Story Catcher – Claire Ethier
By Madeleine Keroack
I was making my way to the Edmonton Seniors Centre, walking and thinking about writing. I had been given the go ahead to write “stories. ” Each to be based on the lives of members. I was anxious to get started.
I was mentally composing, practicing how I could offer a complete and meaningful written picture in a format sized for the ESC Newsletter. I wanted to practice with someone who would not only challenge my writing skills but also my sensitivity. The person who came first to mind was Claire Ethier.
Claire and I have known each other for a long time, so I hoped she would feel comfortable sharing with me. Our relationship hit rocky ground at times - neither of us claiming patience as a virtue.
Regardless, she was important to me – maybe she would agree to letting me “showcase” her.
She was still on my mind as I entered the Centre – I couldn’t believe what I was being told…
“Claire had died.”
Claire dead! That was just not right – not possible. Everyone there had a dazed, confused look in their eyes – all of us in shock. Not that Clair was not burdened with many health problems, but still - she was always with us – still Claire. It seemed wrong that we would not be seeing her again. None of us are new to losing people but some are just so unexpected. It affects us in a way that’s different -- difficult to describe.
Now, I definitely needed to relate the story that was Claire. I knew bits and pieces of her life but there was more I wanted to know.
Claire was a presence in our Centre, throughout the hospital and in the community. She was a presence because she was determined to be a presence – no matter where she was.
She was a survivor: a trooper. She survived by being active and involved and she refused to be overlooked.
That determination could result in dissension with others at times, but it was a coping mechanism necessary to her to make her life as much her own as possible.
Claire was not able to enjoy a way of life that most of us take for granted. She was a young woman when her health dictated that she spend the rest of her life in care – the care that came to be provided in the Edmonton General Hospital.
In spite of the efforts of some hospital staff, making a hospital feel like home is like having to live in a foreign country. You have very little say in what you do; you don’t know the language. You have to cooperate because others are dictating what your life will be – you need them to be fair, to be kind. Many are.
You are not free to leave, and you will not be going home. You will not be with people you know. You must get along with those that are now in control whether they are people you would invite into your life or not.
There is something above and beyond “normal” strength of character that allows a person to carve out a life for themselves in that environment.
Claire’s fortitude and her resilience made it possible for her. She credited her family and was grateful of their support and involvement.
She would tell anyone who listened about her family. She was very proud of them – from her grandparents to recently born nieces and nephews. Those she loved and what they contributed to her life was her favorite topic of conversation.
Her Grandfather was the reason she presented such a challenge at the Cribbage games we enjoyed together – he taught her well.
They were an Edmonton family. Claire’s father not only worked in security at the Parliament Building, but also gave children hours of wonderment as a magician and clown. Claire was able to perform many of his tricks. She also adopted her dad’s way with children. All children had a special place in her heart - she was able to relate to them - they were drawn to her, seeming to know they could trust her.
The contribution of talent in the family was shared by her mother also. She was a renowned, local seamstress. Edmonton’s own Klondike Kate wore Mrs. Ethier’s creations. Her brothers, sisters and their families were all well presented to everyone Claire spent time with. We all knew the ETAs of any family baby on the way.
What Claire was more reserved about was the amount of time she devoted to causes she felt passionate about. She took on fundraising for more than one charitable organization and worked diligently for political parties she supported. For years Claire was the lead of the Resident’s Council of the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre (EGCCC) and a founding member of the Angel Outreach program.
By being open to so much involvement, Claire developed a vast personal network – she knew everybody. She was up on EGCCC current events and could provide information about local agencies, government issues and who to go to for what.
Friends speak of Claire as been very loyal. She was always grateful for time spent playing cards and games, going for coffee, shopping or sharing time on the phone. She very much appreciated been able to vent to those who empathized with her frustrations and was forgiving of those who were, at times, less than patient. She wasn’t always socially “correct” but always wanted to be socially accepted.
Claire was a presence not to be ignored, a presence that was renowned and a presence that is missed.
In September of this year I happened, by chance to meet Claire’s sister, Denise. We had met before but hadn’t spoken since Claire’s passing.
Denise spoke of how the family had hoped to have a celebration of Claire’s life and have her buried with her parents as she had wished.
Like everything else in this world at this time the pandemic affected those hopes. Gatherings were not allowed and burials could not be performed. The family had faced having Claire’s remains basically “on hold” for however long it took for “normal” to return. Then the funeral home presented an option. If the family considered cremation, they would be given permission to have Claire’s ashes placed in with her parent's graves – some with Mom and some with Dad; the rest shared among the siblings. This would only be an option until March when that choice would no longer be available until after the pandemic.
Claire was finally where she had wanted to be since entering the hospital so many years ago – back with her family.
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