Unexpectedly, yesterday, and for the second time in less than a year, I had the privilege of keeping company at the deathbed of an elderly relative.

My aunt Margaret Harder, 84, was admitted to hospital from the personal care home on Saturday; yesterday morning, tests revealed she had a blood clot in her lungs. Her last years have been a continuing story of failing health and memory, an unhappy story of changes and losses of all kinds, and it was determined that the best course — and the one she wanted — would be to respond with palliative care. She died at just before nine in the evening.

My aunt was a teacher. Once, as a young student, her hair got caught in the teacher’s jacket button when he bent to look at her work. Was he cross? At any rate, he frightened her, and Margaret decided then that when she was a teacher, no student would ever be afraid of her. I’m sure no student ever was. She was not without authority, but above all, there was gentleness in her. She also lavished on us, her nieces and nephews, and our children in turn, great kindness and generosity.

For many years, my aunt taught special needs students — those with physical challenges like muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy. Yesterday afternoon, George, one of her former students with whom she remained in contact, came to the hospital. It was moving to watch him express his gratitude and affection for her and to see her lift her hand to his, the only time in the day that she made a gesture of this kind. He held her hand a long time.

During my aunt’s last hours, I couldn’t help but think of the next-to-final scene in Pilgrim’s Progress, where Christian and Hopeful must cross a cold, rushing river to reach the Celestial City. Margaret was not in pain, nor did she seem uncomfortable, but my, what a great deal of hard work it was to get across that last cold river! Yet she seemed to understand what it was for, and where she was going, and as far as we could tell, she was not afraid. And she got there, finally, resolute and well.

I thank God for the life and death of my aunt Margaret Harder.

3 thoughts on “Unexpectedly

  1. Margaret Harder was also my aunt. I lived with her in Winkler for a summer when was 13 or 14, and again for a summer in Winnipeg when I was a student at UofW Collegiate. Her basement “hosted” our spare possessions when our family was living in Mexico in the late 70’s. She was always generous, and refused interest on a temporary housing loan. She was consistently affirming and good natured in spirit with a friendly warm chuckle which I will miss. She dedicated a lot of years to looking after her widowed father. We always enjoyed our family gatherings at her Talbot residence, and it was sad to see her “scrunched” in a “bachelor suite” in Donwood, and painful to witness the failing memory. We will miss her.
    Al Doerksen

  2. Margaret was a dear friend of ours. When we were on furlough we would visit her on Talbot Ave. and enjoy one of her meals. What always impressed me was that she always had a very interesting book beside her chair in the living room Not a light novel, but rather something many consider “heavy” nowadays, something bout the Christian life.

    What most people don’t know is that she was one of the major contributors of our building fund for the church that was built where we worked in Peru. Considering that she had been a teacher, this was a sacrificial gift. Once we were talking and we said how nice it would be if she could come to Peru for the dedication of the building. That’s when her true character shone most clearly. She said no to that saying that she was getting too old to travel. She would much rather send a young person to the dedication so that he/she could get excited about missions.

    • Thanks so much, Bob, for contributing another story to our memories and the portrait of our aunt, especially about her financial generosity. We’ve heard a few similar ones already, but of course she never talked about her contributions. — I too was impressed by the books she read.

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