to let us park it in their barn. It was a weeknight, and by the time Randy and I cleared customs (and left a few bemused customs officers staring at the strange invention in the back of our truck) and made the long drive back, delayed by road construction, it was after midnight. Knowing that Don had to get up so early to work in the parts department, we tried to come in as quietly as possible so we wouldn’t wake him up. But no sooner had we opened the rear doors of the truck, than we saw the porch light come on, and out came Don, fully dressed, to help us offload it and wrestle it into the barn. We discovered that he had stayed up all evening waiting for us, partly because he was a considerate person, and guessed correctly that we’d need his help. But it was also because he was excited to see this bit of Bev’s family history. As Don helped us unload it, despite his fatigue and the late hour, I remember Don’s childlike grin as he finally saw a real-life “Penguin” the kooky vehicle that up till then had only appeared in our family pictures from a time when his wife was a precocious 8 year old, sitting in the driver’s seat. Don and our dad were always really close and had a great love for one another, and it was a wonderful feeling to see that look of affection on Don’s face as he examined our late father’s handiwork from long ago.

    It so sad that Don is gone from your life, Bev, and ours. But painful as the loss is, it is also true that you and Don were extraordinarily fortunate to have found each other. Seeing Don so happy in all these photos, and knowing that you were the photographer, indulging your passions for nature together, reminds me of what a wonderful love affair your 30+ years together were. You truly were soul mates.

    love, Ed

  22. bev Says:

    Ed – Thanks for writing this beautiful post about your memories of Don, and about the night that you brought the Penguin here to the farm. You’re right – Don and I really were soul mates and enjoyed each other’s company in a way that few are lucky enough to experience even for a handful of years. Thirty-four years together was both a very long time, and not nearly long enough by half.

  23. GrrlScientist Says:

    bev, i am so sorry to read about this tremendous loss in your life! the photoessay tribute that you published here says so much more than anything else ever could about your wonderful life companion. i wish i could think of something truly comforting to say, but alas, i must rely on someone else’s words;

    Do not stand at my grave and weep;
    I am not there, I do not sleep.
    I give you this one thought to keep
    I am with you still — I do not sleep.
    I am a thousand winds that blow.
    I am the diamond glints on snow.
    I am the sunlight and ripened grain.
    I am the gentle Autumn rain.
    When you awaken in the morning hush,
    I am the swift uplifting rush
    of quiet birds in their circled flight.
    I am the soft stars that shine at night.
    Do not think of me as gone
    I am with you still in each new dawn.
    Do not stand at my grave and cry.
    I am not there; I did not die.


  24. bev Says:

    Those are exactly the right words. Thank you. — bev

  25. Brenda Barker Says:

    Bev this is the first time I have visited your site, I was trying to identify two caterpillars I had found when I came across your Blog page.
    I can only say that after looking at the photo’s and reading your tribute to Don, that I feel your love and togetherness shines through all the words spoken by you.
    I came across this verse in a book I was reading a while ago and copied into my diary.

    And when the stream which overflowed the soul had passed away,
    A consciousness remained that it had not left,
    Deposited upon the silent shore – of memory,
    Images and precious thoughts, that shall not die and cannot be destroyed.

    My love goes out to you and all your family.

  26. Hoatzin Says:

    Dear Bev, I am so very sorry for your loss. Words are so inadequate at such a time, but you are in mythoughts…


  27. bev Says:

    Brenda – Thanks for leaving a note and the verse.

    Kevin – Yes, words are inadequate. However, they have been helpful to me during these past few weeks. Thanks. – bev

  28. Pamela Branson Says:

    Dearest Bev, I am so sorry to hear of Don’s passing. I remember when you two first met and the automatic connection you had. He was so kind, caring and compassionate, whatta guy, definately “one in a million”. Our world has lost a dear soul.

  29. Rox DeCicco Says:

    Hi Bev,
    Don sounded like a great guy. I wish I could have known him. He sounds like a very smart man. I am so sorry for you. Please keep the faith.

  30. Khari Says:


    What a beautiful tribute to your husband. And what great pictures. You can always spot a dedicated hiker and I can tell he loved the outdoors as well as the person behind the camera.

    I am so sorry for your loss. Keep your good memories and know you are so blessed to have had him.


  31. crow Says:

    I had been a loyal reader for a very long time until I lost my mother to pancreatic cancer a little over a year ago. It was grueling and terrible work, and I had been pretty wiped out from it. I still haven’t recovered. But when I came back and realized you were travelling Arizona on your own, I had to find out why.

    I am so sorry and my heart goes out to you. The deep love of the natural world you shared surely will sustain you, is sustaining you. Your post has reinspired me as well, knowing my mother would want me to be living more fully than I have been, and with less bitterness and fear. Thank you for sharing this; I regard it as a very deep gift. May you find many hikes that bring you close to Don’s spirit; and may you two meet again someday.

    Best and warmest regards,

  32. bev Says:

    Thanks again for the comments everyone. Yes, Don was very special to me and I feel very lucky to have spent so many years with him. I’m sorry that we didn’t get to finish our lives together, but Sabrina and I carry on.
    Crow – I have wondered where you have been this last year or so — just a few weeks ago, I was thinking about you and wondering why you never seemed to visit and leave comments anymore. I’m very sorry to read that you lost your mother to pancreatic cancer and also to think of all you must have been through. It’s such a difficult experience – caring for someone you love deeply through end stage cancer, or any terminal illness for that matter. As a caregiver, I have found the past year to be sad and lonely even during the last few months while Don was alive. Caregivers have to shoulder a lot of pain, usually while trying to make the very best of things for the people we love. I’m glad that you did find this post and leave a comment, and hope that you are beginning to find some peace and healing now. Take care. bev

  33. Stephen Says:

    I just wanted to stop by and tip my hat to you again Don.
    Really miss you, not many a day passes that I don’t use something you taught me.
    Still use the clipboard you gave me :)
    Thanks again friend, we’ll see you on the other side ;)
    Love you Bev, hope you absorb the entire world on your travels.

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