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A Picture Of Me Without You

November 10, 2019

For George

Imagine a world where no music was playing
Then think of a church with nobody praying
If you ever looked up at a sky with no blue
Then you’ve seen a picture of me without you

And I never thought that I would see a picture of me without you, Grandpa – but here we are. The music stopped playing on Wednesday night when my family lost its seminal leader, George Sokal, at 95. He left peacefully, shortly after a visit with us at Selkirk Hospital, as a Johnny Cash song played.

I write this, completely unprepared to write this – entirely doubtful of how I can put this almost mythical figure into a few hundred words. Those that knew him will understand this sentiment and those who didn’t deserve to know about him. So I will try.

My Grandpa. Born in May of 1924, born to be a farmer, born to fall in love with Anne, born to have three beautiful children, Gina, Sharon and Wayne, and six grandchildren, Melanie, Concetta, Morris, Joey, Maxx and myself. Born to be the greatest man I’ve ever known.

The farmer in him made him the ultimate embodiment of kindness, benevolence, simplicity and hard work. He spent his younger years farming with his brothers and his older years farming and nurturing our land. This ingrained in him the ability and desire to offer himself to anyone in need of a helping hand (because he could do the work of ten men!).

His homestead, the Sokal farm on Garven Road, was always there. It IS always there for me. I lived there briefly as a baby, (moved elsewhere), then my sister, my Dad and I moved back in in 2000 to live with my Grandpa after my Baba passed away. This was my family unit, my Dad and Grandpa acting as two superhuman father figures to my sister and I to fill any voids – and I’m telling you, no voids were even noticed. I was raised with a heart so full on a magical rural property full of love, warmth, and security.

The way I saw my Grandpa as a child is the way he always remained, and I can still see him now imprinted in my mind in all of his glory: With sun spotted hands doused in motor oil, his stained coveralls, his glowing smile and learned eyes. I can see his plaid shirts, his slacks, his sneakers, his handkerchiefs, his cowboy hats. I can see his pencil strokes as he taught us to draw – palm trees and birds and cacti. I can see him playing with our dogs and asking for their doggy stories. I can see him fixing cars and driving tractors. I can see wooden airplanes spray painted gold and snow forts and thriving gardens.

I can hear his voice, comforting and uplifting, with a touch of Ukrainian tongue. I can hear his catch phrases: “Study hard and someday you’ll be smart like Grandpa”, “Someday they’re gonna put you in the movies”, “It’s your day”. I can hear the pride in his voice when he told each person he knew that I was the best speller, the best storyteller. I can hear the sound of his mandolin, his banjo, his fiddle, replacing the typical alarm clock of a teenager with the warm melodies of bluegrass each morning. I can hear him singing old country tunes and writing out the lyrics on loose leaf paper. I can hear the clanging of cups and jars in the kitchen as he made his daily porridge. I can hear him regaling us in stories about electric cars and the fuel cell. I can hear him.

In 2000, I came home from school to find my Baba had passed away unexpectedly. I found my Grandpa in the living room crying (the only time I ever saw him cry) with intense redness around his mouth from trying to breathe life into her. At that moment I knew it was our time to be there for him – to support and care for this unique, giving soul who never asked for a thing in return.

He cheated death a few times throughout his life. When laying the foundation to our home on the farm in the eighties, he was pinned by a tractor that became wedged and it was only by a few inches that he wasn’t completely crushed. My Baba ran to the end of our driveway, waved down the first vehicle that happened to be a tow truck, and that tow truck saved his life. The exhaust pipe from the tractor seared his back and skin was removed from his leg for the burn. After healing, he continued to lay that foundation and the house was finished. Nothing ever got in the way of my Grandpa and seeing a task to completion. In the early 2000s, he went to the hospital for heart surgery and there was a moment when the doctors asked my Dad if they should resuscitate him. Yes, yes – of course yes – and my Grandpa’s heart of gold got him all the way to 2019.

I know compassion because of my Grandpa. In 2007, I was in a single vehicle accident when I rolled my car off the highway driving home and destroyed my Grandpa’s car. The police took me home at 3 in the morning and he sat with me on the end of the bed. “It’s going to be okay, it’s just a car. As long as you’re okay, that’s all that matters. We love you, Griff.” He is the reason I see the world through a hopeful and unmaterialistic lens. His gentle and tender nature was simple, straightforward – boundless.

He wasn’t just my Grandpa – he was everyone’s Grandpa. Friends and family spent hours on the farm visiting with him, jamming with him and listening to his stories. And he passed to them his view of the world. It was humble and genuine: Be kind to everyone, smile with everyone, don’t argue, don’t get angry, love and be loved. Things are just things. People and moments and experiences are what matter.

It doesn’t feel real because he was such a constant for my whole life – and of course, when someone is 95 years old, there’s that moment when you convince yourself that they are immortal. Well Grandpa, you are immortal. You are immortal in me, in my family name, in my character, in what I pass on. All I want is to become even half the person you were. I love you forever.

To my lionhearted Dad – there isn’t enough gratitude in all of humanity to show you how I feel. Thank you for devoting your life to taking care of this legendary man and leader of our family. Thank you for being there so Grandpa could live up to age 95 on the property and in the home he treasured so much. I love you more than you could ever know.

I still feel like this doesn’t truly depict the light George Sokal was – but sometimes words just fail you when an impact is this profound and the space left in your heart is so immense, so discomforting. All I ask is when you’re taking that highway and driving past that iconic Sokal sign – give a little wave. He would have liked that. I hear your voice, Grandpa – “It’s gonna be okay.”

I wouldn’t change a single thing about you if I could
The way you are just suits me to a T
A princess in a storybook
A king upon his throne
That’s what we are and you belong to me

I wouldn’t change you if I could
I love you as you are
You’re all that I would wish for
If I wished upon a star
An angel sent from heaven
You’re everything that’s good
You’re perfect just the way you are
I wouldn’t change you if I could

Your eyes your lips, your tender smile
I’d leave them as they are
And come what may I’d never change a thing
And if I were a potter
And you a piece of clay
The only thing I’d change would be your name

I wouldn’t change you if I could
I love you as you are
You’re all that I would wish for
If I wished upon a star
An angel sent from heaven
You’re everything that’s good
You’re perfect just the way you are
I wouldn’t change you if I could

Blog Archive

To Ireland, With Love

December 12, 2017

“No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other’s worth.”
– Robert Southey

I’d like to tell you about a person.
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Blog Archive

On This Day

August 8, 2017

The Facebook On This Day feature can be quite unpleasant.

Each day, it delivers unsolicited memories to your newsfeed – and hey – sometimes they’re great. Photos of bachelorette parties and birthdays and vacations nuzzle their way back into your brain and you can celebrate those golden memories that crept just a little out of reach. Thank goodness cause I TOTALLY FORGOT I LAUGHED SO HARD THAT WINE CAME OUT OF MY NOSE ON SEPTEMBER 7, 2013!

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Blog Archive

Take Me Home, Country Roads

May 5, 2017

The most genuine feelings I can muster up spill out when I think of my home. That’s when you see the truest version of Griffin come through, when I’m at my most honest, in other words …

That is when I am who I am and don’t give a s*** what you think of me.

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Blog Archive

730 Days in the 416

February 1, 2017

Two years. Two years ago today, a few of my nearest and dearest friends dropped me off at the Winnipeg airport.

I remember leaving Winnipeg. I remember leaving my sense of security, of accomplishment, of success (… 26 year old success).

I remember the significant hole I created in my heart and being uncertain of what could possibly fill that hole. I didn’t know – but I what I did know was that there was a small possibility I could fill it in Toronto.
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Blog Archive

2016, We Need to Talk

January 6, 2017

2016, you coldblooded jerk.

We had an interesting run, 2016 – you were unsympathetic, callous, merciless, relentless. You shocked me, puzzled me and pushed me around. You were traumatizing. I thought I was strong but you desperately wanted to prove me wrong.
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Blog Archive

I Promised You a Phoenix

December 5, 2016

Hey, it’s me again!

I’m turning 28 next week and am completely prepared to say goodbye to 27, the “milestone” age where I became a stranger to myself. (Seriously 2016 though) It feels odd because struggling to figure out who you are is known typically to be an adolescent struggle. Nope. I guess I can say I’ve discovered this can happen at any time in your life.

But it’s getting better, I can feel it.

If you are ever feeling a loss of identity, if you’re ever struggling to remember who you are, look for a better reflection. Go to your hometown, go to your old bedroom, go to your parents’ house. Go to your best friend’s basement where you spent forever, long ago. Go to that bar where everybody knows your name. Meet people who light up at the sight of you, who pull out unique traits and celebrate them. Immerse yourself in recognizable laughter and surround yourself with positive faces. If you do this, you will inevitably end up running into someone familiar… yourself. The best mirror to your true self is through the eyes of those who love you, unconditionally.

You may feel gone. You may be gone. But you are not gone completely. Dig up the remnants.
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You Are Meant to be Your Own Saviour

August 7, 2016

This is another one that I can add to the vast collection of life lessons I’m gathering – and this is one I’ve only recently learned in the past few days – however, it may be one of the biggest, most imperative ones.

It would have been useful a tad earlier, but we all learn at our own pace.

You have to save yourself. You have to. It is your responsibility as the sole proprietor of your body, your vessel, your thoughts, your heart, to reach down and pull yourself out of darkness.
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Blog Archive

Writings: Anchor

July 23, 2016


I was born an anchor, naive to that destiny
A twisted wrought masterwork of steel and weight
Screaming, and angry, and ignorant to my crucial calling

Little did I know, I was built to prevent mine, and your life raft from drifting
Fated to pull the vagabonds back to shore
Fated to remain constant and resilient in times of strife
In wild waters and fatal floods

I’ve watched the buoys glide and grin, weightless and free
Their bodies majestically lifted and placed into sunshine
And while my feet fastened tightly to the ocean floor
They danced, they sparkled, they flew

Farewells tumbled on my deaf ears, as I was always sentenced to stay
And watch allies in blood and in life disappear on the horizon
They never turned around

I was nurtured by ships of majesty and vigor
Ships that pulled a hundred times their weight
I observed, I listened, I learned
And when these titans were cloaked in storms of wrath and devastation
I remained sturdy, I remained an anchor

Anchors become weathered but stay resilient
They are born strong but they do not grow
They are reliable, they are expected
Anchors rust but they don’t cry

Forever condemned to be indestructible
I was born an anchor