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Monday, 27 January 2014

Uncle France

My mother's younger brother was Francis O'Brien, but he was called France by his family.  He had a fair complexion, like his father and light hair that thinned on the top as he got older.  He never married and didn't have any children.  He had an older brother, Ned, who lived next door.  Ned had four children and France saw them a great deal, especially in the summer when school was out.  

                   Gus (back), baby Jerome, Monica, Eddie (front).

He did a variety of jobs, including at the American military base, Pepperrell, when it was in operation.  Later he worked at Dominion on Empire Avenue but had to give up work because of his heart condition.  He died in 1987 when he was fifty-nine years old.

Mom and France were very close.  They were two years apart in age, Mom being the older.  However, they did everything together.  Growing up, they loved to go to dances together, especially in the Goulds, where they met up with lots of friends.  They remained good friends throughout their lives.  I never remember a cross word between them.
                           Uncle France and Mom

A love of animals was a big part of France's life.  He always had a horse and at various times, cows and chickens.  He enjoyed the animals, especially the horses.  Much of his spare time was spent with them, grooming, working with them, cleaning the stable and barn.  He life revolved around work, the animals, the farm and family.    

My uncle suffered from clinical depression and at various times in his life was hospitalized at the Waterford Hospital, the psychiatric hospital in St. John's.  Before the hospitalizations, France went through periods when he found it impossible to get out of bed.  He didn't have any interest in things and slept a great deal.  His medication didn't appear to help him and the only solution was hospitalization where he underwent Electroconvulsive Therapy.  After a number of these treatments, he appeared to improve enough to go home.  Medication helped him then.

My mother talked about her brother and his mental health issues.  I understood it to be like any other health issue.  Something is wrong and you seek help to fix it, like you would for diabetes or any other medical condition.  

Uncle France was so much more than his health issues though.  He was the best uncle a child could have.  When I stayed with my grandparents in the summers, he was more like an older brother really.  He always talked to me, not in the parent/grandparent way.  He did things for me, like helping me go swimming when Nan didn't want me to go to the beach.  He spent time with me, just relaxing;  he was another reliable, trustworthy, male influence in my life. He helped to dam the river that ran through their property to make a pool for the kids to swim. He bought me little things as treats too.  What child wouldn't like such an uncle?

France was a dedicated son to both of his parents but especially to his mother after his father died.  He continued to live with her and look after her with the assistance of home care workers until his heart gave out.

He was hospitalized with his heart condition, and the only treatment was a heart transplant, which was unavailable to Newfoundlanders at that time.  My mother and her brother, Ned, decided to turn off the machines that kept him alive.  Knowing France, I think he was happy they made that choice for him.

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