Charles was born on the 29th of September in 1928, in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was the oldest of three, followed by sister Jo, and brother Jack. His father worked at the railway station as a mail baggage handler, and his mother was very active in their church. Some of his fondest childhood memories included driving with his mother to pick up his father at the end of the workday... running into the station, being lifted by strong arms and deposited, laughing, into a trolley full of mail bags.
In 1945 Charles joined the army, serving in Japan. This period of time is one which he felt changed his life, giving him a strong sense of discipline as well as his first taste of international life. In 1950 he married Jean and two children, Jill and Mark, soon followed. With Jean's help, Charles achieved his PhD in Psychology and began a successful career as an industrial psychologist. His work took the family to Toronto in the early to mid 1960's, but while they were in Canada Charles' and Jean's marriage fell apart. In 1966 Jean moved back to the Twin Cities with the children, and Charles stayed behind in Toronto. Two years later he remarried. Charles and his new wife, Shirley, were married for 25 years, during which his job took them to London, and from there to Brussels, spending about six years in each city. But eventually they returned to Toronto, where they finally settled.
In 1987 Charles suffered a stroke which left him unable to walk or talk. He spent a year relearning these skills, but was never again able to communicate vocally without struggling. About seven years after the stroke Charles suffered another blow when his mother passed away, followed quickly by Shirley (who had been battling cancer), and Jean's father, a man Charles had great respect for. All three deaths occurred within a six week period, leaving him bereft. But through these trials Charles was becoming a changed man. It was during this time that he began to develop a new relationship with his son, Mark, to whom he'd become estranged a few years after his divorce from Jean. He also began doing volunteer work at the local hospital, and it was there he met Elaine in the late 1990's. Here, at this stage in his life and after all the challenges he'd weathered, he'd met his soulmate. They married shortly afterwards and had 12 happy years together until his death on April 7, 2010.
All of these details I learned just prior to and following the death of a man I never met... the man who was to be my father-in-law if he'd lived only a few months longer. Through reading his poetry, and speaking to family and friends who knew and loved him, I've slowly come to know just a little about Charles - enough to know he was a man of brilliance and talent, strength and sensitivity, integrity and charisma, patience and wisdom. I wish I'd known this man... The memory of Charles strumming his guitar to help his young son sleep lives in Mark's heart, as it now does in mine.
Charles Neil Newstrom was a man of physical and emotional imperfections, just like the rest of us, but a man who was determined to live his life and let his love shine through it all. During the funeral service, the pastor quoted these words by Leonard Cohen, and I will always associate them with this man, my father-in-law:
"There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in."