In Driving Cousin Emma I told about my Cousin Emma's courageous fight with breast cancer three years ago. At the time we were hopeful that she would be cancer free and live a long life. Emma turned 65 on July 23, 2004 and was looking forward to receiving her Canada Old Age Pension checks and doing some travelling. This spring we were going to take her back to Nova Scotia to see relatives, but she became ill again and she was not able to travel.
One trip to the hospital led to another, and finally Emma was admitted to the Grand Falls Regional Hospital in New Brunswick on June 16, 2005 with bone cancer and complications. She was a fighter and hung on until her 66th birthday, then just slipped away, peacefully, in her sleep at 11:30 p.m. on July 24, 2005. I spent her last 22 days at her bedside, and was impressed by the number of people who visited, called, and sent cards. For a person who had never travelled much, Emma had friends and acquaintances everywhere.
Here is Emma's obituary and the eulogy that I gave at her funeral. She was the last of Hans Peter Petersen's line, and will be missed by us all. I hope that this short piece helps keep her memory alive.
Fresh snow covered the ground and there were no cars on the road at two in the morning. While his partner waited in the car the young man jimmied open the door to the house trailer and slipped inside. He tried to make no noise as looked for anything valuable that he could steal and turn into cash, but he kept bumping into things in the dark.
Suddenly the door to the bedroom was flung open with a bang and a formidable figure stood in the doorway, flashlight in hand. It was Emma, roused from her sleep by the noise.
"What the hell are you doing here, you damned bastard!" She hollered at the top of her voice!
The burglar was so startled that he jumped right up in the air, dropped all his loot and bolted for the front door and ran out into the night. He didn't take the time to go down the stairs but vaulted right over the porch railing, jumped in the car and screamed at his partner "Quick, get out of here! There's a crazy woman back there coming after me!"
Emma Peterson wasn't crazy but she sure was mad, and brave too. No one was going to steal anything from her if she had anything to say about it. She ran to the front door and got the car's license plate number as it drove off. She called the RCMP and reported the break-in. There had been a string of break-ins in the area and the RCMP was looking for these two, and they had a patrol car in the area right away and caught them by the Salmon River Restaurant. In their car they found a number of stolen items and had enough evidence to put them away.
Emma delighted in retelling the story of her break-in to all of us dozens of times, sometimes adding things here and there.
As brave as she was in facing down the burglar, what Emma went through in years of fighting cancer, diabetes, liver disease, and her other medical problems took far more courage and bravery. Never once did she back off, no matter how difficult the treatments were. She turned each battle into a small victory. On her many visits to the St John Regional Hospital Emma made friends with the other patients and staff, even as she was undergoing tests and painful radiation treatments. When she lost all her hair from the chemotherapy she joked about it and wore different wigs as the mood suited her. At the end, when she knew that the end was near, she bravely chose not to have any more radiation treatments or blood transfusions, even though they might have briefly extended her life and lessened her suffering. Emma truly was a brave woman, one that we can all be proud of.
We are here today to remember Emma, a wonderful friend to all. She may not have been a world traveler but in her lifetime she touched a world of friends and acquaintances. Emma knew people from Halifax to Toronto, and everyone knew Emma.
Emma had a simple life but she was not a simple woman. Like a gem, her personality had many facets. Not only could she be brave to scare off burglars and to battle illness head-on, but Emma was also loving and gentle. She always had a smile or a story for anyone she met. She was at the same time shy and gregarious. Emma was often stubborn and independent. Sometimes she was funny and sometimes she could annoy you. But she was all Emma!
Emma was never alone
The earliest photograph that I have of Emma is from about 1944. She is sitting on a stool in the front yard, and she looks to be about 5 or 6 years old. Her grandfather Hans Peter Petersen and her uncle Wilfred Petersen stand on either side of her with big grins on their faces. Emma is the center of attention, and is holding a chicken in her lap. Throughout her life, she was usually the center of attention. With the same care with which she was holding the chicken in this early picture, Emma spent most of her life caring for others.
Starting with her uncle Levi in 1951, one by one Emma's family passed on. The last to go in New Denmark was her mother Clara in 1987. After her family was gone, Emma remained at home living alone in her house trailer on the old family homestead on the 108. She treasured her independence and never complained about living alone. Emma never learned to drive and never had a car, but she didn't need one. She was a prodigious walker and could be seen in all weather walking along the side of the road headed for the New Denmark village, Plaster Rock or Drummond. She always carried a big black bag with her knitting so she would never be at a loss for something to do. People would see her walking and stop to pick her up and drive her places.
Emma loved going to the music at the Blue Bell every Friday night, and knew everyone there. Everyone there liked Emma. She always sat on the same bench and all night long while the music played and people danced, her friends came over to visit her. "How are you Emma?" or "What have you been up to?" or "How are you feeling, Emma?" they would ask. They made up a "Sunshine Basket" of gifts and goodies for her when she left for her breast cancer treatments three years ago.
When she wasn't visiting people Emma was on the telephone talking to them. She had friends all over town that she would call every day. If she sensed that someone she talked with was in need, she would call someone nearby and suggest that they go over and visit.
When our phone would ring around 11:00 at night, I knew before I picked it up that it was Emma. She always had news about what was going on with people that she and I knew, and all the latest things in her life. I found a long time ago that Emma was a better "talker" than a "listener".
If she started talking to you with something on her mind there was no changing the subject until she was finished with it. If I tried to interrupt or ask a question while she was in the middle of something it was always "Ya, Ya, just a minute," and then she'd be off again on her same topic.
Generous and wealthy
Emma never had much money but she always thought of others and always had little gifts or tokens of friendship for people. No trip to visit her was ever complete without a little something from Emma to bring home with me. She loaned people money without ever expecting to get it back, and she trusted everyone with the naivety of a child.
Emma was not rich in terms of money and possessions, but she was wealthy beyond words in the currency of friends, charity, and good deeds.
I remember how thrilled Emma was when she turned 65 and started receiving her old age pension check. For at least a year before every phone call included a "when I get my old age pension this is what I am going to do" conversation. As it turned out, she was able to enjoy her pension for only a year and she was never able to make the trips or do the things she wanted to do with it.
Emma's sense of humour
I loved joking with Emma, and delighted that she gave as well as she received. When I played a trick on her she would tilt her head forward and give me a withering stare over the top of her glasses, as if to say "I'll get you for that!" and a little scowl. And then she would give a small grin and stick her tongue out at me.
Emma has gone home
Emma has gone to a better place, and she knew where she was going. She told me about the dream she had when she was under anesthesia during breast surgery three years ago in Grand Falls. She dreamt that four angels came to her and each took a corner of her bed and lifted her to heaven and set her before the Lord. He spoke with her and placed his hand on her head in blessing. Standing beside the Lord were her mother, her uncles, and many relatives. James said "Look, Emma's here," and Clara said "Emma is coming to join us." But the Lord said "Emma, it is not yet your time," and the four angels carried her bed back to the hospital. She awoke and Dr. Chowdhry was there in recovery to greet her.
During her final days at the Grand Falls General Hospital Emma called out to her family and to the Lord. Often she would stare off into space and speak to Clara, her mother, to her aunt Madeline or her uncle James. Emma asked her mother, "Mom," she said, "Please come and take me. I want to go home."
One night when all was quiet she called out "Please help me Lord", and then asked me to pray for her. A couple of nights later she reached out her arms and told me that she was seeing a bright light. Later she said, "I'm afraid, I'm afraid". I have often prayed with her and told her that the Lord would help her cross over, and that it was OK to let go.
Finally, on Sunday night about 11:30 p.m. she let go and went to join the Lord, her family and friends. I know that Emma has made her peace with God and has gone to join the people that she loved and devoted her life to.
My life is better for knowing her, and I am fortunate to have called her my friend. I will miss her. She said, toward the end, "Yah, I'll be seeing you, Allen." I guess I'd better be on the lookout for an angel over my shoulder, one that sticks her tongue out at me!
Last updated July 31, 2005
Copyright © 2005, Allen Crabtree
Copyright © 2005, Allen Crabtree