Sunday, January 18, 2009

Loaves and fishes

Kathleen died last Sunday. We had a hard time getting our heads round it; on Thursday she'd travelled to Ottawa for knee replacement surgery. She and Bill, her husband, seemed to shrug off the serious nature of the operation, optimistic that Kathleen would soon be up and around, if a little sore.

The tricky part of this operation comes after the patient's wheeled back to Recovery; the tourniquet's off, and the raw bone ends and interrupted ligaments and tissues start to lose blood in earnest. Often these patients are older, with compromised heart or brain circulations that don't tolerate bumpy patches in their blood and oxygen supply. Kathleen was one of these; a day or two after surgery she suffered a stroke from which she never recovered.

Kathleen was truly a queen. A retired teacher and mother of nine children, she impacted many lives, especially since she and Bill reached out to many in the community, volunteering with her church women's group, Meals on Wheels, the Agape centre soup kitchen and chauffeuring for the local Seniors' Support Centre. All this when she could so easily have been taking it easy after a life of toil and dedication; after all, she'd reached her early eighties.

Her extended family crowded the front half of our village church: fine upstanding people, adults and children alike all neatly turned out and respectfully dressed mostly in black; not a pair of blue jeans to be seen. There wasn't an inch to squeeze yourself into if you'd arrived just on time: spare chairs had been brought in and people were huddled standing at the back, overflowing into the church hall. The singing was sweet and tender.

Immediately afterwards the women's group served a lunch for Kathleen's family and friends. A dense press of over three hundred mourners filled the hall; how to cater for this group at short notice? The little community didn't let Kathleen down. She who had spent her life conjuring up feasts for her extended family at every holiday and gathering, and whose baking was a thing of legend, would have been proud. Gifts of food from volunteers poured in: sandwiches, cakes, squares, fruit, vegetable, dips, pickles, tea and coffee. Even as the reception was in full swing, men and women slipped into the kitchen with freshly-prepared food from home. Volunteers worked the hall, making sure that plates were filled and cups refreshed, calling out orders for more sandwiches, or fresh coffee. There was even plenty of food left over for the family to take home to serve visitors.

The last guests straggled home. Volunteers cleaned up and tidied the kitchen and hall to Kathleen's high standards. It became achingly quiet and empty. Already we miss her; Kathleen was one of a kind: irreplaceable.

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