Farewells and orchids

The latter part of 2012 was very difficult for my family. We suddenly lost someone very dear to us. My aunt Arda, the eldest of my father’s siblings, was admitted to the hospital with a few issues that all seemed manageable at first, and in spite of rallying toward recover, she passed away. We were not prepared for her loss. No one ever is.

Arda’s death hit me and my brothers practically hard. We’d become quite close with her over the last several years, and the loss of her husband, our uncle, a few years prior, made things all the worse.

Arda gave my mother an orchid plant about a year ago. It stopped flowering in the summertime. Mum was going to throw it out, but after Arda passed away, it started to bloom again. Coincidence, no doubt, but deriving meaning from such things is comforting.

I’ll always remember my aunt for being sharp as a tack, very politically involved in Alberta and Canada, and always with opinions and gossip on people. But mostly, I’ll remember her for taking me to my first live theatre experience at the Citadel when I was quite young. We saw Oliver! together, along with my brothers and cousin, Arda’s son Chris.

Chris gave the eulogy for his mother at her funeral on November 19. With his permission, I’ve reposted what he said below.

Auntie Arda, you are missed.

Arda met many challenges throughout her life and I believe she was the most courageous woman I have ever known. She was born in Holland to Bella and Gerhardt Tummers. She lost her father early in life and went on to become the eldest of five with Cor and Bella Rozenhart. Her young years were formidable as Germany’s war machine tore through Europe. At the age of two my mother and her family lived under the occupation of the German forces. There were shortages of everything from heating materials to food. The pinnacle of which was the Hungry Winter of 1944. Mom didn’t speak of the war often however I know that she did her part for her family collecting coal from railway tracks that had fallen from the train’s till and gathering food where it was to be found. Survival isn’t heroic, having the courage to survive is.

I think that is why, throughout my life our cupboards were always filled with food, one time I can remember finding cans of food in the eighties that had existed long before the bi-lingual French/English labelling requirement. Turtle soup with Woodward’s labels on them and Ron saying…”Arda why are we keeping this stuff?!” My mother was a child of war time and would not have her family wanting.

Canada posed many challenges for her family as they moved here in 1953, if anyone has moved from one school to another you can appreciate what an adjustment any new surrounding can be. Assimilating in a new language in an unfamiliar country. She helped Bella run the household assisting with cooking and less glamorous chores such as polishing shoes. She led by example and was dutiful as a daughter and sister.

In the sixties she met and married Conrad Heibey and I was the result of that union, once again she had a family to take care of. I was born with a cleft palate and I sure was a handful! Feedings were laborious taking up to three hours at a time. If some people say I was cursed with a birth defect, I can say I was blessed by a loving mother. Arda and Conrad’s paths led in different directions and as such my mother found herself divorced in a time when the church and society in general did not view divorces in a favourable light. She was also a single mother without the resources of daycare and other services single mothers enjoy today. Heroic may be too strong a word but courageous definitely, as she made a new home and secured herself a job at the Baker Clinic.

Her third chapter was yet to come as she found love with a young suitor named Ron Baltzan who saw all the wonderful qualities my mother had. Once again there were adjustments to be made for them both. A girl from a Roman Catholic background dating this Jewish man. Certainly at the same time my aunt Mozanne was getting her head around Ronnie running with a shiksa. The courage to love always wins.

If fortune smiled on my mother with supportive siblings and love in her heart she certainly shared that fortune with her friends and community. Working with charities, shaping policies with influential people in the Liberal party….. My goodness she wasn’t intimidated by anything… A liberal in Alberta? She didn’t take any easy roads. Heroic may be too strong, courageous of that there can be no doubt. Honestly who else do you know that received Christmas cards from Pierre Elliot Trudeau and much later on, Christmas cards from the White House as well.

Many here today will remember her flair for entertaining, and because of Ron’s athletic prowess I ended up spending a lot of time in the kitchen and learned about a proper table set and how to make a roué. She possessed a discerning eye for detail and if Arda was involved it was done with an understated elegance that few could equal. You didn’t want to miss a party at the Baltzan’s.

Even her shortcomings were charming… gifted with a great sense of humour my mother just couldn’t tell a joke… by the time she delivered one the story was so convoluted it ended up being funnier than the punch line.

She came to the aid of her friends and family when they were sick. Once she even secured a bag of marijuana for someone suffering through a battle with cancer. She was definitely a pioneer long before medical marijuana was available. Heroic may be too strong but courageous always. She went on to foster the beginnings of the Northern Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation which later became a reality now known as the Stollery Centre, one of her proudest accomplishments.

Her own personal battle with disease was one she didn’t shy from. Undergoing dialysis she remained positive and spoke little of her ills. I have had correspondence with the renal department at the University and she is fondly remembered. We were blessed with a kidney transplant later, giving her freedom from dialysis. I can’t remember a single complaint from her as she recovered from a difficult surgery. She saw hope in a new beginning and that is courage personified.

She enjoyed so many happy years following and I believe for her there was no greater reward than becoming an Oma for her Grandson Benjamin. Seeing her hold him in her arms for the first time will be a memory I will cherish forever. Her Benjamin time was dear to her and at 74 you could catch her kicking a soccer ball back and forth in the park in front of her house. I watched one day and remembered that was something she did with me some 40 years ago.

No matter where I went, people who knew my mother always said what a wonderful person she was. To me she was my template to what I will always aspire to be. I don’t think hero is too strong a word to describe my mom, how I will miss her.

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