Rev. Diane Rollert, 16 March 2016
There is so much I don’t know about Sylvia’s past. Her nephew Roy, who will speak in a few minutes, has his own earliest memories of his Aunt Beezy, but I think, even for him, it has taken a lot of research to fill in many of the unknowns. Sylvia wasn’t one to talk much about herself. She was very private.
What I do know is that this church was central to her life for many years. She served as a warden, she was secretary of the board, she served on the lay chaplaincy committee, she was a member of the art collective, often here helping to install new art shows in our small stairwell art gallery. Long ago, she would write new member profiles for the newsletter. Each year she’d offer a lunch and swim at her swim club as part of our BidNite service auction. She was the kind of person who’d be there for you in pinch, finding you a ride home and watching your car for you when the keys got locked inside, generously paying a young member to take care of her cat when that cat was dying of cancer and that young person was through a rough time financially. Sylvia would delight at the reports of the cat’s activities while she was out. Sylvia was someone who would step forward when needed and then quietly recede into the background.
So much of Sylvia’s life was a mystery, yet for me, these last months told me so much of what I needed to know.
Back in the spring, Sylvia left a message on the church voicemail that was, well, very Sylvia. “I’m really sorry,” she said. “I won’t be able to make it to the Explorations Group dinner. I’m over at the Glenn hospital. Please pass on my regrets to the organizers. I’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.” The emphasis was on her regret that she’d be letting someone down. The ovarian cancer was almost an aside — but it was clear she was in shock. I ran over to see her and found her in her own room in the new hospital. It was the very beginning of a frightening ordeal that lay ahead. At that moment, Sylvia didn’t want to call her nephew Roy. “I don’t want to bother him,” she insisted. Her address book was at home, so we had no way of reaching Roy yet.
Sylvia felt alone and afraid. “Don’t worry,” I told her. “We are not going to leave you alone. I promise you. You have a community that loves you. That’s what we’re here for.” She was hesitant to bother anyone, but she admitted that this was one time in her life that she had to accept help. A few e-mails to Prue Rains, the Caring Network and others, and Sylvia was quickly surrounded by a strong support team. Prue called her every day and many others went to visit. They took her to doctor’s appointments. They wrote her cards. People in her building watched after her apartment and her cat. When she came home, they cheered her on.
Sylvia made it through surgery and chemotherapy. She made it back to church. I still remember her first day back. I was so surprised. She arrived early and we hugged each other and stood there speechless in the foyer with tears in our eyes. From then on, she insisted on getting herself here by bus and then walking down the middle of Claremont Street with her walker. We all worried about her, but she insisted on getting here on her own steam. Thankfully, she would accept rides home. When the flu season began, she wore a face masque. It was a big change to lose her hair, to lose so much weight, to have to cover herself with a masque. She would often excuse how she looked, but that didn’t keep her home. People met her on the bus, on the street, even on cold days.
It was a total shock, a little more than two weeks ago, to discover that she had fallen. It was thanks to her cat Ichabod that she was found. The neighbour who cleaned up the cat box for her found her on the floor and called 911. Sylvia was rushed into surgery at Montreal General Hospital, but she never recovered.
On the last day of her life, Sylvia’s nephew Roy asked me to invite those who had supported Sylvia in these last months to join him at the Intensive Care Unit. It was a generous act from a generous nephew who had lovingly attended to his dear Aunt Beezey as much as she would allow. Prue Rains, and members of the Caring Network, Mary-Louise Engels, Sophie Beaudoin-Dion, Patricia Philip, and Fran Nott joined us. Together, we surrounded Sylvia with prayer and song. There was a great peace that came over Sylvia.
In my mind I could hear these words from George Odell that I know Sylvia had heard many times over the years as a member of this church.
We need one another when we mourn and would be comforted.
We need one another when we are in trouble and afraid.
We need one another when we are in despair, in temptation, and need to be recalled to our best selves again.
We need one another when we would accomplish some great purpose, and cannot do it alone.
We need one another in the hour of success, when we look for someone to share our triumphs.
We need one another in the hour of defeat, when with encouragement we might endure, and stand again.
We need one another when we come to die, and would have gentle hands prepare us for the journey.
Sylvia had gentle hands that had come to prepare her for the journey. I like to believe that she heard and felt us there, surrounding her with love, filling the room with song for hours.
Back in the spring, on that first day that I sat with Sylvia in the hospital, she told me that she didn’t know how much time she would have left, and she didn’t know what would happen next. But outside her room she could see a beautiful sunset.
Later she told me that sunset had given her strength and hope, and that maybe when she died, that’s where she would go. She also told me again and again how grateful she was to this community, and to her nephew and his partner Linda, for caring for her, for loving her, for making these months of her life beautiful.