TORONTO - Burying a child is "the most horrific thing" for anyone to endure, the father of a 13-year-old boy who died from H1N1 said at his funeral, but he hopes the tragedy will encourage more education about the virus.
Evan Frustaglio, an otherwise healthy teen, died last Monday after complaining of symptoms at a hockey tournament on the weekend.
His father, Paul Frustaglio, said he, his wife Anne-Marie and son Will, 10, have been touched by the outpouring of support and stories from people who have also been affected by the swine flu.
"It truly amazes me that Evan's death has captured a nation trying to find answers to a disease that is currently wearing the face of Evan Frustaglio," his father said during a eulogy for his eldest son.
"We must learn from our loss and all become educated on a disease that took our son's life."
The spectre of the influenza on the minds of people all across the country was present during the funeral as Father Vito Marziliano asked those gathered to eschew the tradition of shaking hands during the sign of peace. In accordance with new H1N1 flu guidelines issued Monday by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, a nod, bow or other such gesture was encouraged.
During the emotional tribute in front of about 900 mourners Frustaglio choked up several times as he shared memories of his "best friend."
Mourners included dozens of children and teens in hockey jerseys and Maple Leafs forward Jason Blake, the Frustaglios' former neighbour.
The boy's passion for hockey was first sparked while watching the Canadian Olympic hockey team win a gold medal in 2002. Evan never had to be forced to go to practice, Frustaglio said. Instead it was Evan who would be prodding his parents awake for early-morning ice time.
"The job of burying your own kid is the most horrific thing for any human being to endure," Frustaglio said.
"With every fibre of our being we keep hoping we'll awake from this terrible nightmare and have him back in our arms again, shooting pucks in that driveway, protecting his brother Will, getting nagged by his mother Am to get to bed early and reminding me to get in shape."
Evan was a charming kid, with a witty sense of humour who loved his parents and was a fierce protector of his younger brother, Frustaglio said.
"Not only did Evan act as Will's elder sibling, but he was also his best friend and what I described as his other father. Evan was always warning Will pay attention when riding his bike. Will, stay off the road, stay on the sidewalk. Keep away from the hot oven."
The day Evan died was also the day vaccination clinics in regions across Ontario opened to hours-long lineups for priority groups. Evan would not have been in one of the priority groups, which include people under 65 with chronic health conditions, pregnant women and children between six months and five years old.
As he prepared to bury his son, Frustaglio had a message to parents and everyone else to hold their children and loved ones close.
"The kiss of life is fleeting," he said in his eulogy. "It is over before you know it. So never let the obligations of life distract you from the cherished gift of family."