To my blog family: As a survivor, I am very aware of how deep loss is, because it invariably shrinks your tiny circle of trusted companions. The loss of Marian to me is the most significant devastating loss I have had in my life. I felt compelled to offer this eulogy at the saddest time in my life, and I’m glad I did. I felt that I wanted people to see Marian represented in all aspects of her life, rather than just the individual ways others knew her.
March 21, 2014
My goodness, Marian’s last morning here on earth has, indeed, broken. Thank you for remembering her with me.
Evelyn Marian Humphreys, known to all of us as Marian, was born in Liverpool, England. She took every opportunity to mention to folks that that was the home of The Beatles. She lived there, completing her early life cycles until moving to Canada in November, 1981, at the tender age of 53. On Friday, March 14th, she left all of us very suddenly and started her final journey to her eternal home where, I believe, she’s now wrapped in the arms of her Heavenly Father, waiting there for us.
Marian was in her 86th year. She never hid her age and always looked forward to what the next year would bring. Always, a strong, positive attitude with the courage and fortitude to conquer the next exciting challenge; that’s how Marian lived her life.
As the eldest of two girls, she was the daughter of a homemaker and a police constable. The family lived in Liverpool, England, but had strong ties to their many North Walian relatives, one of which still lives in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (Llanfair PG for short)! I dare anybody to pronounce this and if you succeed, I’ll give you an extra hug from Marian! I joined the Humphreys family in June, 1977 and have been blessed by almost 37 years of being in their presence. Their love and support gave me a sense of family that I had never known.
Marian’s education was disrupted considerably due to the war and she neglected to pass on a school letter informing her parents of the details regarding her new school, High School. She enrolled, instead, in a typing and shorthand course. To Marian, this seemed a much more practical route. Thus, her working life began at the tender age of 14.
Marian spent many hours on the family’s allotment where she gained her basic gardening knowledge and skills from her Dad. From those early years of weeding etc, her hands created many beautiful flower and vegetable gardens, even in Northern Canada and she found a certain stillness and peace, digging in the soil. She was an avid knitter and crocheter, using both her hands and a knitting loom to produce beautiful Aran and Fair isle garments, as well as decorative items. She crocheted several hundred toques that were sent to African orphanages and crocheted blankets and shawls for the comfort of people with terminal illnesses. In her later years, she learned the art of quilting.
Ultimately, her wonderful hands were put to use, both healing and offering compassion to those in need; the sick, the disabled and the dying. Strong, gentle hands that soothed and fixed; hands that brought joy and blessings to all whom they touched, everything from removing fish hooks from a dog’s ear to performing minor surgery in the North. She taught me how to suture wounds and suggested I start on the head of an inebriated person in case the stitch went astray; I had many false starts, but managed to be successful eventually under her tutelage!
Those hands worked very hard in the British fields from the ages of 17 to 18 as she worked on her parents to allow her to do her share for the war effort. When her Dad finally agreed to let her go, she didn’t want to, but in true Marian fashion, her determined streak forced her to take off for those fields, thus she joined the Land Army. There were thousands of girls who tended to the farms and livestock during WW2 while the men were away and it is only recently that the British Government formally acknowledged and honoured these women with medals.
Many of Marian’s careers were spent in the uniform. Don’t be fooled by Marian’s early exit from school. In her lifetime, she took many courses. She was an advanced police trained driver and studied the mechanics of every vehicle she owned or drove. The first vehicle she owned was her prize Lambretta scooter and one of the first passengers was her mother who, like Marian, was always game for an adventure. Marian’s more advanced training took place in the Military where she joined the Women’s Royal Army Corps and in the Liverpool Police Academy, where she pounded the beat, directed traffic, broke up brothel raids and worked in the office of the CID. Whatever her work, she never failed the honour the badge bestowed on her.
She took her trainers at their word and on one occasion, while learning the best holds to secure a prisoner, she practiced with another recruit and took hold of the girl’s arm so securely, she broke it! I’m told that recruit never held it against her.
I believe her most cherished studies came when she achieved her State Registered Nurse, State Certified Midwife, Health Visitor, known as Public Health Nurse here, District Nurse and School Nurse. As well, Marian made it her business to take courses in the care of Premature Babies and Theatre courses, the latter, not to perform on stage but, rather, to work in the operating room. All these and more, she did to advance her professional skills. Any topic that she didn’t understand or had some reservations with, she took courses to increase her comfort level in them. Marian was an avid reader, always keeping up with the latest health trends in order that she achieve optimum health for herself and to guide others who often came to her for advice. She was never too proud to try any new device or treatment that could possibly make her life easier.
Marian loved to travel and had a true sense of adventure. In her younger days, she was an avid rambler and hiker and she and Audrey went on Holiday Fellowship treks with groups of like-minded people. Marian and Audrey also enjoyed boating holidays on the Yorkshire and North Wales canals. In later years, she and I travelled to many cities and to most continents. During our travels, Marian was often my eyes; for instance, on safari in Kenya and Tanzania, she’d spot a cheetah or a lion, I’d grip the palm order, she’d turn my head to get the perfect angle to capture the animal and I’d click the camera; We made one great photographer between us and have some fantastic footage to prove it!
Our lives together in Canada’s North were some of the toughest and rewarding years we shared. Twelve nurses were chosen from over two thousand applicants and leading the pack was a tenacious, mid-fifties lady with all the idealism of a teenager. We left Liverpool after a rousing send-off from Audrey and her husband, Len, on November 10, 1981, for what was to be an adventurous two year contract. Our first destination was Split Lake, Manitoba. We arrived there at 6 p.m., the doorbell rang at 6:15 p.m. and never stopped ringing for two years. The so-called two year contract turned out to be nine years. We had to flip a coin to see which one of us would be the nurse in charge and, as Marian used to say, she lost and became my senior. That was definitely the correct choice and she handled me with the same professionalism she did with all the other staff. We ran our own clinics, took our own x-rays where we learned the various techniques from our housekeeper, we ran our own pharmacy, did simple lab work, created our own seniors and maternal and child health programs, applied plaster casts, sutured wounds, delivered many babies, did home visits and treated a myriad of emergencies while on skidoos, float planes and air ambulances. Our local low-tech ambulance, a sleigh attached to a skidoo with a large painted red cross on the side, came to the rescue of many. Baptism by fire doesn’t cover our northern adventures, but the honour and privilege bestowed on us serving Canada’s Native and Inuit populations was both humbling and a cherished gift we spoke of for the rest of Marian’s life. Our little dog, Penny, was very much a part of our Northern story and she remained with us for 17 ½ years.
Marian loved our dogs Penny, Spirit and latterly, Daisy, who she only knew for one month before she passed away.
For the past 15 years, our life on Coulson Court has been sheer joy and contentment. In the beginning, Marian and I “were the social committee for two years.” From those humble beginnings, we are now a flourishing community with a sense of fellowship and caring that is surpassed by none. Marian loved our home and the activities we all shared with our neighbours. Whether it was breaking bread at a pot luck, dining out, her painting group, our annual Garage Sale and BBQ or the many and varied outings, she felt part of a very special group of people. I can’t thank you all enough for your compassion and love towards me these last few days.
The other dear family to Marian and I was our St. Paul’s church family. Over the years, she has been very active both in front and behind the scenes. Every project I worked on, Marian was the voice of reason behind it. To our church family as well, my heart-felt thanks for your presence, kindness and love shown to Audrey and myself over this past week.
Marian was my guide, my strength, my eyes, my mentor, my level-headedness and my purpose for being. One does not need the title of RN to nurse another. Some thought it was a burden for me to nurse Marian. In actual fact, it was my honour and privilege to do so. The gift of love and service which Marian bestowed on others is the theme of this whole celebration of her life. By her actions, I’m encouraging you to jump on this train and pass it forward.
Please continue to pray for Audrey and myself as we try to adjust to another new normal, one without our beloved sister, Marian.
Pave the way for us and rest in peace until we’re together once more.
Lynn and Daisy, Ottawa, ON
Here is Llanfair, Wales: