A memorial service, delivered by Rev. Diane Rollert, was held for Krystyna on June 22, 2014.
Dans le caractère imprévisible de la mort,
il y a une présence mystérieuse,
qui affirme finalement
ce qui est éternel
dans toute la vie.
La terre retourne à la terre,
la poussière reste de la poussière,
mais ce qui est vraiment beau
dans la vie
Ce qui portait l'image de la terre
porte aussi l'image du ciel.
Earth returns to earth, dust remains dust.
But that which is truly beautiful in life rises ever onward.
I remember the day that Krystyna and I worked together to translate these words into French. For years she had been coming to the church office on Thursdays, first to take a walk with our administrator Verna and then to sit with me for a conversation in French. Often I’d begin by stumbling over words, feeling so awkward, but always by the end, we’d become totally immersed in our conversation, talking about philosophy, theology, the future of this church, or the future of the world. Krystyna had a magical way of opening up a welcoming space for thinking, laughing and feeling at home.
I remember her telling me how much she loved her days working at Expo 69 and how interesting and challenging it was to be Polish in a city of Anglophones and Francophones. She was born an only child in Teheran, the capital of Iran, where her parents had escaped from Poland. They belonged to the Polish diaspora that was not Jewish, but had been just as affected by Nazi persecution and the Holocaust. The family moved to Montreal in 1949, where Krystyna studied at L’École Marie France (hence her beautiful French), the Mother House Secretarial College and McGill University’s Arts Faculty (where she began at the early age of 15 or 16). Her family were intellectuals and they had high expectations. Success was something that Krystyna often feared more than failure.
She worked summers for the airlines as a ground stewardess and eventually turned this into a career, starting with BOAC (later called British Air Ways) and then became the reservations manager for Canada with Iberia Airlines (hence her beautiful Spanish).
In the next phase of her life, she turned her talents toward this church, becoming the president of the Board of Management just as the congregation called its new minister, Rev. Ray Drennan, and moved from the burnt out remains of our former building to this new building. Ray remembers Krystyna as someone who was willing to jump in with full force, who always said yes to new challenges. She’d willingly stretch beyond her comfort zone, and when she did, she’d do it well.
In the years that I first got to know Krystyna, she’d been taking a break from active participation in the church (except for those Thursday walks with Verna and French conversations with me). We invited her to work as a concierge, opening and closing the building, providing support and welcome for outside organizations that had rented our space. She used to joke with me that she was highly overqualified for the job, and it was true, but she was so good at it. Covering Wednesday nights, she became close to the Yellow Door Choir and especially to their director, Eleanor Stubley. I think those days of working at the church helped her to feel embraced once again by community. So, when the church’s nominating committee came knocking at her door and asked her to be moderator of our church council, she bravely said yes.
By the end of her first year as moderator, Krystyna knew that she had ALS. She wasn’t sure how long she’d be able to serve, but we worked out contingencies, and amazingly she managed to fill that role until the very last day of her life. That last day would have been her last meeting as moderator and she was looking forward to meeting with everyone, to say goodbye and thank you. She was ready and waiting to be picked up by Verna when her heart stopped. None of us were ready for her to be gone so soon, but her life ended quickly and as peacefully as possible, which was a mercy and a blessing.
There are so many moments I could share with you – so many moments of loving kindness, as members of this community reached out to Krystyna to help steady her as she walked, to bring her comfort and company, to drive her to doctors appointments, to listen and to laugh with her. Krystyna brought out the best in us and we brought out the best in her. Krystyna led us with grace, facilitating meetings with extraordinary skill. She really listened to us, and we really listened to her.
Taking her to H&R Block to do her taxes during the last weeks of her life was one of the most spiritually meaningful outings in my life. She was able to speak so honestly of what lay ahead and of what had been meaningful in her life. I had been looking forward to driving her home after that last council meeting. Our drives to and from the church, or shopping at the Metro, were precious times together, and I know that so many of you here had similar experiences.
I will never forget our last board meeting hosted by Krystyna in her apartment. “The amazing thing about this evening,” she said to us at the end of the meeting, “the amazing thing is that you’re all here.” She smiled that beautiful smile as her eyes filled with tears. Two weeks later she was gone.
Krystyna had lived through hard times, and yet the diagnosis that should have shattered her spirit revived her in many ways. These last two years were filled with love and blessings that she experienced profoundly. Krystyna was independent and proud and asking for help was hard. Yet she learned to live with increasing vulnerability, as she learned how much she was loved by family, friends, and this community. In the process, she came to realize how much of a difference she had made in our lives. These were the relationships that enabled her to say that she had finally come to know and accept true success in her life.
Our administrator Verna found Krystyna that last night. The next morning she said to me, “I can’t speak at the memorial.” But she wrote this beautiful letter and I want to end by reading it to you.
From the time we met after Annice retired, you took me under your wing.
You made sure I got out for a walk at least once a week (usually Thursday afternoons). At first we walked all the way up the hill on Claremont and down to Westmount Park. If the greenhouse was open, we would stop in to admire the flowers. Your motto was, “if we could walk and talk at the same time without getting out of breath, we were setting a good pace!” When I had to buy supplies for the church, you always insisted on helping to carry things back. You listened to my joys and complaints, and gave me wise counsel. Patience and understanding were your middle names.
As the years went by, we slowed down until eventually we were walking up Sherbrooke to get coffee (iced in the summer, and hot in the winter), and we sat and cried when you told me what the doctors had found.
We talked about so many things – our hopes and dreams for our golden years; how some of them would not come true.
I am so glad we had those years together – I think of you often and will miss you.
Be happy my friend; I am sure you have found someone to take under your wing and walk with in the heavens.
Hugs and love,