Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela – Ordinary Guy.

"I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances."

“I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances.”

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
– The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

I have always hoped to be home in South Africa when Nelson Mandela passed away; to be a part of history, see and feel his impact one more time in the flesh. Instead I learned about it while passing through security at the Vancouver airport. I have now gotten a glimpse of his legacy in 4 countries in as many days. “Mandela was a great friend of the Kurds” I was told over lunch today in Iraq. It has been very interesting, but simply cannot compare to being home.

Mpho happy-horz

No but seriously, I married his doppleganger

I never met the man. I wish I had, but he seemed pretty busy.  I read his books, am in love with his country, share a passion for his people and married his doppelganger. He is also responsible for establishing the core conditions of my life –  without him I could not live where I live, know who I know and my family would be against the law. That’s a lot. Still, I owe him even more.

I first learned about Mandela from the Cosby Show when Elton and Sandra named their twin babies Nelson and Winnie. The adults in the room let out a knowing “ahhhhh” and I had to ask – who are they? As if being adorable squishy newborns on our favourite tv show wasn’t enough. Nelson was being released from jail after 27 years. For what? For no reason. But why? He was black.  I immediately felt concerned for Holly Ball, the only black person in our class. I got sent to sit in the hall for chewing gum; jail seemed like a really cruel punishment when she had done nothing wrong.


Tshepo and family returned to SA in 1994 after 10 years exiled in Canada.

This was followed shortly by news reports of death in South Africa.  The country was up in smoke and people were dying in numbers, but only black people.  Again, it struck me as particularly strange that South Africa had magic bullets that went around white people and only hit black. I think I even felt a sense of relief that – should I or any of my family fall out of the sky and land in South Africa, we would be safe.

I’m certain the adults trying to describe faraway news to a 10 year old never fully understood the affront to my sense of virtue; if they did, they probably thought it was cute and would fade as soon as I saw something shiny. But these things stuck to me – watching people celebrate the release of someone who should have never been jailed in the first place and learning that people sought to kill specific races became some of my earliest indicators that adults were not always righteous and the world not necessarily just.

The seed was planted for an insatiable curiosity about South Africa and, as it turns out, the journey of a lifetime. As a teen I voraciously read anything I could get my hands on. Bryce Courtney’s The Power of One became my Disney fairy tale, Mark Mathabane’s Kaffir Boy turned me inside out and Steve Biko’s I write what I like soared over my head, but I read it anyways. I painted a picture in my head of a breathtakingly beautiful country, oozing with unsung heroes and a collective soul that sounded out like a drum.

Kornelia's parents could not marry in SA. Family was born in Lesotho after Dad fled there in objection to apartheid.

Kornelia’s parents could not marry in SA. Her and siblings were born in Lesotho. Dad fled there in objection to apartheid.

When I finally did see the Cape of Good Hope where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian (they don’t meet there whatsoever, but let’s not focus on details) I sprinted full speed down the beach in to the waves with all my clothes on. The first time I met a street child, I had look away so he wouldn’t see my tears. I cried again when I encountered my first bold faced racist who called Mandela a terrorist and refused to shake my black friend’s hand. Yet again when I met a former Umkhonto we Sizwe general living homeless in a park. These moments live with me, as do the thousands of highly personal stories of injustice, inspiration, suffering, bravery, discrimination and more I have learned over my 7 years in the country. Not a day goes by that I don’t wrestle with the many layers of complexities in a nation where humanity’s toll is so raw.


Mama used to sit in anti-apartheid rallies. She was put in jail and whipped by police.

There were many things that have driven my sense of wonder about South Africa, but the cost of righteousness and the courage it takes to uphold it has struck me deepest. We talk at length about the 27 years Mandela spent in prison and commend him for emerging with a heart for peace.  But he walked into the Treason Trial prepared to die, knowing very well he might. Steve Biko was beaten to death in the back of a police truck, Robert Sobukwe died in prison, Chris Hani was assassinated, Hector Pieterson (age 13) was shot in the back by police. Well beyond these well known icons – countless teenagers left school to fight, parents lost children, fathers disappeared, thousands were buried nameless under rocks. All of them walked into it with eyes wide open.

I like to believe this principle has helped me become a better person. I have yet to give up much, anything I know about suffering is third hand and I have grown increasingly attached to life’s creature comforts. But learning about it opened my eyes to the world and my responsibilities within it, watching it lived out has awakened in me a deep yearning to share the same convictionm and coming of age in South Africa has allowed me to walk in the shadows of people – big and small – that call on me to do exactly that.

My girl on the cover of Forbes in a country where black girls were once miseducated in accordance to their opportunities in life.

Rapelang on the cover of Forbes in a country where black girls were once mis-educated in accordance to their opportunities in life.

South Africa has been everything I ever dreamed it could be and more. Like any great love story it is mired in hard work and harsh realities. Much like Mandela’s legend itself, the fairy tale ending we want does not do justice to the sacrifices it required – they didn’t call it the freedom struggle for nothing.  We say the years in prison were worth it, but a generation lost their fathers. We wish freedom was complete when apartheid was lifted, but when you break a society it is just that, broken.

Tata Mandela – thank you for standing for something and for standing so very tall. The choices you made and the sincerity with which you made them freed so many others to do the same. We are humbled by your service and will do our best to uphold a fraction of the same.

Lala Kakuhle, Tata.

Marrying a proud Pondo of the Qhinebe clan in the Transkei dressed in traditional Xhosa wear. Once illegal.

A love letter to my daughter, on her 1st birthday.

My Khaya,

For many years I swore against becoming a gushing parent. I always hoped and anticipated the day I would be able to love my children fiercely, but promised to keep it in check. I was a non-parent long enough to know that newborns aren’t even cute, no poop is interesting enough to talk about and the world continues spinning whether I get a good sleep or not.  No matter how sweet your burps were, I would keep them to myself.

I was wrong.

Exactly one year ago today I got inducted into the real Illuminati: Motherhood. More powerful and far tougher than any Mafioso, we are a borderless brethren that initiates by squeezing watermelons out of lemon-sized holes. We swear by an unwritten code and stick to one another. We sell the most books, push the most product and hold the majority of the world’s men squarely by the balls. If necessary, not only will we rip them off without hesitation, we will fresh bake them cookies from scratch while doing it.

beach mom1There is nothing I can say to you that hasn’t already been said about what it means to be your Mom. In our language, when we need to articulate the strongest expression of love, we simply speak of a mother’s.  Then it is widely understood we mean the unconditional, all-consuming, head to toe, without judgement, completely intoxicating, makes up songs about poop kind.

But even if I do not have anything particularly original to say, I am saying it anyways. Because I need you to know that it is true.

On this day one year ago, I entered Motherhood as we all do – by giving birth. Like all new Moms, I was terrified.  Birth is said to be one of the most painful experiences in the world. For what it is worth, I reject that. Not only is the pain factor over-rated, but we don’t speak nearly enough about how spiritually awakening it is. So many days go by without being fully alert. We get stuck in routine and normalize a predictable set of emotions.  We yearn for days that call on fresh feelings and make time stand still. No day will ever matter more than the one we became your parents.  Your birth was challenging by all standards and we encountered several risks, but we experienced each moment fully and with pure, unadulterated emotion.  It was magical. Every ethereal moment is permanently etched into my memory. Remind me to tell you about the time I barfed all over your Dad 1 minute before you took your first breath. I’m sure you can’t wait.

lionYou have filled every one of the 365 days since with love and awe.  I have always been blessed to know what it means to love and be loved. Your G-Ma and G-Pa set a remarkable bar that has since been upheld by the rest of our family on both sides, a truly amazing global community of friends and your Dad, whose love humbles me each and every day.  Still, a new kind was born in me through you that is utterly disarming. As Jerry Maguire once said (and successfully made many women cry), you complete me.

kenton4 - CopyAs a general rule, the greatest rewards are the hardest earned. Having babies is one of the exceptions – they are born every day and people have been doing it since the beginning of time. I fight to keep perspective and remember the world continues spinning outside the walls of our little cocoon.  I do my best to stay informed and remain an individual. I try to stay connected and lend an ear to friends who date, but often feel like an alien looking in. I miss more workouts than I hit and my pants fit different than they used to. I certainly miss boozy nights and road trips with my girlfriends and long for international travel with a business suit and one rolling suitcase. But now and forever more, evenings watching you smash spaghetti into your hair while shrieking with delight are the best ones and waking up to your cuddles, no matter what time, brings the most joy.

You are surrounded with love and friendship. You were born into a remarkable community of loving and inspiring people stretched around the world. You have grannies on 3 continents, aunts and uncles on 5 and cousins all over the place. You have traveled to 12 cities in 4 countries already and slept in over 25 homes.  Friends in 2 different countries battled on your behalf to deal with pesky visa issues. We haven’t bought you any clothes or toys, yet you have boxes full.  In case you ever think that is average, it is not. You are remarkably blessed and we will remind you to be grateful regularly.

PE 17 DaddyIf you ever need to know what real love looks like, you can see it every day in your Dad’s eyes. Your father has an extraordinary capacity to love fearlessly; watching it, and him, grow with you is perhaps the greatest privilege in my life. I hope that neither of us ever take for granted how lucky we are to have such a committed Dad who loves you fiercely, is fully present and happy to play in the dirt with you.

You are a remarkable person already and we love you exactly the way you are.  We have encountered difficult times this year and have seen some truly ugly people.  You have made an otherwise dark time a most joyous one and allowed us to keep perspective.  Your laugh is the greatest sound and a gift you give so freely. I hope it always comes so easily, but am already steeling myself for the day that it doesn’t. We want you to dream the biggest dreams and let nothing stand in your way. We promise to give our very best and do everything possible to help you become your very best, whether you want to be a violinist, figure skater or spelling bee champion. I would love to protect you from any and all hurt, but know that isn’t my job. It is my job, however, to provide you with everything you need to be a brave person of integrity, that works hard and stands up for what is right.

cupboard bebeSo Khaya, on your 1st birthday, thank you for choosing me to be your Mom, setting my heart on fire and filling my days with the ridiculous, blubbering, lose your mind kind of love. Cheers to another magical year. I hope I get at least another full one before you decide I am a creep for how I stare at you or sit near you just to smell you. You are so loved.

sick baby

 crib peek

  Cha Cha 2

silly face

my hat

The Extraordinary Kind of Ordinary – A wee ode to my sister

Blythe hall of fame“Of two sisters one is always the watcher, one the dancer.” ― Louise Glück

Name: Blythe Hartley
Age: Dirty Thirty (+1)
Hometown: Calgary, AB
Occupation: HR Advisor, ARC Resource
Education: BA Communications and Business, University of Southern California
Relationship Status: Single, but if you even think of stepping, you have to pass me first
Hobbies: Hip hop dance every Tuesday

My sister. Lucky girl. She loved it. When I was 16 and bored I decided to abandon my own perfectly good bedroom and move into hers. Our one alarm clock was on her side of the room. She had to wake up earlier than me and would re-set it so that I would not sleep through class. Invariably, everyday she had to run back up the stairs to turn it off while I stayed under the covers like a hibernating bear, too lazy to get up. Amazingly, if you let any noise go on long enough, it can start to sound good.

198932_5367085411_7282_nBlythe is the only person that I remember being born (including my daughter, but that’s selective memory).  I was 3, got to wear my brand new pink track suit and go on a field trip with my brothers. I don’t remember bringing her home and the next couple years are a blur, but the significance of that day was unmistakable. It remains one of my earliest memories.

This weekend, my little sister was inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame. The next day, she ran a half marathon (just for fun in 1:39) with a group of 40 people who fundraised over $8,000 for a charity in our brother’s name.

blythe6I know very little about what the Hall of Fame said about her. Getting her to talk about herself is like pulling teeth. She is frustratingly self-deprecating. I speculate they honoured her 12 years on the Canadian National Diving Team, 25 National Titles, 2 World Champion Titles,1 World Record, 5 Commonwealth medals, Olympic medal, 5 NCAA Titles, Pan American, Goodwill and World Cup medals. Something like that.

It goes without saying that Blythe is one of the highest achievers I have ever known. Growing up, she was better than me at absolutely everything. She remains the most gifted athlete I have ever met, I am certain she could have gone to the Olympics in any sport. By 6 she had dozens of swimming records. Her elementary school high jump and track records still stand. Her report cards sparkled. Teachers loved her, she was popular and made good choices. At 12 she appeared on the cover of the Vancouver Sun under the title “So Good, So Young”.  She had set a record as the youngest person to ever win a medal at the Senior National level. I cut it out and put it in my diary to remind myself I had the same genes.

Strachan's wedding in 2007, 6 weeks before we lost him

Strachan’s wedding 6 weeks before we lost him

She retired in 2008 after her third Olympics. 2007 was brutal for the Hartleys.  We lost Strachan in July after an all-consuming 21 month battle with cancer. It was exhausting and devastating. We were each left wasted to the full extent of the word. We lost one of our limbs. It took me at least a year to pick myself up and begin to limp forward. It happened only because day after day the sun continued to rise, regardless of how I felt. Eventually, I had no choice but to put one foot in front of the other.

blythe2That Blythe found fresh motivation through her loss made for a great media vignette and pulled on a lot of heart strings. But that says nothing of how hard it was. She once had to sprint to the bathroom to vomit after opening her closet and seeing Strachan’s sweatshirt. Another time, she drove all the way to the pool only to sit crying in the parking lot before heading home. While a whole lot of sympathetic friends and colleagues accepted that I could only half ass my way through life until I was good and ready, Blythe rose up and committed herself to an endeavour that demanded her absolute best. In the public eye, wearing a bathing suit on high definition television.

She went on to have a career best season, including a 4th place finish in her final Olympics. We watched in the stands with baited breath, 4th can be the toughest place. We released a collective sigh of relief and cheered our asses off when we saw her huge, genuine, beaming smile.

Auntie Blythee

Auntie Blythee

She later told me that the key to that year was to stop caring altogether.  She was competing for herself, her family and teammates. The only measure for achievement was whether she did her very best. She did. She gave her career best performance. That 3 people had even better days or that her scores would have medalled at any other Olympics in history had no bearing. It is every woman’s unattainable dream – to stop caring what others think and start using the right barometers for success, peace and happiness. Chalk it up to yet another impossible feat that Blythe has achieved.

She has since retired gracefully from sport and transitioned seamlessly into civilian life. Needless to say, she continues to excel. The last time I visited her office, her Vice President was so enthused about her that he high-fived me. She surrounds herself with outstanding friends, has chili cook-offs, plays flag football and finds pleasure in simple things. Her priorities are in tact, she is unpretentious and refreshingly humble.  Most importantly for me, she has the best laugh, sits on my feet when they are cold and I am always at home in her company.

Such an honourable maid

Such an honourable maid

Watching someone grow up from the beginning is the most remarkable journey.  Since my earliest memories, I have watched Blythe in angst and in wonder. I still do. I have worried about every risk, wished I could protect her from every hurt and beamed with pride at every reward.  I apologize if you have barfed in your mouth while reading this, but knowing that the very person I have watched grow up since birth is the one who has lived the best life helps me believe that I matter.

So Blythe, before you fly across the world to kick my ass for writing this, know that nothing has made me more proud than the person you have become. Congratulations on the Hall of Fame; they have great taste.

Blythe1 blythe3

Isinqandamathe sam (he who catches my drool)

“It isn’t the mountains ahead that wear you out, it’s the pebble in your shoe.” – Muhammad Ali

Mpho happyName : Mpho Mbiyozo
Occupation: my husband, but since that doesn’t pay nearly what it should, loose forward Southern Kings Rugby
Hometown: Lusikisiki
Age: Dirty Thirty
Education: BA Media + History, U of Cape Town
Hobbies: Sports, Top Gear, surfing, beer, meat, maskandi music and our chubby little daughter.

I married up. Apparently marrying up has been a well known strategy for women throughout civilization. I didn’t know as much until I just googled it, but it seems to have worked out for me nonetheless.

mpho wedding

It was a good day.

I have always been drawn to people who overcome. It is not requisite – you can be born with a silver spoon up your arse and be inspiring. But there is something magnetic about people who have walked a longer journey to get to the same place. Their character is practically guaranteed; I want that on my side.

Mpho was born in Lusikisiki to a single mother who never had the privilege of education. He had far out-stripped his initial prospects by the time he was 15. He is the beneficiary of her inexhaustible spirit and the generosity of some truly remarkable people. He graduated from one of the top high schools, represented South Africa 33 times as a Springbok Seven, won the World Series, captained his team at the World Cup and is currently the only black Super Rugby player in the country with a University degree. He has no living direct blood relatives and has buried his mother, father and brother long before their time. He is patient, affable, handsome and unassumingly wise. He accepts people for who they are, is slow to judge and quick to forgive.  I feel much better going the distance with him around.

Mzwandile Stick also left the 7s to help build the Kings. He retired last month.

Mzwandile Stick also left the 7s to help build the Kings. He captained the team for 1 year and retired last month.

We moved to Port Elizabeth 2 years ago. After 10 years in Cape Town, Mpho had reached the top of his rugby career given the available options. The opportunity arose for him to play in PE. It was a risk as the team was not at the top level,  but they enticed him with an opportunity to share in building it up.  Most black rugby players come from this region. With a sub-par professional union, they have not had the development structures necessary to maximize their potential. Accordingly, top talent gets poached by other unions and many more players exit long before their time due to lack of options.

Now I'm just bragging

Now I’m just bragging

I supported the decision whole-heartily. PE was always going to be a downgrade from Cape Town but it presented a unique opportunity. There are many problems in the world, yet it is tough to make a meaningful difference. When someone presents a vehicle to make an impact while doing what you love, you take it.

Ten days ago, the Southern Kings reached a critical milestone toward their vision when they played their first ever Super Rugby game. Despite much controversy, the team has reached the highest league in the world. Not only that, they made history as the first ever team to win their debut match.

We watched from the stands.

mpho an portugal

In Portugal at the tip of the continent

Mpho has always worked hard, but for the past 4 months he has gone above and beyond. He told me awhile back that playing Super Rugby is his dream. In the same breath he admitted he was scared it might never happen. He eats poached salmon and quinoa, has beaten all his fitness scores, maintained his goal weight and goes to sleep at 9pm reading his play book. He captained the team in 2 pre-season games, was lead tackler in one and named Player of the Camp. He has made several tv appearances and been one of the public faces of the team.

After the game, I could not sleep. I have never wanted anything so badly for anyone. I could give a crap about the shiny lights, but there is something so very powerful about chasing a dream. I want him to meet his full potential, believe in himself and apply it to the rest of life.

mpho and boys

Bunch of clowns. The good kind.

Mpho will tell you it is the nature of the game. How you handle being benched defines you as a player – it takes a far better person to stay positive and focused than it does to get frustrated. Not only does he have the courage to set a brazen goal, but he comes from a long suffering people that certainly have patience. He will continue to work on what he can control and contribute no matter what. Things will come right.

It is super humbling. Especially because I am on the other side of him losing my shit.

In a sport loaded down by statistics, here are a few that I had to do by hand with a calculator. In opening week of Super Rugby in South Africa:

  • 110 players dressed
  • 10 were black/ 7 starters
  • 15 coloured/9 starters
  • Out of 52 million South Africans, 4.5 million are white (8.9%), 4.6 million coloured (8.9%) and 41 million black (79.2%)
  • It looked the same in week 2 and will again in week 3.
  • “Invictus” happened 18 years ago.

This is a seriously unpopular topic. I can feel people getting uncomfortable through my keyboard.  I won’t be surprised if someone brings up the number of white soccer players or asks why we cannot just put race behind us. I have answers for that. I am, however, sensitive about making excuses for my husband. I know nothing about rugby and have no objectivity. Sport is harsh – for every champion there are many more who just aren’t good enough. Mpho could be terrible for all I know. So could the other 30 odd black players watching from the sidelines.

Mama KaMpho - Noxolo

Mama KaMpho – Noxolo

There are 6 million South Africans living in shacks, all black. My black nanny gets paid as much in a day as I do in 30 minutes and I pay double the asking wage. She uses it to care for her elderly father,  2 children, schizophrenic brother and her dead sister’s 2 orphans. This week, my black friend got stopped in her driveway for ‘suspicious’ behavior and had to prove she lives there; a white neighbor called the cops on her and her 9 year old son when they entered the complex. Mpho has been held to the ground with a gun at his back by a white police after using a pay phone and been called a ‘dirty kaffir’ out a car window. I had to stop seeing my white manicurist after she complained about black people crowding her at the mall. My white friend refused to hire black employees  because she “didn’t want clients to have to hear another useless black voice”.

Do the math. This is South Africa; whether we like it or not, race matters. If you wish it away not only do you choose ignorance, you deny a constructive conversation about how to create change. If you pretend it is in the past or not applicable in your backyard, you fear what it says about you.  And if you tokenize someone, you break their soul.  If that is your goal, only God can help you.

Mpho and Dad

With my Dad.

In 2005 I went to to a rugby capping ceremony. Capping involves inducting players onto a professional team after a qualifying number of games. It was delightful; 10 players were capped, 2 of them black. At the end, the captain approached them to thank them for a great season:

“Two years ago, I thought if a black person touched me it would rub off on me,” he said proudly, “now, I’m happy to call you my teammates.”
I almost choked on my drink. They were un-phased; they are used to it. They shrugged and said “he still thinks all the other black people will rub off on him, we’re just the exception” and then partied into the night.

mpho with khaya

I love my husband and admire him more than I can ever express. He inspires and humbles me every single day. If things will indeed come right, it will be because of his wisdom and patience.  He will teach our daughter integrity and fortitude and she will learn quickly that her father has courage her mother does not. But, as incredible as it is to walk next to someone willing to double the distance, it sucks to have to do it and I am deeply sorry people get used to it.

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.