On love – Peter and Catherine

Peter and catherineNames: Catherine Louvet and Peter Hartley
Relation: Aunt and Uncle
Married: 28 years
Hometown: Montreal
Occupations:  Senior Group Consumer Marketing Director, Rogers Québec and Associate Publisher,L’actualité.
Head of Global Marketing – Alumina, Dow Chemicals.
Children: Camille (22), Lauren (19)

Getting older seems hard. For all the wisdom it fosters, age appears to have an inverse relationship with hope.  Time weathers. It injures. The more you have, the more likely you are to experience loss and suffering and the less you have to look forward to. My father once challenged me to find out why most liberals are young. It is still on my to-do list.

Hartley siblings in 2012

Hartley siblings in 2012

That is to say nothing of relationships. Not only do half of all marriages end, the other half don’t exactly inspire.  How many young people look at a married couple after 30 years and think “Wow, I can’t wait!”?  That cute old couple strolling through the park? He’s not really deaf, he just pretends so that she stops talking. It doesn’t even work.

Moreover, women appear to come out worse for the wear. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said we are like tea bags – you don’t know our strength until we are in hot water. That’s great if true, except that tea bags end up pretty haggard. As the next generation of wives and mothers, I spend a decent amount of time among friends plotting how to improve our prospects. I also make a point of latching on to great role models.

Peter and Camille

Camille graduating from McGill with a BCom

Lest I ever call them old – Peter is my father’s youngest brother, Catherine his amazing wife.

Their story is quintessential blue-eyed boy meets brown-eyed girl. Handsome star athlete and top student graduates Canadian University and goes to France to play professional hockey. He meets his teammate’s gorgeous, wholesome and intelligent little sister. They fall in love in a French meadow on a bicycle built for two. They picnic under the stars, drink wine and eat croissant but never get drunk or fat.


Lauren – actress extraordinaire

Thirty years later they wake up every morning and sip cappuccinos in their stylish kitchen while listening to Mozart and reading the newspapers – English and French. They have great careers, dress well and eat even better. In the winters they ski. Summers they golf, bike and swim.  They have a long list of great friends. They give back to the community and make great citizens. They have a quaint weekend home in the mountains and a rustic family cottage on the Muskokas. Catherine makes it home to France annually and they manage to take a fantastic family vacation each year. This year Argentina and Chile, last year Aspen, the one before Italy.

Their daughters, my cousins, are a double dose of exceptional. Camille is in her first year of law school. Lauren is spending a gap year traveling while applying to Theater School. Between them, they have covered all possible talents and all 5 continents.  They are stunning, warm and well-adjusted, yet each their own person.

PCCLTheir first daughter, Kristen Alexandra, was born with down syndrome. They accepted her and committed themselves to doing whatever she needed to thrive, including moving to Toronto to access better resources. At 9 months, she underwent heart surgery to correct a defect commonly found in down syndrome babies. She did not survive. They had to bury their first born child.

With my Khaya

With my Khaya

We met and loved Kristen when they visited in Vancouver, but I was far too young to fully understand the loss. Many years later, I asked Catherine whether it was harder to lose Kristen or her father, who was shot during a home robbery. I was taken aback by how decisively she replied – Kristen. Once you become parents, you stay that way; for a time, they were parents living without a child. I think I rationalized it to dull the impact; it was a long time ago and they went on to have 2 more beautiful daughters. I convinced myself losing a baby is easier than a grown child because you don’t share as much history. I probably even tried to believe there was a small sense of relief because her life would have had challenges.

"Fog that!' Peter joined my Dad to canoe from Montreal to Quebec City. They coined the term on a bad weather day.

“Fog that!’ Peter joined my Dad to canoe from Montreal to Quebec City. They coined the term on a bad weather day.

Now that I am a mother, I better understand – nothing compares to losing a child, regardless of age or circumstance. Now that I have endured my own tragedy, I further understand the hurt never goes away, no matter what follows.

When seeking good relationship role models, Peter and Catherine are impossible not to love and admire. They share a great life and genuinely enjoy each other. The last time I saw them, they were holding hands like teenagers. But I refuse to believe they live well despite their losses. Rather, partly because of them.

They lost their child. Catherine’s father died tragically and mother has Multiple Sclerosis. My grandfather spent his last weekend at Muskoka, announced “it doesn’t get much better than this” and then passed away from old age on the commute back to Toronto. A great way to go, unless you were Peter, the driver. They grieved Strachan as much as anyone. He lived with them in Montreal and shared a particularly special bond. Now, he shares a memorial with Kristen on Mont-Royal.

peter and catherine dancing

Strachan and Chloe were married in their backyard on their 23rd wedding anniversary

If their lives are indeed charmed, it is because they make them that way. Time has injured them too. Watching them choose empathy and humility over fear and bitterness makes them the jackpot of role models.

Every night Catherine rushes home to make dinner for her family, even if it means working late into the night. Every day Peter gets on all fours and chases the cat. Every month, he sends a video or bad joke to the entire family to keep us talking.They plan months ahead in order to make time for everyone. It is not roses and butterflies all the time; they still trade mundane to-do lists, get frustrated and argue. But they work hard at living well and feel lucky for being able to. That is as good as it gets.

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