James Julius Catalyn, a Wonderful Uncle
H. Brennen, August 22, 2018
uncles cannot die. At least we thought that way as
children. Our dearest uncle, James Julius Catalyn, we,
with much affection, call “Uncle James,” has been the
sweetest, kindest, most loving, and no non-sense uncle
one could ask for. On the Saturday afternoon, August
18, 2018, after being rushed to the hospital because of
poor breathing from lung problems, we did not realize it
would have been our last few minutes with him alive.
With our uncle we laughed, cried, talked, and had lots
of fun. What stands out a lot in the minds of the
immediate family is our annual Christmas dinners at his
home. For about sixty years he was the one who cooked,
fried, and baked the sumptuous meals. He was an
exquisite cook. Only the vegetarians, like myself,
cooked the vegetarian entrée. But you could not
imagine what creative dishes would be at the next
Christmas dinner. About five years ago, Uncle James
told us that he is passing on the mantle and that
everyone should start cooking for Christmas dinner.
From then on, it was a potluck-style Christmas dinner.
This next Christmas in 2018 will be different. He will
not be there. Isn’t it amazing that he told us to start
cooking for the Christmas dinner while he was alive!
Now he is gone, and we will still provide the meals for
the other Christmas times, just as he taught us.
These kinds of family gatherings are special. They keep
you close to each other. They help to keep continuity
in family life. We all have watched our family Christmas
dinner-time lose one loved one after another. Between
2015 to 2016, five family members died. Now, our
dearest Uncle will not be with us. The circle is
smaller, but the love is still strong.
One special tradition was Uncle James giving gifts to
all the minor children, no matter how many of them. He
would purchase these gifts months in advance. Closer
to Christmas time, he would put them under his
well-decorated Christmas tree he took his time to
populate with his cherished ornaments. As we visited
the home weeks before Christmas day, we wondered: “Which
one is mine?” It was so special on Christmas day when
everyone gathered around the Christmas tree waiting for
Uncle James to call his or her name—Derek, Judith,
Barry, Kirk, Gina, David, Claudia, Ann, and on and on.
“Thank you, Uncle James.”
Another Christmas treat of Uncle James was his cake
baking. He had a method in his madness. Months before
Christmas, sometimes from August, he would start
preparing to bake his cakes. His special fruit cakes,
that some of us could not eat, were richly saturated
with wine over a long period of time. Uncle James
loved baking. He called his baking, “Sinfully Divine,
for Sinners and Saints Alike.”
Uncle James had a gift of purchasing the right clothing
for everyone, male and female, when he traveled around
the world. I could never forget a winter coat he bought
for me when he worked for the Ministry of Tourism in
Chicago in the late 1960s. That coat was so warm, I
was able to use it in Michigan where I lived for four
years in the 1990s. I kept the coat for over 53 years.
I recently had to admit, with coaching from my wife,
Annick, that the coat had seen better times. I really
loved that coat.
Uncle James was very close to my mother, his only
sister, and the eldest in the family. During his many
years while working in Tourism Ministry, he would travel
around the world on business for the country. One
thing he did each time was to leave his detailed
itinerary with my mother. It included countries he
would be traveling to, time of flights, and hotels he
would be staying in. So, we would ask my mother,
“Where is Uncle James now? She would say, “He just left
Sweden for Germany this morning.” Or “He is coming back
to Nassau tonight and will be heading in two days to
South America.” They had a close relationship.
Two of Uncle James’ strengths were organizing and
planning. His funeral plans would be a good example.
About thirty years ago he gave my mother the first draft
of his funeral arrangements. It was a twenty-page
document of the detailed instructions for the service.
He revised it at least three times before her death in
2015. After her death, he gave a copy of the plans to
two of his nieces. The instructions were precise and
detailed. There were even instructions where each
family member will sit. He knew exactly how many could
sit in each pew. He said: “Positively, absolutely, and
definitely no reserved seating for any official . . .
Anyone attending must attend as a friend and need no
special treatment. . . No acknowledgments of any kind
are to be made in recognition of anyone attending the
service. The most important
persons there are my family.” He prepared for his
death. In 1960 in wrote a poem entitled,
“The Epitaph.” In
August of 1985, he wrote a poem describing his wishes
during his funeral service entitled, “This is My Day.”
My Uncle was special. The detailed instructions for
his funeral were clear and facilitated their execution.
He even prepared his own funeral booklet with the entire
service—songs, scriptures, intercessions, etc. No
sermon, choir, or general remarks! And he said in the
document to not allow any to persuade us to change
anything. We did follow exactly what he wanted. He
concluded his instructions with a warning not to change
anything and to never think “Oh, he dead, he ain’ ger
There are many lessons we can learn from James Julius
Catalyn. Some of them are forward thinking, planning,
detailed organizing, being proud of yourself, being
self-confident, the importance of laughter, and being
kind to everyone. He was truly an outstanding Bahamian.
Wonderful uncles cannot die. They live forever in our
hearts. James Julius Catalyn, 1940 to 2018—My Uncle.
Barrington H. Brennen, MA, NCP, BCCP, a marriage and
family therapist and board certified clinical
psychotherapist, USA. Send your questions or comments
or write to P.O. Box CB-13019, Nassau, The Bahamas, or
or call 242-327-1980