In Memoriam — Once Again But Perhaps More Sadly


There was a special funeral on Sunday. A long-time friend, a person who was even more special to my dear daughter, a young man who had just celebrated his 49th birthday: Peter Tuan. The event  occupied the afternoon and then went into the evening.  It was a wonderful moment (I could write another column about the professionalism and the pastoral skills of the Rabbi who led the proceedings and who counselled us all through the day with wise and spiritual advice and leadership) – sad that this day had to happen, but there was considerable laughter and much positive reflection throughout the time we all were together all due to this young man.

Let me tell you a little bit about Pete and this is not what I said at the funeral, because I didn’t say anything. For one thing, his peers (including my daughter) said what needed to be said, and said it much better than I could have. Moreover, he was not of my era and the day was not about my era – it wasn’t even about his mother’s era (which I will comment on below). He was an Asian kid who I first met when my daughter transferred from Crofton House (a private school in Vancouver that she had attended since Grade One) to Eric Hamber (a public secondary school situated in a part of Vancouver that drew students almost equally from Anglo, Asian and Jewish communities). Pete was a friendly guy, witty and bright. He was a lot of fun to have around, so he was always welcome in my home. He was everything that the three speakers at his funeral addressed and/or commented about and maybe a bit more. I think you can access the website for the cemetery or the Synagogue (Temple Sholom) in Vancouver to get all their comments.

He was not only a fun guy but he was a good father and husband to Laura and his twin daughters (who earlier this year celebrated their b’not Mitzvah). He was a young businessman who had moved through a variety of successful iterations of careers. He and I agreed on many things, but foremost was our collective love for fast cars. Pete was just an all-round good person.

But there were some things that weren’t said either at the funeral service, or at Shiva or likely at the karaoke evening after all the religious ceremonies and concomitant meals were finished. And those are what I’d like to tell you about…

Firstly, Pete was all about diversity. He believed it. He lived it. He was a-racial even when he was telling racially tinged stories that would have made Don Cherry blush. He was Asian. He had converted to Judaism. He was the Godfather to our youngest grandson – Brendan (a Gaelic lad if ever there is one). But the real proof of his commitment to diversity was so evident in the assortment of people in attendance on Sunday. There was an age range from perhaps Grade One kids to relatively old folks. There were as many females as males and within that mix there was even further gender variation. As for religious leanings there were definitely some Yiddish and Christians in the crowd, but there were also Buddhists and Muslims. Moreover I’m sure there were a few agnostics if not outright atheists. And there was even a variation in intellectual orientations & capacities. Yet all participated in the ceremonies and all were impacted by the sense of loss. Pete touched us all – never trying to convert us, occasionally trying to convince us, always appreciative of our different perspectives on life and faith.

Secondly, Pete was all about respect. He was not a throw-back to the sixties when we really didn’t think anyone over thirty knew anything. Rather he appreciated potential wisdom from those who had gone before. How do I know? I experienced it first hand. Whenever Pete was in my presence (or I in his) if he wanted to have a thoughtful conversation he would call me The Doctor and I would reply Peter and so we would begin to address whatever topic was lingering on his mind. Or the process could be reversed – I might have a question for him and all I had to do when I saw him was say Peter and he would reply The Doctor. It is a tribute to his mother that he was brought up to respect his elders, to appreciate what they might be able to contribute to his world (she is a delightful if somewhat demure individual, thoroughly Oriental and definitely Canadian, who obviously took her parental role very seriously and wanted her son to grow up to be a decent person — at least that’s what she told me, and the evidence demonstrates she succeeded). I will miss Pete if for no other reason than we will not have anymore of our deep and reflective conversations. Yeah, I will miss his humour and wit, but I respect him most for his sense of respect.

Thirdly, in addition to respect, Pete also possessed a rare trait that I might call useful intelligence. He could be funny. He could be sardonic. But beneath it all he was very intelligent. He thought things through. He knew where he was going and he wasn’t afraid to seek out valued advice to help him navigate shoals and detours he came across. As I noted above he could ask the thoughtful question of his elders and enter into a reflective conversation. But there was also a part of Pete that was as much interested in the applied reasoning necessary to achieve a pathway to a better world (whether that was related to economic well being or spiritual comfort or personal happiness). And maybe that was partly that made Pete so welcome in my world – I knew that his friendship with my daughter was always based on the premise that they helped make each other a better person. And when he became Godfather to Brendan and Uncle Pete to all her boys, I knew that it would only be a dynamic, positive influence in their lives. While I would have liked them to have him longer in their lives, he already has given them much to think about.

As an extra thought perhaps as a corollary to the third point, I will miss Pete because he knew business to the point we could have useful Q+A’s. In particular he understood insurance and knew when I needed it and when I didn’t. He never sold me a lot of it – but when he did it was because I was in a situation that should I have met my demise, my kids would have needed to be sheltered from some of my less than stellar business decisions. Moreover, he made sure that it only lasted until it was no longer needed. And when the insurance company wanted to continue the policy, he helped terminate it.

As I conclude I do want to say one thing about the sadness when we bury someone much younger than we are: we might feel it was too soon, but we can’t say it wasn’t his time, that it wasn’t fair. Pete lived so vibrantly that we all benefited from his presence when he was alive and his memories are such that he lives on, and will continue to do so. Cancer is an awful thing; it took Pete quickly and before we wanted it to happen. But Pete was special, is special and will be special. Let’s just celebrate that. And even if you never knew Pete, trust me you have benefited through me, because I’m a better person for having known Pete and enjoyed his friendship.

Now go and hug someone. As the Rabbi said: if we really loved Pete, we need to show it by now sharing that love with others who are still on this earth with us.