It is coming on to the first anniversary of my close friend, Tanya’s death from lung cancer February 3, 2016. The first indication that she and her husband Alex had moved in next door was when I heard than talk just outside my office window. Yes, our houses, our properties are that close.
Perhaps this was a sign of how close Tanya and I would become. I went over and introduced myself to them and later their orange cat, Marmalade when they brought him home.
Alex came from Russia and Tanya from the Ukraine. They had lived in England for nine years and one year rented a house down by Lake Ontario in Toronto before buying the house next door. The house next door required a lot of updates – Alex and his friends gutted and renovated the basement and the main floor. It was a small house, smaller than mine, so in 2010 they added a upper part – which after getting the proper city permits, Alex and his friends did most of the work for – except for a few things like electrical and the like.
Because theirs family had increased when their son Anton was born 13 years ago. You would see her and Alex pushing Anton in his baby carriage along the street. When Anton was walking, he would be out in their backyard and later when he started at the school at the end of the street, Tanya would take him to school. After school he would be out in the backyard playing with his friends. Some times Alex would be mowing the lawn or fixing something with the house.
But it was Tanya who was the heart of her family. Although she had asthma and had to stay in on very hot summer days or extremely cold winter days, still in spring to fall she would be out in her backyard, hanging out laundry, sometimes doing a bit of gardening, sometimes just sitting and enjoying the view. We always had long chats over the fence and helped each other out – if someone needed an extra egg and Tanya often offered to pick up for me heavy groceries such as apple juice. She also helped me get my garden soils bag back from Home Depot. She used to say she loved looking at my garden, even from their back window. Sometimes I gave her plants from the garden. But the big annual ritual was to give them containers of the black raspberries and tomatoes that grew in my garden. One summer, when Anton was getting really fussy about his food, he would eat the raspberries. I remember when they were headed up to a rented cottage with some friends, Tanya said that Anton sat in the back seat and ate some of the raspberries.
We looked after each others’ houses, properties, and in their case their cat, when either they or I went away on holidays. Whomever was away would bring back a little treat for the one(s) looking after the property. Usually I visited my cousins in southwestern Ontario and brought back a small box of chocolates from Chocolate Barrs (yes, that’s the name of the owners) in downtown Stratford, Ontario. We also exchanged Christmas presents, some of which I would buy on my holidays. And visited each other for lunch and for my annual Christmas party (which I stopped doing after 2013 – too much work).
One of the things they did that was beyond the call of duty was to help me when my basement flooded the first time in November 2005 – this was around six to eight inches of water in the recreation room, hallway, laundry room and up part of the stairs. Tanya let me borrow her cell to call a friend and my ex and later the insurance company because at first my phone line was all static because of the water downstairs. The phone service came back the next day.
But Alex came over right away when I banged on their door for help. For some reason he had brought home the heavy-duty Shopping Vac from work (he works in construction and has a small company which subcontracts out). Alex cleaned up all the water downstairs. So when the city works department people came to check it out they only saw the ravages and figured it was a drain problem. So did the insurance people and the drain company that replaced and upgraded the main drain outlet on the floor in the laundry room.
Fast forward to late fall 2015 when I got a call from Tanya who told me she was sick. I mentioned something about the asthma. I remember her words: “It is much worse than asthma. I have cancer of the lungs.” She was on a special macro-biotic diet and wanted me to get her some special foods from the health food store on the Danforth. So I did, with pleasure and sadness when I brought the food and saw her at home. She was up and about but attached to a portable respirator with a very long cord. She explained her dietary regime and was always cheerful. Alex and another of their friends, Linda, also got her food for her.
Then we had Christmas – her last. I was glad I could go over for a short visit with Christmas presents Christmas Eve and that she called on Christmas Day and talked to me and my son. Tanya, Alex and Anton were going to that rented cottage (winter heated, naturally) for a week after Christmas Day. But Tanya was rushed to the local hospital because of breathing problems, Alex told me the next day as he was loading the car to take Anton up to the cottage as his friends were there too. Alex was coming back to be with Tanya.
The day Tanya was to come home her doctor took one look at her and had her transferred to Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. She never came home. I was able to talk to her once on the phone but when I called the next time I wasn’t allowed to speak to her but they would give her my message. She started chemo but it made her so sick the doctors had to take her off it. It was too late anyway; she was diagnosed too late – if it acts like asthma doesn’t necessarily mean it is only asthma.
Whenever I saw Anton or Alex I asked how Tanya was doing but was careful what to say to young Anton. Both were optimistic, but the last time before… when I spoke to Alex alone, he wasn’t so optimistic, making that gesture that means so-so. He said she couldn’t swallow and couldn’t talk.
February 4, Alex phoned me and said “Tanya passed away yesterday.”
The memorial service was held a month later in a big room at a legion hall. Friends brought food and non-alcoholic beverages. There were words from friends. I went with one of my other friends, Al from across the street. Carol, his wife, a close friend, couldn’t make it because she was sick with the flu. But all of Anton’s friends were there sitting with him at a table. And the neighbours came out in droves. There were pictures – print – displayed of the three of them. It was very moving. The following May we all helped plant a tree in Tanya’s memory on the grounds of the grade school Anton had attended.
Tanya, I will never forget you. You died too young – 51. I hope in summer you can look down and see and enjoy my garden.
Only Child Writes