I met her at the swimming pool. We would chat together in the shower (and later joked that we probably wouldn’t recognize each other “with clothes on”). A few times we arranged to walk together in downtown Edmonton’s river valley during lunch breaks. I eventually left my job, and we lost touch.
Then, one day, about to close the door to the classroom where I was teaching an ESL class, I spotted someone who resembled Pat. A bit hesitantly I approached her and said, “Pat?” And we threw our arms around each other. She invited me to her home for a visit to explain why I hadn’t seen her around. She had been diagnosed with cancer, had endured radiation (lost her hair) and chemo. She’d quit her Human Resources job with the Province of Alberta. The prognosis was not good. Relatives had visited to say their final good-byes.
But things had turned around and she was doing much better. I shared my passion for teaching ESL. She was very intrigued and suggested she might like to volunteer in the class. Not much later, I had a new recruit. Pat was a hit in the class. She took initiative. She’d jump to the white board to scrawl down vocabulary, dare to wear outrageous hats at the Halloween class, and always brought prizes for our word Bingo.
One series of lessons on job hunting ended with some students volunteering for a mock interview. Pat’s career in Human Resources made her a perfect interviewer. She conducted a formal interview based on a standard application for various positions in a local greenhouse. It was real. And professional. With complete respect and total attention from all the students.
After the last class before COVID shut things down (March 16, 2020), I treated Pat to lunch at Boston Pizza. That is when she told me that new cancer had been discovered, and this time in her brain. It was back to chemo and radiation.
I’ve tried to stay in touch with Pat and her husband, David. Both are very active members of All Saints Anglican Cathedral in downtown Edmonton, and both are active in social justice issues and attended KAIROS gatherings I’ve organized in our home. I’ve visited only outside on their front porch, masked, not wishing to expose Pat, giving only virtual hugs. The last time she wore a beautiful sweater she had knit, the same colour as her striking eyes, and then yanked off her knitted toque to show her bald head, with a mischievous grin on her face, unashamed. We swapped stories of delight in our grandchildren. Her George. So dear to her.
Recently I emailed her, and cc’ed David, just in case she wasn’t up to screen time. I didn’t hear back.
But when I saw the tulips and crocuses ready to bud at Safeway, I knew where to bring them. The timing was perfect when I arrived at their home as David had just arrived home, a trunk filled with groceries. I gave him the flowers but forgot to put on my mask.
“Pat is not doing well,” he said. “She’s failing.” The -20-degree temperatures made my tears freeze into little beads that rolled down my cheeks. But I didn’t hide them. David said, “We are so blessed. I have had a special wife all these years. I am blessed.”
Today David sent a message thanking me for the flowers: “. . . we are thankful for how God opens us to understand we are not alone, but also deeply loved. During these times Pat and I are having we are understanding just a little more about our Creator and why love remains as the central quest and question within our human lives. We think we understand so much about love, but maybe all we are seeing are the faint outlines.”
I thought, this is not resilience. It is not courage. It is the light of resurrection. An open tomb.