Photo Essay

My Hero


While receiving messages of concern from family and friends over the earthquake that struck the Italian town of L'Aquila, about a 120 miles southeast from where Fred (my husband) and I live in Tuscany, our daughter, Kim, called to tell us her aunt Siegie had died that morning. Siegie was Fred's sister. Over four years ago she was diagnosed with stage-four cancer, and wasn't expected to live more than six months. She responded to different forms of chemo treatment in ways her doctors had never witnessed. From one year to the next she not only fought off her cancer with chemo, but with spunk and humor.

Siegie said her cancer gave her the attitude adjustment she needed. She no longer easily gave into stress and negativity; instead went for appreciating what each day had to offer and what she could give back.

Siegie proved time and again that it's how we react to any given situation is what matters and that humor can often be the best medicine. I remember sitting next her after her hair just started to grow back from another round of chemo and her holding up her hands and saying in her playful voice, "Dahling, just look at these gorgeous nails. The chemo took my hair, but gave me killer nails. Beautiful and as hard as steel."

Then there was the time she won the good humor battle between her and Fred over who would pay for our family's celebratory dinner near Kitchener, Ontario. While our waiter went to get our check and it appeared Fred had convinced the young man to only give it to him, Siegie stood up and with a dramatic flare removed her wig, revealing her perfectly shaped bald head with a few wispy hairs. She then sashayed toward where the waiter had gone, saying, "Now no way will he refuse this sick woman that check." Minutes later she returned to the table holding up a credit card slip and wearing a Cheshire grin.

Days earlier Fred, Kim, Siegie and her son, Chris, and daughter, Keila, and I all met in Toronto to go to Kitchener, where Kim would be the key note speaker at a major event, honoring her great-grandfather, Carl Ahrens, one of Canada's great artists (Fred and Siegie's grandfather). I'll never forget the look of pride and admiration on Siegie's face as she watched Kim speak, knowing her beloved niece had not only spent years researching and compiling and preserving information on her great-grandfather, along with the rest of the family's history, but was writing a historical novel on him and the great love of his life, her great-grandmother, who Carl lovingly nicknamed Madonna for her timeless beauty.

I'll also never forget the look of peace on Siegie's face the one and only time we were all together at Big Trees, the family name for the historical house near Kitchener where Carl, Madonna, and their three children (one, Chloris, was Fred and Siegie's mom) were happiest. Years earlier Fred, Kim, and I had found comfort in having been there when Chloris, lovingly called TuTu, died. Now we're experiencing that same feeling having been there with Siegie. And treasuring all the other special moments with her.

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4 responses

  • Judy Wanamaker

    Judy Wanamaker (Deleted) gave props (8 Apr 2009):

    Truly a heroic saga. Your sincere and admiring words have described the actual bravery of a hero. Attitude is everything. Now your sister in law is one of my heroes too.

  • Joy B

    Joy B gave props (8 Apr 2009):

    What a lovely and moving tribute. Our thoughts and prayers are with your family, as well as the multitude of Italian families suffering at this time.

  • Rob Roy

    Rob Roy (Deleted) gave props (8 Apr 2009):

    Neat family story and tribute... really helps us to understand more about our cherished friends here to have essays like this! Thank you, Deb... Sincerely appreciated!! :-)

  • Sonia Adam Murray

    Sonia Adam Murray gave props (14 Apr 2009):

    What a wonderful story about the love in your family, you are so lucky to have shared such love and will always have fabulous memories to fall back on. My sincerest sympathies are with you and your family during this difficult time. I am so pleased that you and Fred were safe from the earthquake. You are in my prayers, I am sure that this story will also help you a little to come to terms about Siege's death. Thank you so much for sharing your story deserves to be published.

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