I’m going to the funeral of a special friend from the YMCA this morning. I’d like to share my letter to her family:

margieDear Kelbrat Family,

Please accept my deepest sympathies on Margie’s passing. A bright light went out in my world when she passed last night, and I want to share with you how much your daughter/sister/aunt has meant to me.

I met Margie in 2002 in the pool at the South Park YMCA. I was brand new to the Y, substituting for the regular instructor for a couple of months. Margie was a regular in the class. There was also a woman who had health challenges and seemed to be having difficulty coping with them emotionally. She was disruptive in class and made a couple of dismissive remarks to Margie. I saw the storm cloud come over Margie’s face, so I put myself between her and this woman in the pool. As we jogged back and forth, I caught Margie’s eye and gave her a wink. The storm cloud immediately changed into that devilish grin that I’ve come to love so much.

Margie (far left) during the very last aquafit class at the South Park YMCA. She wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

From that point on, Margie and I have been fast friends. She was the life of the party in aquafit classes. Early on, I nicknamed her The Ring Leader because her infectious smile and goofing around got everybody in the class going. She always cheated with abandon during the games and drills I set up, and we all loved watching her glee while doing this. Every once in a while, she’d let out a wise crack that would have all of us in stitches.

I always enjoyed talking with her about this and that in the lobby of the Y before class. She was the unofficial greeter of the Y, talking to everyone who was coming and going. Often she’d be enjoying a coffee or a treat…potato chips, plaintain chips, or cherry Certs. Or she would be knitting with Juliana, another aquafit instructor.

It was through those chats in the lobby that we learned some details about you, her family. I became a consumer of Brother’s pepperoni out of loyalty to Margie. We also learned that she was paying full price for her YMCA membership and connected her with staff to complete the paperwork for getting that cost partly subsidized.

When I lived in West End, I’d sometimes hear a familiar voice calling my name in Sobeys, or run into Margie in Halifax Shopping Centre where we would have an impromptu coffee. I’d sometimes ride the bus home with her after class. We’d exchange stories about our cats and shoot the breeze.

Some of our conversations were more serious. We did our best to support Margie when she had challenges at work and at home. Margie was also there for me when I lost my brother 11 years ago, through the loss of two dear cats who were like children to me, and through my brief tumultuous marriage which crumbled two years ago. While her intellectual capacity may not have been 100%, she understood a great deal and her heart was huge. Her empathy during my tough times helped me pull through.

Margie in her wig, post-chemo, getting another knitting lesson from one of the other aquafit instructors.

I have a great deal of admiration for how Margie would allow herself to have a moment of frustration and then picked herself up, dusted herself off, and focused on the positive. When the Y was closing, she worried about losing her social connections, but we told her we’d make sure we still got together. She wiped away a tear and said, “That’s right! I’ve still got my Y friends!” During her illness, she was relentless in her focus on getting better so she could get back in the pool with us.

I will forever keep that admiration in my heart, and do my best to follow Margie’s example. She is the face of the YMCA for me. And if she could tackle the challenges that life presented her with a grin, then so can I.

Special thanks to Barb for your willingness to keep Margie’s friends informed in the past week or so. I know it’s a difficult time for you and greatly appreciate you responding to questions from Juliana and Linda, who passed on information to the rest of us.

I’m enclosing some photos of Margie and her Y friends over the past year and a bit. While visiting her on Sunday, I’d promised to bring them to post on the bulletin board in her hospital room – I was going to bring them today, but she passed before I got the chance. If you would like electronic copies, please don’t hesitate to contact me at (personal contact info).

This Saturday, I plan to line these photos up along the side of Centennial Pool where Margie last joined her YMCA friends for aquafit. Another of her Y friends, Hugh, will be teaching the class and we will all be sharing our stories and memories of Margie while we splash and play like she always did. When the new YMCA opens in 2018, I will be back as an instructor and plan to dedicate my first aquafit class to Margie, the most spirited participant I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.