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COLUMN: Imparting sweetness to impending sorrow

When saying a final goodbye, finding the right words can be difficult, writes PAN editor Lance Peverley.

She wrote to say goodbye.

We’d said it many times in person over the years, most recently just a few months earlier when she dropped by during a brief visit from half-way around the world. We used our time then to reminisce about her days in newspapers, as well as when she was front-and-centre, and behind the scenes, at the community theatre here in White Rock.

But last week’s goodbye was different. It wasn’t the usual “until next time” between friends.

It was posted to her friends on social media, and this goodbye truly meant it, her having taken up residence beyond our reach in New Zealand so many years before.

Neither of us having time for a visit, words were all we had left.

If you were on the Semiahmoo Peninsula in the ’80s and ’90s, you may well have crossed paths with Heather. She was a high-profile sales rep at Peace Arch News, before being promoted to Langley Times’ advertising manager.

In sales, she used her well-honed communication skills to convey the power of the press to send an advertorial message. However, she often suggested in private that she never developed the same writing abilities as her colleagues across the hall in the editorial department. Her skill set was certainly the more quantifiable in the business world, but I always got the feeling she placed a higher personal value on what I did.

Sales, it turned out, was not her lone talent.

With a theatrical flourish, Heather would take to the stage to play the part of the statuesque blonde/brunette/redhead – often to great comedic effect… when appropriate. (She was also grandly inappropriate, when the part called for a more burlesque reading, and for that her legion of devotees loved her even more.)

No doubt, she was adept at drama, romance and tragedy, too, but comedy was clearly her forté.

Behind the scenes, her broad personality was equally prominent, though on occasion demure. One-on-one, she shared a reflective side that might surprise those who knew only her public face.

And as far as goodbyes go, hers was even more thoughtful, adding so much ‘sweet’ to her loved ones’ impending sorrow.

We learned just last month that her illness would be terminal – one year left, maybe three if we were lucky.

We were not.

Last Friday, she wrote: “Dear friends. By now, if you have been following my progress, you will realize that I am in hospice with ‘weeks,’ whatever that means.

“I can’t believe this horrible cancer has decided to ravage my body as quickly as it has. I am certainly running out of time and don’t have the strength to reach out to each of you as I would have liked to do.

“Please know I don’t regret the paths I’ve chosen or decisions I’ve made. Know that I have loved each of you dearly for touching my life. Offer kindness to my family that I leave behind and dearest friends who will feel a wee hole in their lives. I gave it my all! Laughing and screaming to the finish line and arriving with my signature scrapes, bruises and a big-assed grin.”

She requested that we send our thoughts before she died, to offer insight into how she touched our lives.

And this is where I fell short.

You see, in a brief Facebook post, Heather imparted her message more masterfully than I could hope to. In my response – a private note – I wrote of how her bravery, throughout the years and particularly now, inspires me. I meant it sincerely, but I’m certain it came across as trite.

As Heather noted, all too presciently, our time is limited. I only hope there’s enough left to find the words.

Still searching…

Lance Peverley is the editor of Peace Arch News.

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