A year in the life

One year ago our phone rang during breakfast with word that our low-ball offer on a tired wooden seaside house had been accepted. Nervous laughter came first, followed quickly by the happy realization that our contentedly predictable life was about to take a turn.

We already had a house in Halifax, busy jobs, and two teenagers. Perhaps this was a latent mid-life crisis or a desperate attempt at HGTV role playing. Whatever the case, we were soon to be the proud owners of a warts-and-all blue house with a red barn.

Greg assured me he could deal with anything the house had in store. I was just starting to believe him, when his phone buzzed. The real estate agent, no doubt.

Instead it was a text from his brother Chris in Toronto, “Can I call you? I have some rough news to share.”

His wife Stephanie had been told she was facing a hell of a fight against cancer. Just like that, everything changed. We had imagined Chris, Steph and their three wild boys as regular blue house visitors, maybe even converting the barn into their own summer place.


My immediate inclination was to cancel the deal. It felt wrong to embark on a house adventure in the face of such sadness and uncertainty. Greg was sure that Chris and Stephanie would not want us to back out and so we proceeded, uneasily.

Within a few days, the doctors had a brighter assessment of Stephanie’s condition, and we pushed aside fear to make room for hope.

We got the keys to the old place in May while Stephanie was undergoing chemo, biking or walking to every appointment and stunning all of us with her tenacity. While she and Chris governed their lives around medical appointments, we were ruled by dumpster drop offs and painter schedules.

This weekend marked two starkly different anniversaries that together remind us that life is precious, its unknowable path to be embraced.

The snow remained heavy around the old house today but the sun’s warmth whispered spring is coming. Greg and I  are determined to ready the house for summer. In July we have another anniversary to celebrate, one year since Stephanie successfully completed her treatment.

Champagne will be chilled and the beer fridge stocked for the first of many visits to come.

Postscript: Our wonderful Stephanie left us on Friday, April 1, 2022. She did not know her illness had returned with a hidden ferocity. Instead, two weeks before her death she skied with family and friends, more than 30 of them enjoying stellar conditions at Whistler. The pictures she sent from the peak speak to joy and the startling beauty of her surroundings.