This past Father’s Day was my first without the man who has truly been present as a father throughout most of my life. My dear stepdad – Dr.Cosmas Leung – passed away while we were on a family vacation to Los Cabos, Mexico.
Each of us experiences and expresses our grief differently, but one beautiful blessing I have discovered throughout this ordeal is that grief unifies. So many old friends of his and my own, work colleagues, relatives, even relative strangers have taken the time to reach out to me and my mama to share their memories of this wonderful man. For a man who sometimes doubted his impact on the world around him, he would have been astonished to know how much he mattered.
My deepest hope is that we may be blessed to know how much each one of us matters during our lifetime.
The following is my eulogy to Cosmas, and a small collection of my favourite photos of him throughout the years of his magnificent life.
Dr. Cosmas Woon Ming Leung
October 11, 1943 – May 28, 2016
I can hardly believe that less than 3 years ago I was standing in front of so many of you, delivering a toast to my mom and Cosmas, who after 25 years of living life together in partnership, decided to finally make it official and tie the knot. In that toast, I compared nurturing a relationship to nurturing a garden – that like a garden, relationships needed constant tending, frequent nourishment, space to grow and time to enjoy. For me, this metaphor was an obvious choice for my parents – after many years of working side by side at Mt. St. Joseph’s Hospital, the other constant place in which they truly worked as a team was in their garden.
Now that I am standing before you again – in sadness rather than joy – I can’t help but revisit this idea of the garden as symbolic of the life of my dear stepdad (the only father I have truly claimed as my own). So many of you are here today because you had the pleasure and privilege of working with Cosmas. It was in his work that he understood and fulfilled his life’s purpose: to heal others, and to guide others to be better healers. He didn’t just enjoy his work. His work defined the essence of who he was: it was a place where he knew he could make a difference; it was where he was surrounded by his friends; it was a place where he knew he mattered. In the past weeks I have received so many messages from his colleagues attesting to the impact he made as a physician, a leader and a mentor. I have come to understand in a new light how respected he was amongst his peers. I believe it was in this garden – the landscape of his work – that he truly blossomed, that he truly thrived.
I have also come to understand in a new light what happens to someone when they are uprooted from the environment in which they once flourished. Following Cosmas’ retirement, I began to see that without the daily energy he gave and received from his work, his spirit began to wither. In retirement he struggled to find activities to fill his day that were as fulfilling as his career had been. He was unsettled by the gradual, inevitable distancing from his social circle. In the absence of his work, he began to lose sight of his purpose.
My mom has a theory that if a plant isn’t doing well in its current spot, you can dig it up by the roots and move it to another area, where hopefully it will have a better chance of fulfilling its potential. I believe that her and Cosmas’ recent decision to move to the Island was inspired, in part, by a desire to start fresh – to transplant themselves in a different zone and begin anew. However, it is crucial to note that a newly transplanted organism is at its most vulnerable immediately following such a change.
Cosmas’ previous bout of illness befell him just two days after their big move, and mere hours before boarding a plane to Italy for a long-anticipated family reunion cruise. After spending over three harrowing weeks in a Venetian hospital, and another much less harrowing week here in Vancouver, Cosmas was finally able to return to the new home into which they had barely set foot. In the weeks and months that followed, during which he was building his strength and regaining the weight he had lost, I could see that the unsettling vulnerability of being uprooted from his familiar environment was impacting his ability to truly thrive.
But as spring came into bloom, so did Cosmas’ mood. The renovations to the new home wrapped up. His dear friends Jeremy and Sheri made a move to Victoria, even choosing a home in the same neighbourhood. His son Kevin, wife Adrienne and his beloved grandson Kaleb came for a visit. A new friend took him fishing, and he brought back a bounty of his favourite spot prawns, which we shared over what would be our last family meal at my dining table. And significantly, his garden began to grow – with plants salvaged from their old home and new plants that made their way into the mix. He had finally reconnected to his familiar purpose and, like his garden, began to take root once again.
In the days since his passing, I have endeavoured to find some reason for the unfairness, the tragic paradox of losing my father just as he was beginning to “bloom where he was planted”. Of course, there is no verifiable reason I will ever hope to find in this lifetime. So I have had no choice but to shift my grief into whatever solace I can find.
- I am comforted by the fact that Cosmas spent the first few days of his last vacation walking the beach, both in solitude and with my mom and his grand-dogs. I am comforted that I had witnessed the joy and peace that has eluded him through the difficult winter months.
- I am comforted by the fact that one of his final meals was prepared by a Chinese-Mexican fisherman who urged him try the most succulent grouper caught that very day, and who sent him home with what Cosmas described as one of the tastiest congees he had had in some time.
- I am comforted by the fact that although he was the patient, he and my mom got one last chance to work as team, teaching his ICU nurses some of their old tricks, and encouraging them to remain devoted to their excellent work.
- I am comforted that with the wizardry of a good wifi connection, he was able to FaceTime with Kevin and Kaleb from his hospital bed.
- I am comforted by the fact that in his final days he knew with complete certainty that his friends and colleagues truly cared for and loved him. Tracey, Jeremy, Julian, Grant and so many more were preparing to send one of their own to attend to him in the air ambulance. They were willing to move mountains to bring him home.
- I comforted that so many of you came – from as far as Ontario, Texas, Alberta, Hong Kong, China, Australia – to celebrate his life; that I am not isolated in my grief.
- I am comforted that a consortium of his family, friends and even strangers – Kevin, Jason, Brenda, Tracy, Jeremy, Julian, Jamieson, John and especially Annie, whom he claimed as his third child – dropped everything to coordinate and contribute to this memorial.
- I am comforted by the fact that the last time I saw him, I kissed his forehead and told him I loved him.
Cosmas’ life, as well as his death, serve as a reminder to me that we are each entitled to unearth and embrace our divine purpose, and that we are entitled to hearing before we die that we matter. Cosmas serves as reminder to me that joy, friendship, beauty, dedication, love – all the things that are truly essential – exist no further than our own backyards. The garden to which we devote ourselves, whether literal or figurative, has the capability to provide all the nourishment we need.
Thank you, Cosmas, for feeding all of us.