Thursday, January 05, 2017

Remembering Gayle

She passed away just a few days ago. I've been awash the past few days remembering so many times we were together. The very first time I met her in PT school, that astonishing empathy that radiated, palpably. Her tinkly laugh. Her graciousness. All the singing of course. She invited me over for her 21st birthday, and I remember drinking chrysanthemum tea with a little flower floating in it. So exotic. I remember the way she held her long Benson and Hedges cigarette. So elegant. She had been to university in Montreal and had a degree in English lit, which I admired - she seemed so wise. The way she never walked past a flower patch without pulling one toward her, and inhaling deeply, with a smile. So blithe. Her beautiful handwriting. The way her voice sounded like music. The bits and dabs of Chinese she had picked up from her even more exotic boyfriend. The way she rocked that huge tattered second-hand fur coat that first bitterly cold winter in Saskatoon. Practicality before style.

She helped me get through PT school. We studied together. All those wiring diagrams made no sense to me, but she understood them, being so much older and wiser, and I managed to squeak through electrotherapy exams.

We had many adventures together.

1. I interned in Winnipeg right after her. She had an apartment there that I moved straight into. Judy (another classmate) moved in there too. Gayle and I overlapped by a few days. I remember marvelling at how effortlessly she inhabited her body, watching her do cartwheels in a big park there, by the Red River. She loved her physicality, her kinesthesis, just being in a body, feeling it. She seemed full of joy back in those days, doing tricks like that. I, on the other hand, liked my body best when it sat still because then I could think straight.

2. She moved to Ottawa with Lordson, her boyfriend. I visited her in 1972 and we went camping together in Quebec. On the way to the Laurentian hills, we stopped in a little town to buy milk, and she asked, Avez-vous lait? I was impressed. We did about 3 days of canoeing and tenting. It was September and getting cold. It was windy and choppy. I had no experience canoeing. We had no life jackets, if you can imagine, not even warm clothing, so we wore garbage bags under jean jackets. I was terrified but she loved every second. I remember thinking, woman, you are brave, and I am so not. The first night, we camped on shore of some island covered in raw old forest. I found the stillness and silence disconcerting. Forest primeval, Gayle called it, as she drank it all in, checking out all the different bits of moss bursting from trunk and twig. We found a flat spot to put up the tent. Sometime during the night a loud thudding woke us up. I was, as usual, terrified. In my mind it was either a bear or an ax murderer. She turned on the flashlight to peer out, see what was out there, and the whole tent glowed orange, which I thought made us even more a target. Turned out it was just a rabbit. We laughed hysterically. Both the trip and my canoeing improved after that.

3. She parted ways with Lordson and travelled in Europe, working here and there to support the trip. Back in those days, PTs could work wherever we wanted, it seemed. I was supposed to meet her in Greece, but in the end, I didn't go. I ended up back in university instead.

4. She came back from Europe, and moved in with me in Regina, worked at Wascana. I think it was less than a year. She moved to Prince George BC. Her fantasy was to build a log cabin and live in it, in the woods. I continued to work, live, and attend art school in Regina.

5. I visited her in Prince George, Thanksgiving long weekend in 1975. She didn't have a cabin built yet. She was working at the hospital, making lots of friends, enjoying the rugged countryside. It was a lovely sunny weekend. We were outside a lot.

6. Somewhere in there I visited her in Calgary where she was attending her cousin's wedding, to which she invited me along. I remember the bride cried. I remember thinking, that will never be me. Barry, her brother, was there. We had a good singalong after, outside on somebody's lawn.

7. In the summer of 1976 (I think it was) I got a scholarship to attend Banff School of Fine Art for a 6-week painting intensive. It wasn't super far from Prince George, so we thought it would be a good chance to meet up. She phoned to let me know she had arrived, and we planned to meet for dinner that evening. She said she wanted to go hiking on Tunnel Mountain, check out the trails. I told her to be careful of bears. She laughed. I was always paranoid about bears, she was never paranoid about anything. She never called, and I panicked. About 10pm that night I called the police, anybody I could think of. I said, I think my friend might be in trouble, because she hasn't called. The police said, oh, she probably went to the Calgary Stampede. I said, no... that's not her thing, besides she's utterly reliable and she would have let me know. She went hiking, Tunnel Mountain I think she said, and she might still be out there, and I'm worried. They weren't worried. They said, well, let's wait until tomorrow and meanwhile she'll likely show up. I worried all night, and the next morning got a call - she had been admitted to the Banff hospital. I raced over, and found her in emergency, where I watched her transfer herself from one stretcher to another. I was a sobbing mess, she was calm. She had climbed some godawful rock face with no lines or picks or any of that stuff that you should have if you go rock climbing. She got up OK, about thirty feet she said, but on the way down, slipped and fell backward off the rock face, got dinged pretty hard in the process. She passed in and out of consciousness, tried to light a fire but it got away, crawled around trying to put out the fire (succeeded I guess, because Banff didn't burn down that night), and passed out on a trail. The next morning some army cadets out for a drill found her and radioed in that they had found a "casualty." I remember her take fleeting but distinct note of that word. She was rescued by helicopter on one of those dangling stretchers. That must have been quite the ride. She was about to be transferred to Foothills.
It turned out her injuries were pretty bad. She needed spinal fusion at four levels, and a fusion of her left foot because the talus had shattered. The other heel was broken, but it healed OK. She was on a Striker frame for a couple months. I came to Calgary from Banff to see her on the weekends. We went crutch-walking outside. It was a lovely sunny summer.

8. She went back to PG. She sent a picture of herself, astride a big log, peeling it, crutches parked alongside. We wrote lots of letters back and forth. I remember her asking specifically if I thought there was really such a thing as a death wish. I remember having no idea at all about such a thing.

9. Sometime in the early 80's, (maybe it was 1982) she visited in the month of May - she wanted me to go to CPA Congress with her, in Winnipeg. I had moved into a rented house and wanted to plant a garden. We spent a whole day putting in the garden, then raced to Winnipeg, in my '72 Chevy Nova, me driving 5 hours straight with a seat that wouldn't pull forward, so, leaning the whole way. I had the worst backache from that. We stayed in a YWCA hostel. She worked on my back for about an hour. I remember crazy interoceptive experiences, maybe from all the opioids my brain manufactured in response to her excellent intuitive handling. I think I passed out. The next day I was fine, pain gone. Congress was boring. We drove back to Regina and she went home to PG. 10. I remember her altered gait from the injuries. She moved with a distinct limp that she couldn't hide. I remember falling behind her as we crossed Burrard Street bridge in Vancouver, going fast, watching her as she strode, turning that limp into propulsion. I think it was around that time she took up Tai Chi in a big way.

11. She gave up on the log cabin idea, I guess, and moved to Vancouver. She invited me to visit her there and I can't remember now whose idea it was, probably hers, that we do a road trip to California. She had a beat-up truck to take us there. It seemed like a fine idea, even though I was paranoid about traveling in the US. I thought everyone was out to shoot each other there. She laughed. She had already scoped out the US and had found it utterly wonderful. We took our trip. We stopped on Orcas Island and she introduced me to what she was really into just then, in a big way, therapeutic touch. It was her gateway into years of spiritual investigation, a lot of which I ended up not being nearly as fascinated by as she was. Whatever. Anyway, we drove to San Francisco, visited some art galleries, saw a Flamenco dance production, drove back, camped along the way. On that trip I remember her driving, telling me about her mom dying of bowel cancer when she was 13, and her dad dying in a car crash a year or two later, and suddenly bursting into tears. It was the first time I had ever seen her cry. Ever. She retained perfect control of the truck even as she sobbed out loud for a few minutes.

12. I moved to Kamloops in 1983. I was determined to learn manual therapy, BC seemed to be the place to be in those days, and I got a sweet job in Kamloops running a private practice for a manual PT who taught me everything she knew inside a two-week space before she left town to go study vet. med. That lasted about 18 months. Meanwhile, Gayle had found a man (Frank), and they planned a wedding, and I was a bridesmaid. That happened the summer of 1984, a lovely outdoor wedding at Jericho Beach. Her brother, his wife, their two children, and her aunt, went with them on the honeymoon.

13. On the way home from the honeymoon, everyone died in a car crash except for the two children, who had been asleep in the back seat. She was no sooner a bride than she had to go back to Sask to pick up these children, aged 10 and 6 at the time, the youngest with two fractured femurs. On the way back to BC they stopped in Kamloops and we had Thanksgiving dinner together. Even though there didn't seem to be a whole lot to be thankful for at that moment. She cried frequently after that. I remember Frank asking me that evening, out of earshot, if I thought Gayle was going to be OK. I remember telling him I was sure she would be, that she was the strongest person I knew.

14. A bit more time went by. Gayle was now 37 and wanted to get busy building a new family. I moved to North Vancouver in 1985, lived in her basement for a year, ran her practice for her while she was on mat leave. She was horribly disappointed with her experience because they made her have a C-section. The next time she had a baby, in 1987, it was a V-bac at home. She had been determined to have a natural birth in spite of restricted mobility in her lower trunk. Alas, the baby sustained a head injury during birth. I think that was pretty stressful. She cried even more after that.

15. Over the next few decades we were less in each others' lives, because of very different personal interests, but remained in touch and saw each other several times a year. We attended lots of educational workshops together, the last one 2005 in Nanaimo. She continued to grieve. She had developed chronic pain, especially in the leg and foot that had been fused. I treated her once in awhile. I continued to marvel at how strong she was in spite of everything that had happened to her and her family.

16. Eventually I couldn't stand the dreary wet-coast weather anymore, and moved back to Sask in 2009. The last time I saw Gayle was 2010 at our class reunion at Waskesiu. My very last memory of her is seeing her crying. Publicly or privately, no difference. She would brighten up for brief periods, but it was as though crying was the only thing could keep her going.

I absolutely loved Gayle, who didn't seem to mind being the big sister I never had. I learned so much from her. I am kind of a mess, missing her big time at the moment, as our whole class is, I imagine. I really hope she's in a happier state. Life was not nearly as kind to her as she was to it, and to others.

In black text frames, Deb (the first one in the class to die) and Gayle. Both died from cancer. 

White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field

by Mary Oliver
"Coming down out of the freezing sky 
with its depths of light, 
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings, 
it was beautiful, and accurate, 
striking the snow and whatever was there 
with a force that left the imprint of the tips of its wings — five feet apart — 
and the grabbing thrust of its feet, 
and the indentation of what had been running 
through the white valleys of the snow — 
and then it rose, gracefully, 
and flew back to the frozen marshes 
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse, 
in the blue shadows — 
so I thought: maybe death isn't darkness, after all, 
but so much light wrapping itself around us —

as soft as feathers —
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking, 
and shut our eyes, not without amazement, 
and let ourselves be carried, 
as through the translucence of mica, 
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow, 
that is nothing but light — scalding, aortal light — 
in which we are washed and washed 
out of our bones."

Added January 14:
Today is the memorial for Gayle. Here is a link to a lovely tribute from the North Shore Special Olympics organization.

It is with great sorrow that SOBC - North Shore says goodbye to beloved coach, manager, volunteer and athlete council coordinator, Gayle Robinson. Gayle passed away yesterday after a long battle with cancer and leaves (husband/coach) Frank and (daughter/athlete) Kara Williams for us to care for as well as many others. If anyone is interested in supporting the family (i.e. prepared meals), pleasecontact Kelly Klein at Kelly can also be contacted on her home (604) 904-1020 or cellular (604) 992-1020.

A limb has fallen from the family tree,
I keep hearing a voice that says "Grieve not for me."
Remember the best times, the laughter, the song,
The good life lived while I was strong.
Continue my heritage, I'm counting on you,
Keep smiling and surely the sun will shine through.
My mind is at ease, my soul is at rest,
Remembering all, now I truly was blessed.
Continue traditions, no matter how small,
Go on with your life, don't just stare at the wall.
I miss you all dearly, so keep up your chin,
Until the day comes we're together again.
~ Author Unknown

Gayle Winnifred Robinson
Jan 18 1948 – Jan 3 2017

It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of our beloved Gayle: Wife, Mother, Sister, Aunt and Friend to all. After a lifetime of caring so deeply for others, Gayle passed away peacefully at midday on Tuesday, January 3, a bright cold winter’s day, at the North Shore Hospice surrounded by family and friends.
Born and raised in the small farming community of Lone Rock, Saskatchewan, Gayle grew up with strong family values, a sense for community and a deep love for nature.
A graduate of the University of Saskatchewan (BA; Diploma of Physiotherapy) and the University of Alberta (BSC Physical Therapy), Gayle was resolute in her commitment to health and healing. In her work as a Physiotherapist, she continually sought innovative approaches to enhance her patients’ well-being.
Gayle lived on the North Shore for the past 32 years, raising a family with her husband Frank, gardening, and welcoming friends for singalongs which she accompanied on piano or guitar.
When daughter Kara became a Special Olympics athlete, Gayle stepped into volunteer coaching, team managing, driving to games, and doing whatever was needed. She was deeply moved to receive a special award by North Shore Special Olympics in June 2016, for initiating the Athlete’s Council.
With her great interest in the arts, Gayle fostered her son Jesse’s creativity. She was an ardent supporter as he developed into a talented professional painter/illustrator.
More than being merely ‘survived by’, Gayle is clearly celebrated by her loving husband Frank Williams and their children Kara and Jesse (Jen); her brother Morris; her niece Colleen, and nephew Christopher (Rochelle) and baby Ruth.
Countless friends, colleagues and patients have benefitted from her soul’s warmth and healing hands.
The family wishes to thank Dr Paul Sugar and the nurses at Lion’s Gate Hospital and North Shore Hospice for their caring.
A Celebration of Life for Gayle will be held at the North Shore Unitarian Church at 370 Mathers Ave, West Vancouver, BC on Saturday, January 14, 2017 at 11:00 AM. All are welcome.
In lieu of flowers, kindly consider a donation in Gayle’s name to the Paul Sugar Foundation, Inspire Health or North Shore Special Olympics.

I thought of this song, by the Seekers, one of the many folk groups that walked the earth, being minstrels, getting the baby boom out there and into life. It used to be on the radio all the time. It pretty much covers the feelings I had for Gayle when I first met her and as we went through a lot of life together through our twenties and thirties.