Rena Lindsay refused to wear a watch. She didn’t want to be hampered by deadlines, by urgencies. She wanted to be able to give the necessary time that people needed for whatever they needed. It’s one of the character traits her co-workers both loved and hated.
And if we look underneath Rena’s reason for this peculiar trait in today’s rush-rush-rush world, we’ll see a lot more of the person that Rena Lindsay is and was.
Rena gave up her earthly address last week, and on February 24 signed off on what has been a remarkable life, a life which touched each person she knew in a special way. And when her family and friends gathered to pay tribute to her last Monday, there were smiles, there was laughter and there were tears.
Bette Midler’s The Rose; Mariah Carey and Boys 2 Men’s One Sweet Day and Sarah McLachlan’s I Will Remember You were the musical tributes, but many of Rena’s loved ones would have added Frank Sinatra’s I Did It My Way to the series of songs.
Why am I writing today about Rena? Well, my experience with her was a drop in the bucket that was her life, and yet she has remained in my thoughts and my energy field for eight years.
We first met when I was involved in publishing a magazine for Canadian teenagers. Someone suggested (I think it was Kathy Irvin) that I follow up a series I’d done on Death and Dying and Coping with Loss and interview Rena and her daughter Michelle Pickering. They (and Rena’s other daughters Lisa and Kelly) were coping with Michelle’s second bought with cancer. And for Michelle, first struck with Hodgkins Disease at age 14, the prognosis was bleak. Michelle was 18. She had given birth a year earlier to a beautiful baby boy, Jamie.
I spent time with Rena and Michelle and then alone with Michelle when she entered hospital in Toronto. Michelle wanted to write her own story for our magazine, TG, and my task was to help her figure out the topics she wanted to share with our three million readers. My task was to write the connective tissue that pulled it all together. And because my own children were around Michelle’s age, it was easier to identify with Rena and the strength she needed to be with her dying daughter, her little grandson, her living daughters and be the focus of a family unit.
Michelle wrote her piece. It appeared in our magazine’s 50th anniversary issue. One month after Michelle died. Michelle was eloquent about her baby son and her delight that he was in her life. “I had to have Jamie early,” she told me. “I won’t be here long.”
After Michelle’s death, I took a framed copy of the photo our photographer captured of Michelle in hospital and a copy of our issue featuring Michelle’s story and we sat together at Rena’s kitchen table. And we cried.
Last week as Rena herself was dying, from breast cancer that had metastasized to her lung and brain, that same picture of Michelle sat beside her. She talked of visions of oases and deserts and flashes of light, and in a moment of humour quipped, “I guess I better listen when the big one comes because you can’t argue with the boss.”
She died very, very peacfully on February 24.
Rena was a nurse. She worked in the obstetrical unit at RVH with parents-to-be. She also founded the Bereaved Parents Group in Barrie, for parents who have lost a child. Rena also worked as the Education Coordinator for Hospice Simcoe, training volunteers to visit with and care for people who were dying in their own homes. An interesting antithesis, notes Maureen Friesen, Hospice coordinator… “Rena worked with people preparing to be parents, with parents who had lost a child to death, and volunteers in the death experience.”
Rena Lindsay’s life had lots of low points in it. Many struggles, ending with her own choices around drug and treatment for herself in the last two years of her life. Her incredible work ethic made it a real challenge for those around her to convince her to save some of her energy for herself. She spent her last months living with her daughter, Lisa, who will now share the upbringing and care of young Jamie with her sister, Kelly. When the time came, Rena moved into hospital, to the familiar surroundings where she had worked for so long. She had a life that was a struggle from start to finish. She touched a number of people and left a fair-sized hole on the planet.
(Hospice and hospital friends who knew Rena so well have set up a trust fund for Jamie. Queries can go to Maureen Friesen, Hospice Simcoe, 722-5995.)