Memorial to Sandra

Updated: 14 July 2012 -- Added scatterings in Yukon and Italy to the ashes page.
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Letter to Family and Friends

My beautiful wife Sandra, 1958-2003. Picture taken Christmas day 2002. Although I finished this letter on 16 February 2004, I didn't actually mail it until 4 June. The fact that it took so long to write in the first place was partially due to procrastination, but once I had almost everything ready in late February I had to go away again for over two months before I could put everything together and lick the stamps. I'm sorry for the delay.


Monday, 16 February 2004


Dear friends,

This letter has been a long time coming, and I apologise for that. I'm also sorry that I have given in and decided to type this; the fact is that if I had continued to insist to myself that I would hand write all of the letters to family and friends who made a huge difference in the days, weeks and months after Sandra's passing, it would never get done. In the end, even a relatively impersonal, mass-produced letter created with a word processor is better than not hearing from me at all. Besides, at least you can read this.

I had something in mind when I started thinking about this letter about eleven months ago now. Now that I have actually started to write it I'm not sure what it was. However, if nothing else it was to thank each and every one of you who, through some word, thought or deed, made life easier for me, as well as Lillian, Mike and Gary, after Sandra passed away. I've never lost anyone so close to me, and who meant so much to me; the feelings are powerful and overwhelming sometimes, even to this day. Without your support it would have been and would be so much more difficult.

Thank-you first of all to those of you who, realising the seriousness of Sandra's illness after she was diagnosed on February 7th, 2002, took the time and made the effort to reach out to Sandra: Those who insisted on overriding Sandra's "don't make waves" attitude and convinced her to go to emergency four days before she was scheduled to have her first office visit with the surgeon; those who sent so many cards and letters to Sandra, all of which still adorned our home when I moved out in September and which I still have; those who spent many hours on the telephone with Sandra; those who kept the florists pretty busy during the year of Sandra's illness; the many of you who volunteered to drive Sandra to her chemotherapy appointments, although I was too selfish to give up that task; those co-workers who collected money and sent Sandra and I for an all-expenses-paid night on the town just before Christmas 2002, complete with limousine to and from home, dinner at one of Sandra's favourite, expensive, French restaurants, and a night at a hotel -- Sandra enjoyed this so much; those who arranged and attended Sandra's last (and perhaps first [according to her], at least in her adult life) birthday party; those of you who made her last Christmas so special for her -- she was incredibly thankful for that.

Thank-you to the doctors and nurses (Vancouver General Hospital [February 2002], British Columbia Cancer Control Agency [March 2002 to January 2003], Richmond Hospital palliative care ward [February 2003]) who fought valiantly to save Sandra's life against such great odds and who, in the end, helped to make her as comfortable as possible and let her die with dignity. The compassion that you showed was not missed and will be remembered.

Thank-you to the paramedics who took Sandra on what turned out to be her final journey to hospital. You guys were amazing. Sandra was dreading the trip, but you were unbelievably good at putting her at ease and convincing her that she was doing the right thing.

Thank-you to those of you who made donations to various charities in Sandra's name: the Richmond Hospital Foundation for the palliative-care ward; the SPCA; the Canadian Cancer Society; and Canadian Blood Services. Those are the ones I know about.

Thank-you to those of you who sent cards, notes and letters. I have a stack of them here and if your return address is on the envelope somewhere, or if I can find your address in Sandra's address book, you will receive this letter.

Thank-you to those of you who sent flowers. I have never seen so many flowers.

Thank-you to those of you who helped with or attended Sandra's memorial service, at which we celebrated Sandra's life. I wish I could read all of the names in the guest book that was there; there are a few that neither Mike nor I can read. However, there were well over one hundred people there, and there would have been many more had they not lived so far away. I'm sorry that the service seemed to be so short; there was a misunderstanding between the people running the chapel and the funeral company, and so our plan to open the floor to others who might have liked to say a few words did not pan out, much to my dismay.

Thank-you to those of you from all over the world who have signed Sandra's on-line memorial book. About one hundred people have done so, sharing their thoughts and feelings with the rest of us. I've recently revamped the rest of the Web site, adding more information and pictures, and it will exist as long as I have any say in the matter at www.craig.ca/sandra.

Thank-you to those of you who brought gifts of food (casseroles, biscuits, cakes, bags of groceries, etc.) to the house. Such a simple gesture, but it meant so much.

Thank-you to those of you who have listened to me talk, rant, cry, rail, and so on. Without you, I would surely have gone insane, overcome by loneliness and grief. Talking to you and getting feedback on my emotions has helped immensely to ensure that my perspective does not go off the deep end.

Thank-you to those of Sandra's friends who, even though I never got much of a chance to get to know you very well while Sandra was alive, have come forward since then to comfort me with kind words and tales of Sandra's past. I don't think that Sandra left much unsaid to me, but hearing some of what she told her friends about us has made me feel a little less remorse about the "if only's" and "could have been's". Sandra is our link, and we keep her memory alive by remembering her and talking about her.

Thank-you to those of you who have given me practical advice on estate matters.

Thank-you to those of you who went out of your way to phone me, visit me, drag me out of the house, and generally make sure I didn't become a hermit. You made a big difference.

Thank-you to those of you who did personal chores for me or who took some business-related work off my plate. Doing so allowed me to focus on immediate concerns and took a great weight from my shoulders.

Thank-you to those of you who answered my call for photographs of Sandra from before we met. I am surrounded by pictures of Sandra as I write this; the images of the frail, sick Sandra that were so much at the forefront of my mind after she died are finally being replaced with more positive images of how I remember her in the years before her diagnosis.

Thank-you to those of you who helped me move in late September. You were inspiring and went above and beyond.

Finally, I am sorry for you that you have lost Sandra. In all of this people sometimes forget that it wasn't just four people who lost a wife, a daughter, or a sister. You too lost a relative or friend you cared about, and I am deeply sorry for your loss. I'm sorry that some of you, especially her family in Ontario, never got to see Sandra and I together; the plans and the desires were there, but what was planned was thwarted and what wasn't planned never made it to the planning stages because of Sandra's illness. Like everyone, we thought we had all the time in the world. How wrong we were. I am grateful that I have met or talked to some of you.

If you feel some sort of disconnect and would like to talk to me for any reason, if you have questions that you would like answered, please do get in touch with me. You can contact me in whatever way is easiest for you or with which you are most comfortable. My permanent postal address, my telephone number and e-mail address are at the top of the first page of this letter. At the end of September I moved out of the home Sandra and I shared on Camden Crescent in Richmond. After my return from an extended stay in southern Africa I am still deciding where to live, so I can't, with any certainty that I will be there for any length of time, give you my current home address. However, if you do keep in touch with me by e-mail, postal mail or telephone, I will keep you informed.

I have assembled five photographs of Sandra and included copies for you. I hope you like them. If you would like more copies, or you know of someone who would like copies, please do let me know.
  • The first photograph is of Sandra with Freckles (on the left) and Molly, the Jack Russell terriers she adored. This was taken in the back garden in Richmond one summer. I'm guessing, but I think it was in either 1999 or 2000.
  • The second picture was taken in Jerusalem in October 1999 when Sandra and I visited Israel. As you can see, we enjoyed a delicious meal al fresco that night.
  • The third picture was taken in December 2002 in our room at the hotel in downtown Vancouver where we spent a night courtesy of Sandra's co-workers.
  • The fourth picture is the only posed photograph of Sandra and I together in existence, to the best of my knowledge. There are a few candid shots of us together, but invariably Sandra is the only one aware that a picture is being taken, while I am looking away or have my mouth full of food. This was taken by Sandra's mother, Lillian, in the front garden of our home in Richmond. It is not the most flattering picture of either of us, but as it's the only one of the two of us together it is obviously special. I don't even remember where we were going and why we were dressed up, but the picture was taken early in our relationship. Whenever I had the camera out, usually on our trips, I was usually taking a picture of just Sandra, and occasionally she would take a picture of just me. I regret not asking someone else to take pictures of us together, or going for some formal portraits together.
  • The final picture is one I took of Sandra in September 1999 after we hiked up to Garibaldi Lake. What a beautiful smile.
I have also enclosed a couple of copies of the memorial cards that were printed for Sandra's memorial service. (Because I am a little short of them, I haven't enclosed any if you were at the memorial service or I have already sent you copies.) The picture in those was taken on Christmas Day 2002... Sandra's last Christmas. Despite her deteriorating health, she still looked lovely. I chose the poem High Flight because of Sandra's connection to the aviation industry; while being employed in the aviation industry brought very little joy to Sandra's life in the last few years, she loved the heady days of her youth spent working for CP Air in Fort St. John, and the friendships she made during those years did bring much joy to her, then, and later in life.

According to her wishes, Sandra's remains were cremated. Mike has some specific ideas for locations to scatter some of her ashes; because of Sandra's love of travel, I have decided to scatter some of her ashes in different locations around the world. I have already scattered them in Fort St. John (Canada), Victoria Falls and Shiwa Ng'andu (Zambia), Gemsbok National Park (Botswana), Orkney (South Africa), Harare (Zimbabwe), and Amsterdam (The Netherlands). Future plans include other locations in Ontario, British Columbia, and places where Sandra travelled in the past. You can see the details of each scattering on Sandra's on-line memorial Web site.

For those in Vancouver who wish to visit with Sandra, some of her ashes lie amongst the daffodils (at least for that part of the year when they are flowering) in the north side of the oval flowerbed opposite the cedar of Lebanon tree in Queen Elizabeth Park. The tree and its associated plaque are item 7 on the maps posted in the park.

Sandra will live on in our memories and in the lessons she taught us through the exemplary way in which she treated the people around her. As I have discussed with some of her friends, a greater monument to her life than even a permanent statue, are the lives of the children she flew from Fort St. John to Vancouver for treatment in Children's Hospital there. Unfortunately, although she would have loved to, she had no children of her own, but these children will carry a piece of her life with them because of what she did for them. Her niece and nephew will also have tangible reminders of her when they grow up.

I started this out thinking I didn't have much to say except "thank-you". Those who know me are not surprised I managed to turn this into four pages worth of Oscar-acceptance-speech material. It's quite possible that I have missed noting something you did; however, please rest assured that your kindness was not missed at the time, and is very much appreciated. Thank-you!


Craig


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