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EILEEN RITA VIRGINIA (HART) GARDNER  (published on April 24, 2010)

EILEEN RITA VIRGINIA (HART) GARDNER A valiant warrior to the end, Eileen Hart Gardner died April 9, 2010 at the age of 91, surrounded by her friends at Holy Family Home in Winnipeg. Her mother was Mary Macdonald, of the same clan as Sir John A. Macdonald. Her father was Theodore Parmiter Hart, a journalist with the Winnipeg Free Press. Born in North Battleford, SK, where her father was a newspaper publisher, Eileen was the youngest of seven children, all of whom died before her. Her family moved to Winnipeg when she was four and joined Holy Cross Parish. As an adult, she moved to Toronto to work on the war effort and met her first husband Daniel Fehr of Tillsonburg, ON. When she was stricken with Multiple Sclerosis, Eileen moved to Winnipeg while her children, Teddy and Norah, were sent to be with a sister, Teresa (Victor) Jacobsen in Lethbridge, AB. After a brief stay with her brother Donald and his large family in Norwood, Eileen moved at age 31 into the first of institutionalized homes in which she was destined to live the rest of her life. When her galloping' Multiple Sclerosis briefly slowed to a brisk walk in the early 1980s, Eileen met and married her second husband, Michael Gardner, but returned to Holy Family Home when her chronic and incurable MS prevailed. Later, she treasured her regular visits with her son, Teddy, his wife, Laya and their family in Ottawa. She also cherished her ongoing and growing connection to the extended Pidskalny family in The Pas, and her later relationship with her daughter Norah in Alberta. However, Eileen never forgot that her most important family consisted of the Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate and other staff and residents at Holy Family Home, where she lived most of her adult life. She was fiercely loyal to the caring, compassionate and competent staff of Holy Family, which gave Eileen and so many others the love, respect and encouragement to realize their potential. Despite the challenges, Eileen always squeezed every last ounce of juice out of the opportunities her life offered. She attended university, worked on the executive of the Winnipeg Handicapped Council and as a reporter for a related newspaper; she also loved to go to Blue Bomber football games, won awards in her bowling league and was at the Rainbow Theatre every chance she had. Always the enterprising entrepreneur, Eileen also learned how to make mosaic ceramic tables, which she sold in addition to Avon products. For many years, she also ran the tuck shop at Holy Family until her eye sight failed her. However, the job she loved the most was delivering person mail to her fellow residents, as this gave her a chance to schmooze with everyone, especially the ones who were bedridden and those who didn't receive many visitors. It has been said that courage is grace under fire'. In her long war against the insidious enemy of Multiple Sclerosis, Eileen was a text book example. As her body slowly began to betray her, Eileen never lost her indomitable warrior spirit. She had always kept a prayer list' of family, friends and staff for whom she prayed twice daily. After she lost all of her jobs and access to her beloved electronic wheelchair, which had enhanced her independence, she bravely explained that God had given her a new and better job --- to pray even more fervently for those on her ever-expanding prayer list. Although Eileen never allowed the physical challenges, disillusioning obstacles and cruel sacrifices she confronted to sap her extraordinary joy for life, she admitted freely that she could never have done it without the warm, positive environment of Holy Family Home and the people who cared for her. Towards the end, when Eileen discussed what she felt was important to include in her obituary, her response was consistent: Please don't forget to mention all the folks at Holy Family, past and present, who were so good to me. She was always quick to say: No matter how much it costs! And don't forget to mention that the Free Press' covered my 75th birthday party in 1994, she added, with a lovely photograph of me and my four children. Eileen also wanted a special mention of her massage therapist, Craig desLandes, who visited her twice a week after she was confined to bed most of the time. Only 30, a former member of Canada's Armed Forces who saw action in Bosnia, Craig used his healing hands to do everything for Eileen - from painting her toenails to keeping her entertainment system up and running. As Craig explained, he also liked to conversate' with Eileen, who loved to talk, to tell stories and to sing. He is such a lovely fellow, Eileen would say to all and sundry. For the last two agonizing years of her life, Craig desLandes was a gift that she eagerly anticipated twice a week while she lay in her bed, blind, partially paralyzed, suffering from chronic infections and utterly dependent while her mind stubbornly retained its fierce lucidity. Eileen's favourite mantra, one she learned from her mother, is an appropriate reflection of the life she lived and celebrated: Life goes on, she would say, and we must always count our blessings. Eileen expressed the desire that anyone wishing to celebrate her life after she died could do so by making a donation to Holy Family Home, 165 Aberdeen Avenue, 589-7381 / attention: Dulce Santos.

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