Good Icy Cold Morning to You,
The combination of minus 45 degrees C and ice fog this morning at the Edmonton International Airport means we’re spending an additional day here. Our flight was cancelled and given big travel volumes, we couldn’t be rebooked until tomorrow. You should have seen the look on Mom’s face when we rang the doorbell and handed her the morning paper after she’d dropped us off at the airport at 5:00 a.m. “Surprise, we’re back,” we exclaimed. I was looking forward to being home and getting back into a training routine but as Oma so frequently says, “What comes, comes.”
Last Sunday I had the great pleasure of joining Xander on the ice for his hockey practice. I loved being out there with him and perhaps today’s delay will allow me another visit to the arena when his plays again today. On Friday, I visited Rayne’s school again. This time, not to speak about climbing but instead, about the carrying the Olympic Torch. I spoke to the elementary school in two groups–at first I wasn’t sure I could muster the energy but as soon as I saw the children’s faces light up at seeing the Torch, I knew I could do it. I even had the kids in stitches at one point when I climbed up on a table to demonstrate my luge technique (I had had a great brainstorm in 1986 that I would make the Olympic Luge team in time for the Calgary winter games–unfortunately, early in my sledding career, I ran my luge off the track and busted up my knee pretty darn good when I hit a tree and that was the end of that!)
In the homily of my Dad’s funeral mass, Father Reddy counseled us that this would be a time of great joy and great sorrow and that has been true to my experience of the past week. After Dad’s passing, we continued to tell fun and memorable stories of Dad’s life throughout the week. I’m really grateful to the group of my brother’s friends who gathered from around Western Canada to support him and who pulled off a spontaneous celebration of Dad’s life after the prayer service on Wednesday. It was marvelous to share in such deep laughter and appreciation of my Dad after the intense grief of the prayer service.
Special thanks to Todd and Shelley for the impromptu feast and for Sean’s delightful rendition of learning to waterski under my Dad’s watchful eye. Thanks as well to Dave Fritz for feeding us all twice during the week, Doris and her Mom for the German feast that evoked so many memories, Shawn’s Mom and Dad for wonderful baked goods and watching the kids, and “Uncle Bart” for his kindness and care to all of us.
Father Reddy had asked for a copy of my eulogy so he could know a bit more about my Dad since he had just recently moved to their parish. I so appreciated how Father Reddy wove together the readings, his homily, and the essence of Dad’s spirit into a beautiful liturgy to send him off to whatever comes next. The highlight of the mass for me is when, in honour of Dad’s great sense of humour, Father Reddy told a joke. It may have been the first time I heard a priest tell a joke in church and it was so fitting of my Dad. Special thanks to Monica and Heidi for reading at both services and to Todd, Mike, Derwyn, Cam, Gerry, and Brian for being pallbearers. Your participation in honouring Dad was much appreciated.
One of the things that speaking professionally has taught me, is to allow a presentation to ebb and flow like the tide. I know when I am speaking that some of the topics are highly emotionally charged and I need to allow pause or humour to allow myself time to compose myself to continue. When I first said I would do Dad’s eulogy, I wondered if first I would find the words and second, once found, if I would be able to speak them.
Over the course of three early mornings, the words did come. As you will see below in my Dad’s eulogy, he always believed in me and I wrote a reminder of that right into it so that if I was struggling to speak, I would remember that my Dad’s many reminders that I could do it. And I did do it, twice–once during the prayer service and once at the funeral. My voice got stronger and gained power as I spoke reaching a crescendo in the last paragraph until the last lines. Saying the good-bye, the parting, the letting the reality of the loss sink in by speaking those words aloud…brought a tsunami of grief to the surface and almost overwhelmed my ability to enunciate the sentiment but I held on for dear life, for my dear Dad, and got through the words with my voice cracking, tears streaming down my face, and my heart open.
On behalf of mother Denise, my Oma, Frida, my brother, Mike and myself, I would like to thank you deeply for your being here with us today to both share our grief at the loss of Heinz and to celebrate his life and the gifts he gave us all.
One of the greatest gifts that my father gave me, and to so many others, was his belief in me. Every spring at his beloved lake and cabin, Dad would orchestrate the putting in of the pier and boat hoist. Most often, all of the male neighbours would gather to help each other to move these very heavy objects from the land into the water. When I was about ten or eleven, I was helping Dad get the pier project started. He and I were lifting the pier sections from their storage location to the lakeshore. As the neighbours began to arrive, they each in turn, tried to come over and take the burden from me. Each time Dad said, “Leave it to her, she can do it.” So since then, at times in my life when I may have doubted whether or not I could do something, like right now perhaps, I hear my Dad’s voice, “She can do it.”
I have heard it said that the mediocre teacher tells, the good teacher explains, the superior teacher demonstrates and the great teacher inspires. Without every setting foot at the front of a classroom, my father was a great teacher. He taught so many people, so many things: from how to drive a stick shift, to casting lead bullets, to getting up on water skis, to how to fix most anything. His “students” ranged from the “boys” at the shop to our childhood friends; from the neighbours at the lake to anyone he shared a chairlift with. His generous spirit spilled forth to both help and teach at the slightest perception of need.
After surviving World War II in the Sudenland region of Czechoslovakia, Heinz and his parents, Frida and Alois, immigrated to Canada and settled in Good Soil, Saskatchewan. Dad often told stories from his life on the farm; of the magpie he befriended that would steal the tractor keys and hide them, of the horse he loved and tended to, and of course, his long walk to school. Unlike many Canadian kids who heard similar tales, my dad and his cousins Monica and Heidi really did walk seven miles through snowstorms to their school.
My Dad and his parents moved to Edmonton in time for Dad to attend high school at St. Mary’s. Here, his stories continued. We heard of sporting feats, fast cars, and pranks played on teachers and friends alike. Dad met Mom as a substitute blind date set up by her older brother, Gerry. After a delightful courtship, they were married in 1964. Mom said the other day that perhaps Dad was always early for everything, because she was an hour late for the wedding.
Soon after I was born, Mom and Dad moved to Ottewell. In this neighbourhood of young families, they met some of their lifelong friends. Out of this connection, Dad and Manfred Springer began to go hunting together. Over the years, we watched them pack up their vans, trailers, campers, or RV’s–whatever the hunting accommodation de jour was–with their guns, supplies, and scrumptious hunting fare known as “Fantasy Casserole” that often came from Dad’s skillful mixing of several cans of food. A week or so later, they would emerge from the bush surrounding Whitecourt with many stories, a few “chickens” as Dad would call grouse, but not very often with big game. After years of watching this phenomena, Mike and Shawn began to call these so called hunting trips, “Camping with Guns.” When Shawn killed her first chicken, Dad stood by and coached her through the whole process of cleaning it, despite many of the men wanting to jump in and take it from her.
My Dad loved nothing better than to be outdoors and especially to spend time around a bonfire. Both while hunting and at the lake, most evenings were spent nursing a drink, telling tall tales, and a joke or two with whoever was gathered around the warmth of the community fire. Come to think about it, make that ten or twenty jokes. Dad loved to make people laugh and kept a huge repository of jokes in his steel-trap mind–he never forgot a thing.
My Mom called Dad, her “Walking Encyclopedia.” We all quickly learned never to get in an argument with Heinz–he always won–especially if it had to do with what happened when. I’m not sure when we all discovered the source of his amazing memory. He wrote daily in a notebook, keeping track of the weather and significant events of the day. Dad was an avid, voracious reader with an insatiable curiosity for how things worked. He was a gifted engineer who could repair anything given a supply of duct tape, tie-wraps, Velcro, and GE Sealant.
My Dad had a special place in his heart for animals. He hated to see them suffer and always helped care for all the strays my brother and I brought home. He had a special bond with our cat, Pudd, and an even deeper connection with Bear, his beloved Akita. Despite all of the pain he suffered from the cancer, I suspect the worse day of my dad’s life was when he lost Bear. I imagine Bear was waiting to greet Dad with his two huge paws on Dad’s chest.
Life dealt Dad several blows in short order. He lost Bear, he and mom were both diagnosed with cancer, and his father passed away all within a couple of years. Many would have folded and left their cards on the table. Not my father. He faced the challenges and suffering of the past twelve years with grace, courage, and humour. Dad demonstrated a seasoned ability to live with uncertainty and to go forward each day, not knowing what it would bring. He took early retirement, continued to pursue the things he loved to do, researched options, and put up with the many side effects of his cancer treatment. He lived life as fully as he could and inspired us in how he coped with the tremendous pain of his illness. Dad also broke the silence around prostate cancer by encouraging every man he knew to get tested. He saved many lives by being brave enough to talk about his cancer.
Along with hunting, Dad loved to ski. Starting on the small hills surrounding the farm in Saskatchewan and progressing to the huge drops of Sunshine Village in Banff, Dad’s passion was for the slopes. He shared his passion by teaching Mom, Mike, myself, and many others to ski. He always counted the days to his annual ski week with Mom, Manfred and Agnes. The day that Dad died, the first winter storm of 2009 raged outside. When Mike and I met at the hospital that day, we looked out at the falling snow and thought Dad picked the perfect day to go. We took comfort picturing him carving turns in endless fresh powder under crystal blue skies and sunshine knowing his favourite meal would be waiting in heaven’s cafeteria.
I believe that the true measure of our worth is not where we come to be at journey’s end, but in the lives we touch along the way. I know both personally and by looking out at all of you gathered here, that we have all been deeply touched by Heinz as a husband, son, father, opa, friend, and teacher. Heinz’s courage in living the past decade with a devastating disease, his generosity and acts of kindness, his contagious laugh and sense of humour, and most of all, his love for his family, will never be forgotten. Dad, I am so glad you are now free of pain–rest in peace–we all miss you dearly.
Thanks to all of you in my cyber community of support for sending caring thoughts and prayers. We’ve felt your support and leaned on it many times. I look forward to seeing friends in Newfoundland soon (whenever Air Canada can get us there) and I am committed to taking my training for Everest to a new height of dedication to both honour and be close in spirit to my dad. See you in a gym nearby soon!