Our friend Dimitri, who died suddenly in June, was supposed to come and visit along with his friend Xavier from August 11-14. The two didn't have any trip cancellation insurance, so after Dimi's funeral it was decided that Xavier would still come, with his wife, Ilse, in Dimitri's place. When we heard that they would be coming, we sent word that we would very much like to host them in Edmonton.
So this past week I worked hard to get ahead of the garden produce for a few days, mowed the lawn, and did laundry two days earlier than usual so that everything would be ready when our company arrived on Thursday afternoon. Lee left work early on Thursday and took Friday off as well, and we looked forward to our visitors' arrival, though we knew next to nothing about who they were. Because our friend Dimi was a 34-year-old para-commando, I expected we would be visited by one of his young army friends with a young wife.
So I was a bit surprised when a couple close to my own age pulled up in their rental car, and it took only a few seconds to realize that they were my kind of people. After Belgian kisses (three on opposite cheeks) were exchanged all around, I asked Xavier how to pronounce his name. "How do you pronounce it?" he asked. "Any way you want to say it is fine." When I insisted on hearing the proper pronunciation, he said, "It's Xavier (Ksaav-yay), pronounced the French way, or Richard, or whatever you like."
What unfolded from that point on was a lovely weekend with a wonderful couple -- both of whom were warm and friendly, with an excellent sense of fun and a marvelous command of English. Xavier is a retired barber of a philosophical bent who is now Mr. Fix-it for a senior's facility and acts in his local theatre company, and Ilse is a physiotherapist who provides fitted wheelchairs for the disabled, loves cycling and being with people. We had so many wonderful conversations. They were very interested in outdoor pursuits, and the weather was perfect while they were here, offering us a lot of time outside.
Thursday evening we introduced them to the Miracle Treat Blizzard fundraiser at Dairy Queen and did a wee bit of sightseeing, watching some Pokemon Go insanity at the Legislature grounds. On Friday we spent an hour in the bison paddock at Elk Island National Park just watching a herd grazing. Then we went canoeing for two hours on Astotin Lake, and had a leisurely lunch on a hillside with a gorgeous lake view. Friday evening we visited the Fringe Festival in Old Strathcona, taking in some street performers, and ended the evening at the High Level Diner for coffee, beer and dessert. On Saturday, we took a 30 km bike ride through the river valley (I never would have made it up the Keillor Road hill without Xavier's help!!) and we all went out for dinner with our kids. And this morning Julia made them two kinds of berry pancakes before they caught a plane to visit friends in Ontario.
It is only now that they are gone that I realize how much their visit meant to me. Dimitri's death was a shock, something completely unforeseeable and heart-breaking. He should have been here touring the Rocky Mountains, canoeing, and drinking Canadian beer with his friend and mentor, Xavier, who is still very much feeling the loss. We were so far removed from the tragedy of Dimi's death because of distance, but Xavier and Ilse's presence made it accessible and real for me, and assured me that life continues for my friends in Belgium, albeit without a beloved friend, son and grandson. After Ilse and Xavier left this morning, tears of sadness -- and gratitude -- flowed.
Dimi, your death is a hard thing to understand -- you had so much to live for. But somehow, I think you know how grateful I am to know your friends Ilse and Xavier, and I thank you for providing the impetus that sent them our way. Your friendship was an unexpected gift in my life, and your parting gift of these two warm and funny friends is also unexpected and much appreciated. You loved them, and now I love them too.
Dankuwel, my friend, and rest in peace.