Rampant with Memory

The task of un-glowing


A friend asked me whether it’s difficult to un-glow a glowing life.

He didn’t say it like that exactly but that was how I understood it. He meant in the context of writing an obituary about an exceptionally noble subject such as Diane MacKenzie. She was a social activist who lived and worked out west.

“Whether she was recruiting doctors to care for the people of Haida Gwaii, procuring healthy meals for the homeless of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, or teaching in Ghana…”

That’s the lede. Where to go from there?

As well, Ms. MacKenzie had a severe debilitating illness that caused extreme burning in her lower extremities. She worked with her feet in ice buckets and travelled about on a scooter.

A colleague asked why she wouldn’t take a disability leave.

“My feet would still hurt and I wouldn’t be doing the good work,” she responded.

She eventually had both her legs amputated then the disease spread to her hands.

It’s hard to un-glow Diane MacKenzie. But somehow it felt necessary. Otherwise I write glib and congratulatory–a platitudinous eulogy.

Superficial storytelling tinged with falsehoods because lives simply do not come that way. And yet Diane MacKenzie stamped a critical truth into my words that left me not cringing with shame.

I had to dig deep to find flaws. The best I could get was that she didn’t cook Christmas turkey at home for her children. Instead she dragged them out with her to feed the homeless at a local shelter.

Oh, but did I mention that she helped establish the first safe injection site in the Downtown Eastside? That 800 people come in off the streets every single day to use the site? Turkey be damned. Let it burn, I say.

It is challenging to un-glow. That’s what I said to my friend. Kind of like dissing a particular shade of orange on a butterfly’s wing as it floats through it’s brief life.

Please read Diane below.

Diane MacKenzie – activist


Noreen Shanahan

A creative non-fiction writer, with a special interest in memoirs and obituaries–life stories, local histories, flesh & blood anecdotal details.

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