My heart stopped this week. I was away in Alberta last week, skiing with our older kids who work in the industry there, and the local papers awaited me. And as I was reading last week’s issues, my heart skipped when I came to the obituary for Cathie Smethurst Tulloch Renault.

Age 55.

Mother of Barrie’s first surviving triplets, born in 1973 at RVH under the careful scrutiny of Dr. David Johns. Mother of Aiden, Dylan and Joshua, nearly full term baby boys. Cathie and I met first during her happy (and my not-so-happy) stint at Bell Canada. Cathie represented the ‘workers’ in the commercial department and was kind in her carriage of the management messaage: you’re not a great fit around here.

That was the message; Cathie delivered it with kindness and with humour.

And awhile later, when I’d returned to journalism, our paths crossed again, with she and daddy Ron Tulloch holding their new baby boys and me on the business end of a camera. Newsworthy event at the old RVH, that’s for sure.

On Christmas morning, Cathie left her home and her boys to enter RVH and she didn’t come back. She died of liver failure on February 10. She was celebrated at her funeral on Valentine’s Day. Her boys, now 29 years old, were there. So was her mother, Helen Smethurst. And her brothers Bob and Joe. And her sisters, Gwen and Madeleine. And her husband of 22 years, Doug Renault.

Cathie was baptized at St George’s Anglican Church in Allandale. She was baptized there, confirmed there, married there, twice. Her babies were presented there. And she exchanged her earthly address at St. George’s, her final service in the church which has embraced her entire life.

In between the youthful mirth of days in the commercial department at Bell Canada and her happy marriage to Doug in 1981, Cathie lived an entire lifetime... motherhood, single parenthood of three three-year-olds, the necessity of full time employment and juggling her brood. The relief of sending them off to kindergarten. The excitement of starting high school. The scheduling for the family car.

Cathie was a survivor. She was a caregiver. She loved to sing. She loved to cook. After she got family approval for Doug and his brood of three daughters, Cathie became one eighth of Barrie’s Brady Bunch as the Tulloch boys, the Renault girls, and Cathie and Doug undertook to raise a complicated family which included four nine-year-olds.

After her marriage to Doug, Cathie helped Doug in his real estate ventures. She typed offers, made deliveries, coordinated schedules and loved Doug’s girls. She embraced the very special challenge of teenage feminine mystique--three times! She loved on days when it was hard to do so.

Doug watched the long line of elementary, and high school friends, of Bell friends, of real estate friends, of parents of the kids’ friends, circles and circles of friends all lined up, patiently waiting to pay their respects during the visitation and celebration for Cathie last week.

“It was a signal to the many hearts she touched, that so many people took time to come and remember her,” says Doug. As he looks over dozens of sympathy cards, he muses that Cathie’s mother Helen is likely holding many more.

He looks back to the days since Christmas morning, days when he couldn’t give up hope that Cathie would recover. “Her mind was clear, though medication gave her some confusion about her surroundings. She could identify old friends, pictures in albums, people back to elementary school,” he remembers. She hit a peak of activity the weekend before she died. On Monday, she settled down, and after a prayer with chaplain Ron Beresford, she settled down, turned toward Doug in his chair, and she left.

For Doug, perhaps the toughest moment was calling the boys, her miracle babies, to tell them their mother was gone. All now working in the food industry--Aiden and Josh here in Barrie, Dylan at a fine dining restaurant at Whistler, BC--the boys were stunned that their mom was gone.

Age 55.

“She was a great mother to the boys, and a superb mother to my girls. Angie, Jackie, Paula... she helped them with school, cared and talked and responded. The girls got to love her because they knew what she was doing for them,” says Doug. And the girls were there, one with a new baby, one with her toddler, and one with her brood of three.

Perhaps Cathie’s ability to care for others is best demonstrated in the loss of a friend...

When one of their friends was widowed, Cathie insisted they offer a Dinner a Month, and when their friend accepted, she ensured he was greeted to a wonderful dinner, good conversation and care once a month.

Next month Doug will appear at that friend’s step, knock on the door and understand the gift Cathie gave when he, too, begins his Dinner a Month.

The irony of a circle.

Thanks, Cathie.

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