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Twenty years ago

Sandra Davison, Christmas 2002.


Twenty years — two decades! — ago today, my wife Sandra Davison succumbed to her cancer and died. Time flies.

At the time I couldn’t get the images of her final moments out of my head, and I was worried I’d always be haunted by them. I had sat in a chair by her side through the night before in the Richmond General Hospital palliative care ward. She was unconscious, and had been for much of her time (a few days) in that ward. The next day, as advised by the ward staff, I informed her family — mother Lillian and brother Mike — as well as close friends that she was expected to “pass” that day.

Many of you showed up at the hospital. You said your goodbyes and we talked around Sandra’s bed and outside her room. Apart from the fact that it has been two decades since then, I’ve possibly blocked memories from that day, and I don’t remember all of the details of who came and went. Many of you were incredibly kind to me, and I’ll always thank you for that.

At some point I was in the hallway outside her room, and I was hurriedly called in. I don’t remember exactly why, but I suppose Sandra was stirring somehow. I rushed to the far side of her bed from the door to her room. In retrospect that doesn’t even make sense, because she was facing the other way (towards the door), but I suppose I had been over there previously. She was indeed stirring, and she turned, opened her eyes and looked into mine for the last time, and she stopped breathing.

Writing that so matter-of-factly now still brings a lump to my throat.

Her eyes didn’t close though. For those of you who deal with death on a regular basis this won’t surprise you. It didn’t surprise me either — at least not to any great extent — but when I tried to close them for her (as we’ve all seen in film many times), they wouldn’t close. That did surprise me. I only tried twice.

Again, I don’t remember details after that. I do remember, though, that the hospital staff were in no hurry. We weren’t all ushered out the door as quickly as possible so that the next occupant of that room could be brought in. I vaguely remember that Sandra’s body had to be taken down to the morgue, but that wasn’t done until after I left. I waited around for Sandra’s good friend Kathy — who I had managed to intercept in Chilliwack on her way from Vancouver back home to Salmon Arm — to arrive. She took one of the roses that I had bought for Sandra for Valentine’s Day (only two days earlier) and left it on the bed with Sandra. I assume that it was cremated with her, and I still have the remaining eleven roses, now dried. They were displayed at her memorial service, along with many other flowers.

Kathy and I were the last to leave. We went back to Sandra’s and my place — now just my place — and we talked well into the night. We must have talked for at least twelve hours straight, about what I have no recollection, but I’m sure memories of Sandra must have filled the air.

Today Kathy was in Vancouver and we made the pilgrimage (as I do almost every year, twice a year) to where I scattered some of Sandra’s ashes in Queen Elizabeth Park. We fed Sandra chocolate, as I do. Kathy and I talk about Sandra all the time. Sandra is the reason I’m lucky enough to have a friend like Kathy. I inherited several friends from Sandra, but all but Kathy (and Vicki) have disappeared over the years. In some cases it’s because of my own inattention, which I regret, and in others they drifted away of their own accord. Regardless of whether or not we’re still in contact, I thank each of you for your influence on Sandra and I thank each of you for however you helped me and Sandra’s family after her death.

It took a long time, but those images of Sandra’s final moments were … very slowly … replaced by happier images and memories of her. If you’re going through similar grief in your life, in the inimitable words of Winston Churchill, “Keep going!” That’s the only way to get to the other side where the better memories surely lie.

Rest in Peace, Sandra. I love you and miss you.