Newfoundland Sorrow


I’ve been to Newfoundland (really just St. John’s) four times — twice during my art education phase and once on Senate business, studying the oil industry. But it is the first visit — the one a week after my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer — that colours them all.

It was December 1995. Lynne had discovered a lump while showering on the day of her thesis defence. She said nothing to me — or to anyone else — but went to the defence, kicked ass and came home with her Master’s degree. It was Friday, so we had a party. On Monday, she went to her doctor and that night told me that she was scheduled for a biopsy the following Monday.

Given her age (41) and the rapidity of the lump’s growth (it hadn’t been there three months before during her exam), the biopsy was done in the morning and the results were delivered that afternoon. Stage 2 but aggressive.

They offered to do the surgery that week but we had a trip planned to Newfoundland to visit Lynne’s closest friends before going on to Nova Scotia to spend Christmas with my family. We had put a lot of resources — time and money — into the trip and she refused to give it up. The doctors agreed that there was no harm waiting a few weeks (it actually was optimal because it would then occur in the middle of her menstrual cycle — maximizing chances of success) so a few days later we were off to St. John’s.

Lynne was determined that the trip would be fun and focussed on our friends who were in Newfoundland teaching at Memorial on a term assignment. They weren’t all that happy and she didn’t want to make them unhappier.

So we didn’t say a word for four days. We visited museums and shops, climbed Signal Hill in the fog, ate and drank and listened to music at their house — a beautiful old place on the waterfront — or at the many bars and restaurants scattered through downtown.

Winter often comes late to St. John’s and so it was that year. It was mild — I doubt if it ever is warm there, at least not based on subsequent trips — with a couple of beautiful clear days, the sun shining like gems on the harbour, plus some real low overcast days with the banks of fog moving in and out with the tide. It was, in a word, perfectly beautiful. It was Newfoundland.

But sun or cloud it was all coloured with a deep shade of blue and the weight of impending doom.

On our final night there we broke the news. There was wine mixed with the tears but as the night progressed there was also love and laughter. That colours my memory, too.

Lynne was lucky. Her cancer was effectively treated and she is still well to this day, though we are no longer together. But I can never think of Newfoundland without thinking of that first visit and her toughness and tenderness. And the sorrow — not for her, but for those who weren’t so lucky.

And that’s ten minutes.


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