Elisabeth Westlake honours her deceased husband, Tony, by embracing the pillars of courage, grace and humour.
These three things helped Tony endure 20 months of cancer treatment that ended Aug. 31, when, under a full moon and surrounded by family, he passed away.
Now Elisabeth, 58, is coping with her new status as a widow and single mother to Madeleine, 21, and 15-year-old William.
“I’m still grieving,” Elisabeth acknowledged this week, eyes brimming over a brave smile.
Still, she’s thrilled to be one of six enthusiastic participants in the Times Colonist Health Challenge, a 12-week fitness program that includes work with fitness trainers, mental coaches, physiologists and financial advisers.
And while the weight she wants to lose is small compared to others, she is eager to make big changes in how she looks after herself. It was tough to exercise when caring for Tony and dealing with grief were her priorities, she said.
“Sadness, depression, loneliness — these are things that people all have to deal with, that really inhibit our ability to go out and get that exercise,” she said.
Her trainer, Amaiah Paradine at Oak Bay Recreation Centre, has put Elisabeth on a challenging regime, “which is a little bit worrying because I’m feeling it everywhere already,” Elisabeth said.
She wants to lose 15 pounds and work around a bad knee, one doctors would like to see replaced one day.
Elisabeth would like to put surgery off as long as she can. She has seen quite enough of doctors ever since Tony, a non-smoker, received the shocking diagnosis of lung cancer.
“He was so amazing, he never complained, he kept his sense humour until two days before he died, when he was non-communicative,” Elisabeth said.
Despite the ravages of the disease, an irrepressive light kept shining in Tony’s eyes, and Elisabeth wants to carry that light into the future.
She has adopted Tony’s pillars as her own: “Honouring him takes courage, grace and humour.”
Death is part of life and grief has a bitter taste, she said.
“I don’t do sadness well — I’m a positive, upbeat person by nature, but I miss him terribly.”
The family suffered the loss of another beloved member during Tony’s illness. Their golden retriever died May 19, 2012, the night daughter Madeleine returned from a trip to Europe.
The dog greeted Madeleine, then had a seizure and was dead within 10 minutes.
After being without a dog for a while, Elisabeth went to the SPCA and found a mixed-breed dog named James.
“He’s warm and hairy and stubborn, three qualities he shares with my husband,” Elisabeth said with a laugh.
She first saw the dog’s photo on the SPCA website and went to meet him. The other dogs were barking and whirling around in circles, but James was on his blanket curled up in a tight little ball.
In the days before, he had a painful tooth extracted and some crucial male parts removed.
“I went into [the kennel] to pet him. He finally raised his head and I said, ‘Oh, why so glum, chum?’ ” Elisabeth recalled.
“He looked at me as though he was considering the question, then he raised his leg and looked down at where his nuts were gone and he looked back up at me.
“I just laughed. The fact he could make me laugh when Tony was in hospital and we thought he was on his way out, I said, ‘This is my dog, for sure.’ ”
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