Where does the time go? You would have been 71 next week.
Born on March 16th 1952, she was the raven haired, hazel eyed, beautiful child my parents had craved since they were married 7 years earlier. They had tried unsuccessfully to have a baby for several years, but for one reason or another, it just wasn’t to be. Desperate to start a family, they turned to adoption to bring home the sweet little girl they had dreamed of.
Judith Kim Wolfe arrived at their humble abode on the corner of Main and Elm Streets in Vienna, 6 weeks after being born in Tillsonburg Memorial hospital. Mom was ecstatic. Dad was in love with this precious being – and Kim – well Kim was a daddy’s girl her entire life. She idolized our father.
She seemingly had boundless energy and was exceedingly clever. During elementary school she was often at or near the top of her class.
Mom’s passions were music and education. As parents, we often guide our children to areas that we excel at ourselves – or are passionate about for one reason or another. Unsurprisingly therefore, she guided Kim (and I) toward those elements.
I was “encouraged” to learn to play the piano. After several years, I resisted the furtherance of my musical education in a pique of anger and was subsequently guided to the accordion. One way or another, I was going to play an instrument. Rest assured, Walter Ostenak did not quake in his boots at any perceived competition I may have offered.
Kim however, soon excelled at tickling the ivories. She was a gifted pianist and her musical studies took her to Grade 8 musical theory in the Ontario Conservatory of Music. As I recall at the time, quite an accomplishment for a young girl.
A couple of years after her arrival, Kim received the ultimate gift of a little brother. I came along the old fashioned way, through natural means. Perhaps the stress of having the first child out of the way allowed for fertilization to happen more naturally. No matter the origin, Kim was thrilled to have a little brother.
She was a doting sister and I was an annoying little brother. I felt that was part of the job description 😊
As the years went by, we moved from downtown Vienna, to the tobacco farm at the top of the hill, overlooking the village. Kim was dating Jim Honsinger in her early teens, and after an extended courtship, eventually would marry several years later.
In the short term, I used every bit of leverage I could to get her in trouble with my parents – these days I think it is called political lobbying 😊.
It was a rule in our house that Kim and I would rotate every other night doing dinner dishes. I know it’s hard to imagine, but we didn’t have a dishwasher – for that matter, we had a black and white tv, less than 6 channels, and a phone that was attached to the wall. What our generation lived through was simply outrageous. ☹. A chat room was downtown at the pool hall, or Friday nights at “teen town” dances.
As in every surreptitious activity, I would lay in wait for Kim to make an error in judgement – she wasn’t very good at being stealthy – and then I would blackmail her into doing my dishes for me.
The high school bus picked students up right outside our house. Kim, in her infinite wisdom, would pretend to get on the bus, but instead sneak around the corner and have Jim drive her to school. As in any worthwhile undercover operation, I would watch at the window in my bedroom and she was busted! She would do dishes for me for several days with the assurance that I would keep her secret.
When she was done her penance, I would often spill the beans on her anyway – but that’s what little brothers do.
Soon we were living on the farm, and there was not much time for trouble. We had to work most weekends, from April to October, and of course all summer long. Kim was a formidable worker when she put her mind to it. Strong as an ox, it was not unusual for her to sling heavy tobacco baskets from the tractor wagon to the tying table.
Kim and Jim continued to date, and eventually married. Not long after came Nicole, followed by Tim and Mark.
Marriage was not an easy road for the two of them. Jim was a good provider, but not very communicative. Kim over time, began to withdraw. They had lots of material niceties – lovely home, nice vehicles to drive, lots to eat – but there was an emotional detachment that grew as time went on.
Eventually the divide grew too large to overcome and the relationship crumbled around them. Kim was terrified to make Dad angry or disappointed in her. But this situation was no different than thousands of others. Life simply got in the way of happiness. It was time to chart another path.
After some time, she began to date and soon met and fell in love with Rick Michaud. Rick seemed to fill all the holes in her life that she felt she had been missing. Affection, attention and overt illustration of love and support. Dad had passed in 1993 and Kim had found her person.
Soon they made it official and bought a house together in Tillsonburg, pulling a new blended family along with them.
They did everything together – bought a boat and trailer in Long Point, went fishing, explored the north, where Rick grew up (Killarney), took trips to the Caribbean – they were happy and in love. I hadn’t seen this Kim in years. Kim was suddenly a different person. She laughed again. She was happy.
Then on the May long weekend in 2009, Kim awoke to discover a lump pushing against her sternum. Nervous of what they might find, Rick drove her to St Thomas hospital. They waited for hours given the long weekend, for medical guidance. On examination, the Dr did a biopsy – and now they waited for results that would not be available till the long weekend had passed.
The diagnosis was terrifying. Lung cancer – small cell lung cancer.
Neither Rick nor Kim were computer savvy, which may have been a blessing at the time. Sometimes Google is NOT your friend, when it comes to a medical diagnosis. They never asked the question of the Dr – “How serious is this and how long do I have”- perhaps in fear of what they might learn.
While she never discussed it, I suspect Kim knew the gravity of her illness, but soldiered on fighting to beat the monster that would take her in the prime of her life. She continued to show outer strength, though inside she must have known the time was near. She never once acknowledged that she would not beat this. She fought it to the end with dignity and determination.
She shared with me that she was not afraid of dying, but afraid of leaving those that cared and loved her behind. It was typical of her inner strength.
But I knew what the likely outcome would be. It was likely terminal. How long did she have? The Dr would not guess.
Kim and I had not been terribly close as siblings. We loved each other of course, but our lives had taken very different directions. I decided that I would spend as much time with her as I could over how much time she had. I attended most of her appointments – chemo, radiation, follow-ups etc.
Rick was a rock. Optimistic, but terrified. She was lucky to have him as her full time support. They continued to travel, hoping for the best, until she could not do it anymore. Kim was too exhausted and weak to cook, so Nicole prepared a magnificent Christmas dinner with all the trimmings – just like her mom had done for all those years before.
The Call Home
In early April, I was with her when the oncologist told her that the cancer had spread to her brain. I could almost see the light go immediately out of her eyes. She had given up. Roughly 2 weeks later on April 30 2010, she passed at home, with family by her side. Less than a year had passed from the initial diagnosis.
Finally, we often hear of small miracles when someone is near the end. Stories of “crossing a river” and “travelling to the light” are legendary. While I can’t proclaim Kim said or experienced either, there was a poignant moment that will always remain with me.
As she was failing and her breathing becoming increasingly shallow, she opened her eyes briefly and saw that many of her family were around her. Rick kissed her and told her it was ok to go, and that Dad was waiting for her. A single tear ran from her eye. Less than 15 minutes later she slipped away peacefully.
She left a legacy of love and compassion behind.
She was 58.