I met Kathy at the local indoor pool one summer long ago when our daughters (she had 3 and I had 2) were at swimming lessons. As we sat watching the girls, we got to talking and found out that we both went to the same church but that neither of our husbands went with us. What a bond that was! Our daughters were all around the same age, with my older one being just a few months older than her oldest and her youngest being just a year younger than my youngest. When we met they ranged in age from 2 to 6 but now they're 27 to 31. We started sitting together at church and went to adult Sunday School classes together for a while. Then we decided to drop the girls off for the early children's Sunday School and go out for breakfast at the White Spot before going back for the 11:00 am service. That became our ritual every week until both of us moved away.
Kathy and her family moved to Regina, Saskatchewan the same summer that we moved to Ottawa, Ontario. That was in July of 1986. No such thing as the internet then, so we would type our letters as a sort of "chat," starting off by saying "Make a cup of tea and settle down for a good long read." We both looked forward to those letter so much as neither of us knew anyone in our new home cities. We'd pour out our hearts to each other as though we were right in each other's kitchen.
Then in 1987, I was so homesick that my husband agreed that we'd drive across Canada to surprise our families. He took three weeks vacation and one of our overnights was at Kathy's home in Regina. What a reunion that was! Eventually, her husband was transferred to Edmonton, Alberta, where they settled.
When computers became more widely used, we'd type our letters in WordPerfect format (remember that old software?), print them out and mail them. Funnily enough, I saved all my letters to her and printed them out, filling a huge binder. These letters are a sort of journal for me and I use it whenever I need reminding of details for the book I'm writing. When her daughter phoned me about Kathy's passing, she said she'd been going through her mother's things and she found all the letters I'd mailed to her! I almost lost it then.
I went to visit her several years ago while she was still having chemo. She had finally agreed to try it again when she came out of remission. The first time they put her on chemo, she was so sick, she said she'd rather die than go through that. But they managed to find some anti-nausea medication that helped her endure the procedure the second time.
I'll never forget that visit. She picked me up at the airport wearing her wig (it looked just like her own hair and hairstyle that she'd had for years.) But when we got home and were sitting around the fireplace (it was December) she suddenly yanked that wig off her head, announcing loudly, "I'm too hot to wear this damn thing!" Well, I was shocked at first, but then it was fine.
The next day, we drove to Red Deer where we spent a couple of days. That night at the motel we got ready for bed. First she took off her wig. Then off came the bra with the two fake boobs. Then out came the contact lenses. Well, we started to laugh. She said, "All I need now is a wooden leg to remove." And we laughed and laughed until we both thought we were going to pee! It was what we needed the most - a laugh, that is, not the pee.
Kathy and I were each other's ear and shoulder when we desperately needed someone to confide in. And every year at Christmas she'd send me a long letter complete with photos of the girls and her husband and herself. Every Christmas I'd put those photos on my fridge and pray for her every day. This Christmas there will be no letter or photos. But I will never forget her as long as I live. I told her oldest daughter that I hope she and her sisters will keep in touch with me and that I would love to tell them some stories about her mother and me. All of the girls live in Vancouver now and since there's no other family in Edmonton I wonder if John will move back here. I'll ask him when I write.
Kathy was a strong woman, even quite feisty. She had a great faith and was active in her church. She was a trained teacher, taught piano, sewed for the family (even parkas when they lived in the Yukon), worked for the legislature in Edmonton part-time and also was responsible for a stretch of public gardens in the city. She never stopped doing something. Cancer made her an even stronger person. She knew her time was limited and so she took each one of her daughters on a couple of "last trips" so that they'd each have special memories of their time together. It got to the point that her husband John commented to her, "How many 'last trips' do you need to take?" Her answer: "As many as I need."
This afternoon my friend Cathy (with a C) and I went for a walk along Centennial Beach. It was a glorious day, sunny and warm but with a good brisk breeze excellent for flying kites. The first thing I noticed when we started walking was a cloud that looked just like an angel - it stayed like that for so long. I didn't say anything to Cathy (with a C) but I thought of Kathy (with a K) as we strolled along. Her passing was gentle, and so I'm happy she's finally at rest. She fought a brave battle and now she can be at peace. She's the first of my friends to go but I know we'll meet again one day and the heavens will resound with our laughter.
I know that this would be what Kathy would want to say to me:
Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow;
I am the diamond glints in the snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft star that shines at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there. I did not die.
Kathy will be forever remembered by her friend Leslie.