A couple of nights ago, I sent out our TAFA Member Newsletter. Usually, I get some nice little tidbits in return from some of the members, so when I got an email from Margaret Brook of Cloverleaf Art & Fibre, I smiled. She is a witty one and I always enjoy hearing from her. Except this time. In this email she shared the sad, sad news that Heather Lair had passed away during the night of July 3rd, succumbing to an aggressive form of cancer.
The world reeled and I could not believe it! Heather had been posting the regular old stuff on Facebook just days ago. When I went back and looked with critical eyes, I noticed a studio tour cancellation a month previously due to illness. Well, everyone catches a cold now and then! Then I felt some confusion and even a bit of resentment at Heather that she didn't scream out about what was going on. Instead, she had to be all stoic and long-suffering.... the cycles of grief spun around me. The thought that this beautiful woman was gone just left me with a blank stare and a profound sadness. Oh, life.... how short you are and oh, how precious!
Heather's comment on this photo, "See how my lipstick matches my quilt?!"
Heather joined TAFA right when I launched it, back in February of 2010. She was one of our pioneer members and a huge support to me. She always had a smile or a quirky, light-heated comment, a gentle word of encouragement and participated in our discussions and programs. I had the great honor of meeting her in 2011 when she and a group of quilters came down by bus from Canada for the quilt show in Paducah. We had an exhibit and she brought a couple of pieces with her which we hung during the event. Even tired from the trip, she just radiated with joy. She is one of those souls who has a contagious spirit, infecting all of those around her with good humor and down to earth fun. I feel so blessed to have had her in my life and feel deeply for the sense of loss her family must certainly be experiencing...
Heather with her children, Emily and Silas, and husband, Rickey.
Heather lived in Gimli, Canada, and was active in the quilting community there, both as an artist and a teacher. Heidi Hunter wrote a beautiful testimonial about Heather's mentoring in her life. Click to read: Heather Heidi is now a TAFA member, too, and I will always think of her as Heather's friend..
One of the connections that we shared was an interest in Iceland. My mother's family came from there and Gimli has a large settlement of Icelanders. Heather volunteered at the local museum there and I just get a tremendous kick out of this video. If you watch it, you will also hear her sing-song voice and perhaps understand a bit about how magnetic she was:
Another TAFA member, Monnika Kinner-Whalen, had recently visited Heather and wrote a beautiful post about that time and about her feelings about this huge loss: read here. She talks about how Heather insisted on showing her the wedding dress she had made so long ago, all hand-embroidered in silk. She still had some of the silk and wanted Monnika to have it. When Monnika heard the news, she cried and cried. She wrote:
"I feel like she is GONE. gone gone. And SO fast! I was with her four weeks ago. How can her spirit just vanish? There was no warning. No time for goodbye. At the same time, as I ponder her, I realize she is everywhere. Her quilts are everywhere. Her postcards are at homes all around the world. She taught at Quilt Canada and won awards there too. Her wedding dress silk is here beside me, tacked up on my design wall. Her art stickers are on my sewing machine. Her winter postcard is on my shelf. Those stones from the beach are outside scattered all over our front step. Her cards are in my purse. Her birthday journal gift is here beside me. "
Heather's profile will stay up on TAFA. She will stay with us and we will honor her. Hindsight always seems to be so wise, doesn't it? Heather's work tended towards bright colors along this line:
Her last few pieces were almost absent of color, with white as the dominant voice. The symbol of purity, of cleansing, and in many cultures, of death.
From what I understand, Heather had had breast cancer before, had beat it, and then the cancer came back with an aggressive force, this time in her spine. Doctors were still trying to figure out a treatment plan for her when she died. She passed on to that future place where we all must go during her sleep on July 3rd. Both of her children and her husband were at home. This is a good death, one that is experienced within the circle of life and of love. But, it is still a difficult one.
Our time is so short on this earth! What were the dreams and aspirations of Heather Swansburg in 1979?
She had teaching gigs and shows booked through 2015... Heather Lair of 2013 still had many plans, dreams, and things to do, places to go, people to see. But, when death comes, it means good-bye to the loved ones, the house, the garden, the stuff... and when it happens to someone like Heather, we can bet that she was the anchor that held so much together, the sun that brightened the sky, the flower that smelled so good. All each of us can hope for is that what we do, how we live, what we leave behind will be good and true and that it will truly live on in the others we touched.
I asked Emily what people could do, if there was a memorial where people could contribute in honor of Heather. She said, "In lieu of flowers, we request that those who wish to do so, make a donation in Heather's memory to CancerCare Manitoba or the Westshore Community Foundation. People have also been leaving comments on The Winnipeg Free Press Obituary page and on Heather's Facebook page.
Bye for now, Heather! We'll meet up again someday!