Faith helps family pull through tragic loss

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The birth of Tobias Bruce in February made the Black family five again.

Toronto

‘We thank you Father for the water of baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection.’

THE WORDS which rang out at baby Adelaide Black’s joyful baptism at Little Trinity Church in Toronto carried far more weight than anyone could foresee. The day of his youngest daughter’s baptism was Bruce Black’s 34th birthday. That afternoon there was a double christening and birthday party.

It was also a family reunion. Adelaide’s maternal grandmother, Joy Biswas, had just returned from seven months in Lahore, Pakistan volunteering as a house mother at Kinnaird College for Women, the Christian school she had attended as a young girl.

Mr. Black had just returned from working in Paris where he had been joined by his wife, Benita, and their two older girls for a special three-week holiday, celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary.

Two days after the baptism, on June 16th, 1998, Bruce Black was instantly killed five minutes from work. His motorcycle was crushed by a truck as it came down the off ramp of the QEW to Hwy. 427. A colleague identified the body.

As news of the tragedy broke, family and friends gathered quickly at Benita’s home. Canon Phillip Poole of Trinity, Aurora grabbed his travelling communion set and drove Mr. Black’s parents, Wilf and Annabelle Black, down to Toronto. At noon, 30 relatives and friends assembled in the Blacks’ driveway, the only space available, for communion.

“The very familiar ritual was just right to have,” said Mrs. Black.

Canon Poole remembers it as “a holy time, a real moment of grace.”

The following Saturday 600 people gathered again at Little Trinity, for Mr. Black’s funeral. The next day was Father’s Day, but three little girls, Hilary, 7, Meradith, just shy of 5, and ten-month-old Adelaide were now fatherless. Their mother would have to carry on alone. As the weeks passed, Mrs. Black found she was not alone. “Our families and my church family have been astounding.”

For five months, the Blacks had been living in the basement of a gutted house, a virtual construction site, which had only the wiring and plumbing roughed in upstairs. Mr. Black, a builder, had a five-year remodelling plan for the home that had been his wife’s since she was 11. Now she feared she would have to sell it.

But neighbours set up a trust fund for the family and money began to pour in. Mr. Black had worked at Exhibits International, a company that made installations for trade shows and museums. His colleagues donated their skills to finish the three-storey house. Mark Finlay, a friend and contractor, co-ordinated their efforts with church work parties.

Trinity Aurora, Bruce’s parents’ parish, raised $3,000 at a tea for Mrs. Black’s children. Home Depot offered materials and volunteer labour to drywall the first floor.

On Oct 26, 1998, 150 people attended a house blessing and viewed the work-in-progress.

Mrs. Black struggled with the realization that there would never be a silver wedding anniversary nor would there ever be another baby. What she didn’t know at the funeral was that she was actually pregnant.

“Not every door that is slammed shut, is locked. God reassured me that even though Bruce’s life was over not everything is over. I will have new and exciting things.”

When Meradith heard news of the baby she exclaimed, “Good! We will be five again.”

Several church women wanted to offer consistent help. Heather Smith scheduled women to babysit for three hours Tuesday evenings and Thursday mornings so Mrs. Black could get out.

Benita Biswas was born in 1962 in Lahore, Pakistan. Her mother, Joy, was a fifth generation Christian and her father, Benoy, a third. The Pakistan Bible Society still has its office in Mrs. Biswas’ Lahore home. Mrs. Biswas’ father had been its secretary. When she was four, Benita immigrated to Canada with her family.

Mrs. Black was always aware of her mother’s faith, that “she was not doing all this herself. I absorbed that reality.”

Bruce Black, who was born in Aurora, Ont., met Benita when they were both teenage campers at the Anglican camp, Koinonia, near Parry Sound, Ont. They later served together on staff. Mrs. Black still sits on the camp board of directors and was kitchen manager last summer.

“Bruce was very accepting of others,” Mrs. Black remembered. “Teens who had a hard time accepting themselves were comfortable with Bruce.”

She said, “I could bounce everything off him. He was very even-keeled. We shared 18 years of insider jokes.” Mrs. Black wants to keep up the camaraderie with her kids. “I can’t have a shrine idolizing him. Telling crazy stories helps. “I’m not Job. I have to know God’s not picking on me. I go to church and if I cry, I cry. Sometimes I can’t pray but I can’t fall over; there are so many prayers holding me up. I feel completely surrounded by prayer. I want people to know their prayers are being heard. I am being upheld and managing.

“So I live in a basement and my kids wear second-hand shoes. God will provide ? not filet mignon ? but these are his kids. I’m his kid.”

Hilary, Meradith and Mrs. Black all receive grief counselling. Adelaide or “Sweet Pea” as she is affectionately known, is cheerfully oblivious to the tragedy. “She will never remember her father,” said Mrs. Black, “but let her enjoy the life she knows.”

A baby son was born Feb. 23rd. There was another baptism ? not in June, that would have been too hard ? on Sept. 12, for Tobias Bruce, whose first name means, “God is good.”

Sue Careless is a Toronto freelance writer.

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