Heather Witzel – Rest in Peace
The last 6 weeks I have been quietly grieving the death of my sister Heather. My brother Fred (above), gave a eulogy for my sister at her memorial on Dec. 8th, 2018 along with one of Heather’s friends, Dave Hardy from Saskatchewan.
Here, I give my own eulogy for Heather.
Heather was a person who always “gave it her all.” Amidst her long difficult struggle with illness in the last few years of her life (most pronounced during her last 4 months), she bore witness to everyone she saw with incredible grace and dignity.
Though now Heather has left this earth, she left us all with a beautiful legacy – a life, well lived.
Through out her life Heather loved people, though she dearly loved pets – here, with Sasha.
And here, with one of her so-called “f-errs” (Ferdinand, or Finnegan?)
Heather loved to have a good laugh.
And yes, Heather was a twin – Rose is on the left.
In this photo of Heather, again on the left, with 5 other siblings and Grandpa. I’m missing in action.
All the Witzel clan in 1958, with Heather on the left again (me too now, the baby of the family).
Heather is standing with the candy cane – 1958.
Christmas, the early 1960’s. Heather never tooted her own horn, but this time I’m not sure?
1965 at Lake Louise, a family trip back to the Canadian prairies. Heather on the right, next to Fred.
Heather (left) with Rose, swim coach Casey Cessford and Frances (our oldest sister).
Over the years Heather became a great athlete. She excelled at swimming. Fred recalled how on one competitive 4 mile swim Heather was the first person to stumble out of the water, even ahead of all the male swimmers.
“That‘s why we we all looked up to Heather so much,” Fred joked. “She was always on top of the podium.”
Rose (far left – catcher), Frances (third on left), then Heather – Mom was coach (on the right)
Here is Heather at one of her 1st Saskatchewan homes, with Mom visiting in the early 1980’s
After graduating from the University of Saskatchewan with a B.S., M.S. & B.Ed in 1974, Heather became a highly respected and sought after teacher, counsellor and coach during her 29 years within the Saskatoon Catholic School system. A past student posted this reflection on December 3, 2018:
Heather in 2005, at the beginning of her retirement years in Nanaimo, British Columbia.
Much earlier in her life, Heather was a member of Canada’s National Women’s basketball team from 1969 to 1974. On August 16 to Sept. 3, 1972, the Canadian team travelled to China during the same period of time the Canadian Minister of Trade, Mitchell Sharp, led a trade delegation there (Aug. 15 – 24th).
Heather met Prime Minister Chou En Lai during her visit . Fred also joked that when Heather talked to the Chinese Prime Minister, she told him to “watch out for Nixon.” Completely false, for certain.
This summer Heather described how the Chinese spectators didn’t cheer during the games, only responding “ooooooh” to an excellent play – from the Chinese and the Canadian team. Heather then told us when one game was tied the officials wouldn’t allow overtime. Each team could then “save face”.
Championships usually goes until there is a winner.
Heather shaking hands with Chou En Lai in 1972
Taking Heather to the Comox airport – Bruce, Heather (holding our niece Christina) and Rose, Tina’s mom.
In Heather’s retirement years beginning in 2004, she moved back to Vancouver Island, her birthplace. She became an avid golfer. As in all things she did, Heather excelled. She continued to golf on her “good days”, up to the last month of her life.
The day after Heather died and as the family gathered, Rose told us that often on Heathers car drive to the golf course she took food to a homeless person she had come to know – a plate or a sandwich. She explained her action simply to Rose by saying how wrong she felt hunger and poverty was.
True to her form, Heather looked out for the underdog.
Rose and Fred (also both retired teachers) planned the memorial
with much help from family and friends.
Heather often looked out for the least of her students, sometimes with a gift at Christmas or on their birthday and by bringing or taking them out for a meal. And yet as Rose said, Heather rarely went out to a restaurant herself, believing it was a waste of money.
CARD FROM MOM ON HEATHERS 12th BIRTHDAY
Heather was not only athletic, she had a keen intellect – good at crossword, Sudoku and she loved a game of Bridge – here with Dave, Fred and probably Rose (because it’s in her kitchen – Dec. 23 2013).
Her strength and will was strong. 48 hours before Heather died she awoke from semi-consciousness and said “lets play some bridge!” Dave said she played five hands with excellent defence before retiring back to her bed. She never arose on her own again.
The last few weeks of her life – Heather is at her home in BC with brother Dave, niece Sara and brother Fred.
As Fred concluded his memorial, he noted that Heather was quite a private person and not a women of many words. Rather, Heather was a women of actions. All those who had the gift of being with Heather and coming to know her, would say it was so.
In words from her obituary – Heather will be remembered for her indomitable and loving spirit, as well as her thoughtfulness, kindness and loyalty.
Rest in peace, dear Heather
“Something has spoken to me in the night…and told me that I shall die, I know not where. Saying: “[Death is] to lose the earth you know for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth.”
― Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again