3 January, 2007

My dear friend Cynthia recently died after a courageous battle against mesotheliomia, cancer of the pleural lining. Cynthia was the youngest in Canada to be diagnosed with this dreadful disease. We were so hopeful that she would also be outstanding as being one of the few to beat it.

I met Cynthia on a job not long after I moved to Toronto. I was amazed and in awe of this woman with the most bizarre haircut - two different lengths, one side long and the other very very short, some of the hair bright green. And then I heard her play and suddenly her hair really didn't matter and of course, I was really in awe. A few years later, we were in the same touring orchestra and got to know each other. She was the most wonderful friend, musician and oboe player - I think one of the best in the world. A star. A brilliant star. How fortunate am I that she chose me to be her friend.

Over the years and especially in the last six months, Cynthia and I talked about everything and nothing. Can I remember for the life of me exactly what we talked about? All I know is that I always felt that she always understood whatever it was I was droning on about. She laughed at my jokes, comforted me when I was sad and was joyful when I was happy.

We've gotten together with Cynthia and Peter every Christmas for several years. Before we met them, we didn't put lights up on the outside of our house. They couldn't believe it. Everyone puts up lights!! They cajoled and mocked and laughed and of course, we went out and got outdoor lights.

One year, after watching "The Snowman" together (a favourite annual tradition), we all made a special trip to a famous house in Mississauga just to stare in wonder at the array of lights on the lawn, house and living room! (Yes, the people actually had an invitation posted for the public to walk up and gape into their living room window to see that the WHOLE living room was a miniature village all decorated and lit up for Christmas.)

Just before Christmas 2005 (or was it the one before?), we made Cynthia and Peter bring their bikes to our house and we rode a short distance in the chilly air to a neighbourhood restaurant, admiring the festively lit neighbourhood.

We took them past one of our favourite houses that was almost hidden from view because of the many many lights all over the house and garden. They both laughingly complained that it was really too cold to ride bikes but we all agreed that the lights had made it all worth while.

On 28 December, 2006, we got a call to come to the hospital.... At around midnight we were sitting by Cynthia's hospital bed in the darkened room. One of Cynthia's brothers was holding her left hand and her husband Peter was lying quietly on her other side. From time to time, she kissed Peter's hand that was cupped around her face. Not long after, we said goodnight to them. Cynthia whispered goodnight and we tiptoed out as Peter and his brother-in-law started to quietly arrange chairs and blankets for themselves.

We rode home quietly through the dark wet streets, a light snow falling. The festive lights on all the houses looked beautiful and the snowflakes kissed our cheeks. How both Cynthia and Peter would have loved that cleansing ride.

And the next day, Cynthia took a deep breath and calmly and fearlessly stepped out of this world. A star. A brilliant star. I can't tell you how much I'll miss her.


We're walking in the air - Howard Blake)

Cynthia Steljes 1960-2006

Canadian Cancer Society

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ejm 2007
Toronto Ontario Canada