It is hard to believe that one year has already passed. May 24th, 2020 marked the anniversary of the passing of my father, Augustus Edwin Justin, five days after celebrating his 86th year on Earth. As we endure these challenging times, faced with the mortal and economic threat of a global pandemic, it serves as a good opportunity and reminder to take stock and reflect on our lives. Life can become extremely busy as we are consumed by our daily tasks – our jobs, our family commitments, our health and finances. It is natural to become overwhelmed. Many of us fumble through life, constantly searching, seeking, trying to identify that nebulous something that is missing from our lives. Perhaps incessantly seeking the one thing that would make us truly and absolutely happy. For many of us, we want more than anything else to discover and to fulfill our life’s purpose. If you feel this way, you can rest assured that you are not alone.
There are, however, some unique individuals who seem to have always known their life’s purpose. My father was one of those individuals. He embodied a purpose-driven life, one that was committed to serving others and especially serving the poor and the disadvantaged. This was the source of his happiness. Augustus Edwin Justin, affectionately known to all as Gus, was a man of deep faith, an exemplary person, a man of seemingly boundless energy, motivation and love for others; a man whose life embodied selflessness and self-discipline; a man whose life can be used as a template and guide as we navigate through our own lives. An exemplary life, I have learned, does not mean one of perfection by any means – we all experience great high and many low points in our lives; moments of courage and strength, as well as of moments of weakness, fear, helplessness, and sorrow. Rather I believe that an exemplary life is one that endures its ups and downs, perseveres in the face of adversity and seeks perfection in following God’s Will and paying heed to His commandments. For my father, an exemplary life manifested as an extraordinary effort to commit to and follow in the footsteps of Christ, regardless of the personal cost.
Rest in Peace
Augustus Edwin Justin joined his beloved family, including his mother Adelaide and his sister, Frances, in heaven one year ago on May 24th, 2019. It was a peaceful passing and marked the end of a remarkable journey. I spent virtually every moment of the last month of his life next to him as he moved between our home on Morne Fortune, a suburb of Castries, and receiving care at Tapion Hospital. It was very difficult to see the decline as his body gradually succumbed to the malignant cells circulating through his system, eventually leading to organ failure. Although he was faced with the imminence of the end of his life, he remained remarkably serene, thoughtful and humorous. You may wonder about the latter – how could he be humorous in the last moments of his life? Well, that represents his strength of character and provides a glimpse into who he was as a person.
Humour – Late one evening, my eyes closed and head leaning against the side of my father’s hospital bed drained and fatigued, I suddenly sensed some movement. He had awoken from a deep sleep. When I looked up, he was inspecting his hands, turning them back and forth between his palms and the back of his hands. He gazed at them for a few moments, then he looked over at me and suddenly reached his hands out in a surprisingly rapid movement toward my face and in a deep, powerful voice said “BOO!”. He had that familiar mischievous look in his eyes and the hint of a smile and said, “wow, scary” in reference to his hands, which had become yellow and emaciated.
Thoughtfulness – The week before he died, while at his residence on Morne Fortune, many friends and family had stopped by the house. He at that point struggled to speak and to move and was confined to his bed. He had known for a while that this time was coming, so he had asked my mom to clear the area around his bed to accommodate chairs for visitors the week before. Also, just a few days earlier, he had me write down a list of all the beverages that I should purchase to serve to any guests who came by the house. He was particular about the quantity and the types of drinks, because he knew precisely the favourite drinks of each of his dearest friends and family. On the day that he could not speak or move, and as guests arrived, he gestured to me to approach him. I came over to the side of the bed and he mouthed the word “Strongbow”, barely audibly referring to the popular British apple cider beverage. He was indicating to me that I should go out immediately to purchase the drinks to serve his visitors, which I had not yet had time to do.
Serenity – The entire month that I spent with my dad, he never suggested that he had any pain. He complained of discomfort, but no pain. His breathing was laboured and he was clearly weak. He was unable to really eat anything. But he always maintained a very calm and peaceful demeanor. It was serenity derived from the fact that he was satisfied that he had done all that he could in his life’s journey – that he had done his best. He was deliberate in seeking closure on anything outstanding. He had checked off all the tasks on his list and was ready to finally rest. My father was not one to leave things to chance and was determined to leave not a single loose end by the time he was ready to move on. He was obsessive about planning for everything, down to how he would live his last moments on earth and what should take place after his passing, particularly in regards to the future of the elderly homes that he had founded and managed for the past three decades. The day before he died, he demanded that he leave Tapion Hospital and be returned to his residence. We brought him back to the house; he asked to be seated in his favourite reclining chair. After sitting there for a few moments, he motioned to be returned to his bed.
In his final moments at his residence on Morne Fortune, and in the presence of his wife of 42 years, Phyllis, and their three children Gusphyl, Adelaide and Charlene, Gus made the sign of the Cross and simply stopped breathing as he peacefully transitioned into his new life on Friday, May 24, 2019th. My father was laid to rest on Saturday, June 1st, 2020, a week after his death. And with pure coincidence and the most poetic irony, Augustus Edwin Justin was buried on the Feast of St Justin Martyr. May his soul rest in Perfect Peace.