Betty Lambert's Eulogy
Welcome to this celebration of Betty’s life and work. I’m Betty’s sister, Dorothy Beavington. Betty has choreographed this whole affair. She has set the scene and the players. She asked that her memorial service be held here at Simon Fraser in one of the large lecture halls where she taught for so many years. Shortly before her death she even predicted and found very amusing the possibility that there would be a general strike and her opening (or is it closing) would be delayed as a result. As a strong union supporter she wouldn’t have wanted anyone to cross a picket line to attend her memorial service. A few days after Betty died we found a sheet outlining what she wanted at her memorial service. She wanted it to be a celebration. And it will Betty, it will.
She asked that Nelson sing a song which he had played for her over many years. The opening lines are “She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist and she don’t look back.” This was to be followed by her favourite Hopkin’s poem, “God’s Grandeur”. A close friend of Betty’s, Joe Gallagher, will read the poem, although he’s threatened to cry. “It’s the Irish in me,” he said. I figure that’s all right, Joe, maybe that’s the way Betty planned it.
Before we begin I wanted to share with you a bit about Betty’s last months and last moments. Betty found out in February that she had lung cancer. In an interview this past summer she said that discovering she had cancer had given her a critical awareness of life. “When this happens to you, you realize that life is just 24 hours a day,” she said. “You become alive to people, pleasures, sights and sounds. Actually, we should be like that anyway. To be fully alive, we have to be aware that we are going to die.” And perhaps it is also true that you only become fully aware of how much you love someone when their life is threatened by an illness such as cancer. Every moment with that person seems to become filled with sorrow and joy in ever increasing intensity.
Betty knew her chances of survival were slim. But she told me much later that even if her chance for survival due to chemotherapy had been one in a thousand she would have taken it. And she took the chemotherapy, again and again. She lost her strength, she lost her hair, but she never lost her tremendous will to live or her incredible humour. All these past months we continued to celebrate life in our family as we always had. In April she got out of a hospital bed after chemotherapy to fly to Toronto for the opening of her play, Jennie's Story. I was there with her when the entire audience of 800 rose at the end of the play to give her a standing ovation. The only person seated was Betty because she was too weak to stand.
Somehow, however, immediately after that she found the strength to fly to Calgary to our mother who had been diagnosed as having cancer just after Betty. Mom died one week after Betty. We’ve just returned from her funeral. In late spring Betty went into remission and we dared to hope that she had more time. In July she finished a play she had started after her diagnosis. In August we all went to Summerland for a golden holiday by the lake. Betty swam every day and got stronger and stronger. We talked, the family, about life and death, about the joy of living and working.
We played games, our family has always been mad for games, and Betty and I even went down that damn waterslide in Penticton even though we were terrified of it. And we went not once, but three times. We did it because we always did those things we were afraid of. The only nagging problem was that Betty had a constant headache which sun, massage and pills could not diminish. She agreed to go for a checkup when we returned to Vancouver, right after my birthday party, she said. We returned and two days later Betty’s 50th birthday party was held at Elaine Stolar’s house. Many of you were there. It was a perfect birthday, complete with treasure hunt, a five piece band to dance to, and the love of her many friends. The following week Betty found out the cause of her headache. The cancer had spread to her brain.
I was devastated by the news. But Betty refused to give up. She took the radiation treatment but it was too late. It was a difficult time for all of us. Betty told us she wanted to die at home and we determined to do this for her.
A few days before she died I wrote her a letter.
“Dear Betty,” I wrote, “This is a love letter. I want you to know how much I love you. This is a terrible thing that is happening to you and at times you must feel so alone. Please remember at those moments that I love you dearly and I don’t want to lose you. We can certainly stand this if you can and we want you with us as long as possible.
“I’m sure you know that I have always admired your great talent as a writer and your passion for life. I’ve respected you as a human being and a teller of tales. You’ve lived your life with integrity, passion and courage.”
I ended with “this damn cancer may kill you but it won’t defeat you or those who love you.” And of course it didn’t.
Betty died as she had lived, with great courage, humour and passion. Her greatest fear the last few weeks had been that she would lose her essence as a human being. She never did. On the night she died she indicated she wanted her writing pad and a pen. At this point she was blind and she could no longer speak. I brought her yellow pad and as Nelson and I held her she wrote, every letter a tremendous effort, “Dot, one last trivia question.” That referred to the latest game we had discovered and played all summer, a game called “Trivial Pursuit”.
I asked Betty if she wanted me to ask her and she vigorously pointed to her chest to indicate she was asking me.
“What is it, Betty?” I asked.
She wrote, “What is the final demand in life?”
“I don’t know, Betty. But I’m sure you do.”
She nodded and wrote, “More and more and more nostalgia.”
I said, “You want me to talk about the good times?”
She nodded again. “All right,” I said. And I talked to her of Summerland—the golden moments of Summerland. The beach, the water, the midnight talks, the games, the damn waterslide. And then told her how much I loved her and then she died in our arms.
And so Betty, wherever you are, wherever that wonderful essence of yours is, we’ve come together today to present to you our final gift. The gift of more and more and more nostalgia.
Read by Dorothy Beavington at Betty’s memorial service, November 21, 1983.