Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Lost Language of Tessa

"I know."

People impact our lives in big and small ways. Tessa, our former next door neighbour, who died a few years ago now, always worried that she wouldn't be remembered. She had no family connections, in the traditional sense, but she had a large network of friends. Most of those fell away after her diagnosis of cancer, and fewer still visited her in the hospital in those last days. On one of her low moments, she spoke to us about feeling that "maybe, perhaps" she wouldn't be remembered and that, "maybe, perhaps," her life hadn't mattered. We spoke seriously, all of us, realizing that this may be one of the biggest fears that we all face. We helped her to review her life. How about the time she was interviewed by a U of T student for her thesis - Tessa having been considered an elder in the Feminist movement? How about the work that she did establishing programmes to help new immigrants to Canada who were under-employed and over-qualified? How about the role she had taken on as a disability activist after she had lost the ability to walk? She nodded at each of these, considered the fact that she had spent her life DOING, and doing important things. Finally she said, "Yes, that's all true, but will anyone remember me?" We said that we couldn't speak for anyone else, but that we would.

And we have.

We talk about Tessa almost every time we make a stew or a casserole. Tessa was notoriously inept in the kitchen. As we got to know her we developed a pattern of taking her meals every time we cooked up a big batch. She was appreciative of the meals and, though we think she wished that occasionally we ate meat, loved the variety of the things we make. It became kind of a fun, cross the hall, kind of thing to do. I would often sit in our apartment and listen to Joe and Tessa gossip as he delivered a plate or a pot of food. Tessa always made sure that she took us out for lunch or did other nice things for us, she understood and practised reciprocity.

But there is a really odd way that Tessa has entered into our lives. The two word phrase, "I know" is not unique to Tessa, of course, it's said by everyone everywhere. But Tessa has a way of saying it that was uniquely hers. I was once rolling by the Timothy's near us and I heard a voice saying, "I know," I stopped and turned around and found Tessa in deep conversation with a friend. Only Tessa ever said those words that way.

Well, not anymore. Joe and I both do ... somehow it's morphed into our own language. Not all the time, not every time, but often enough to seem like Tessa is tapping us on the shoulder and saying "Hello Boys."

We miss Tessa, of course.

We have all sorts of memories about our friendship with her. Tessa didn't know anyone else with a disability until I moved across the hall and she found it strikingly easy to take what she learned as a Feminist and apply it to her understanding of disability. She came to love the new dimension of meaning and purpose that came with the territory of being and out and proud disabled woman.

She wondered if she'd be remembered. Well, "I know" that we do.


Anonymous said...

Dear Dave and Joe,

I know this feeling so well. I think that I will never have children and I am still not at ease with this thought, but a part of a song comes up, whenever I feel to sad about it:

"Oh Job, well, I been thinkin' what it's all about.
Job, well, I been thinkin' I might have figured somethin' out.
Sometimes the best that you can do's a stupid smile holdin' up your face
when you.get that funny old familiar fear, afraid you'll disappear
without a trace.
Job, I do believe everybody leaves a trace.
Even if it's just a smile on a stranger's face."

That helps
(and I was just recently thinking about Tessa, because I read something about butterflies...)

Susan said...

I've never met Tessa face-to-face (I almost did once!)but I remember her too and think of her from time-to-time -in fact she stands out from the crowd in many ways - because you guys have done such a great job of making her so very "real".

I hope, as I am aging, I get to live across the hall from the likes of you...

amber malmberg said...

This is such a tender post, and I love you for being such a wonderful neighbor to her!

amber malmberg said...

…something we all can do better with!

Anonymous said...

I never met Tessa, but I'll remember her too.

Jayne Wales said...

Talking about people just keeps them alive and that is so important. So often people stop doing that because they don't want to upset people or think its morbid.
My aunt keeps on coming back to me with a pretty drunken sounding, rasping Jayne shouted out on occasions. She used to drink far too much when she got older but it just covered up a lot of physical pain. That raspy sound though and her very Welsh accent would make you sit up. Wales is a place where voices come back to you if you listen hard enough. They stay here in ha land and the spirit if tha land! I'm coming Aunty Gwen...another gin?

Belinda said...

Here's to Tessa's memory.

John R. said...

"I know".......I know Tessa, now. Thank you! May her memory be a blessing.

Anonymous said...

I never knew her, I remember her and cannot believe it has "been a few years" since she has passed.
Be Well

Anonymous said...

Not sure if you remember me, but we met a couple times on my visits to Toronto.

Ironically, I popped into your blog to see how you were doing and was delighted to see your post about Tessa.

I can tell you that all her American friends remember Tessa and still speak of her frequently. I don't think she realized how she magically touched people's lives and hearts. I still miss her every day.


Dave Hingsburger said...

Julia, of course we remember you ... breakfast at Cora's and all! How are you?