A Calgary golf course social room, a beautiful view of the foothills, a sea of Tommy Bahama shirts and sundresses, laughs and tears and memories. Sounds like a description of a party, and it was a party that Cliff would have approved of – right down to the smoked salmon sandwiches. This was not a party that any of us wished to be privileged to attend – this was a Celebration of Life of my brother in law who died of Colon cancer just after his 66th birthday. This sad event was so well orchestrated by my sister, and her children, who knew that a way to honour this “larger than life” man would be to do it well, using the best, and asking people to do “All Things Cliff.”
My sister and brother in law were married 45 years, having met as teenagers at their summer jobs at Colombia Ice Fields (waitress and bombardier driver) – he from Halifax and she from Calgary (Moose Jaw originally). My dad loved him immediately and spent many hours talking investments and businesses with him. Through life’s challenges, I always admired Lorna and Cliff for living life with gusto, gathering and keeping thousands of friends from every place they worked, lived or holidayed.
Travel was vital to Cliff’s lifestyle, there were a lot of his favourite places to visit – most hot and near an ocean. Sometimes Lorna would say ” I just want to stay home for a bit ” but soon they were planning their next place to go – Hawaii, Spain, Rome, England, San Jose del Cabo, Caribbean, Turkey to name only a few. Gord and I were so lucky to enjoy the fun of Cabo for a week with Cliff and Lorna and I had a couple of weeks at his Phoenix home. Never ate so well ! (should we mention the Margarita’s from Mexico limes as well ?) He booked a last trip to Phoenix and Hawaii for January, that they, unfortunately, were not able to take. My daughter and son in law took a small palm tree and some Hawaii treats to him in the hospital, and that just had to do. That was a dream that was hard for him to let go of for he was determined to have these last trips for three years – and he wasn’t ready to stop avoiding the snow.
He was always ready for a new adventure, a new investment, new oil seeking and he was constantly learning. He took on Spanish lessons while in Cabo, and became a great friend of his teacher. Those lessons continued via Skype twice a week for several years and only ended a couple of weeks before his passing. His Spanish speaking hospice nurse was quite amazed at the articulate Spanish he spoke.
A story about Cliff would not be complete without some funny stories and his memorial party was full of them. He loved being a red head, and had a bit of a temper that went with that mop of red. I remember the time he got angry at some driver and ended up with his car up on a median because he cut the turn too fast. That was an expensive rim and tire replacement. Or colourful language when he tried to fix things around the house – for all his wonderful skills this was not one of them. My most unforgettable temper story was at a family dinner when I accidentally knocked over one of his expensive wine glasses and it broke. Although we can laugh about it now, I still choose the shortest wine glass and always placed it WAY out of reach. At his house there were never “cheap wine glasses” like at my house.. for his shopping trips usually just took him to look for ” the best.”
Cliff was known for his moustache – big bold and red. He cut his moustache off a couple of years ago, after a new barber trimmed it down to what Lorna describes as a “Hitler moustache” so it had to come off.. and he decided it could stay off. It took a long time to get used to that !! His red hair never turned grey… just this beautiful shade of blond – but he never stopped reminding us (and our daughter) that red heads were still the best.
Lorna always answered the phone at their homes and to be honest, I am not sure Cliff really knew how to say much more than “Hello Terry- Lorna’s not home” on the phone. Talking in person was far more rewarding, as he always offered conversation with a twinkle in his eye.. with a trace of Nova Scotia and that characteristic Jeffrey family pause. In early January, I was pleasantly surprised to find that despite a load of narcotics, he could still talk politics, food and finances.
Cliff’s style was distinctive. He wore whatever he wanted and owned a closet full of bright, flowery Tommy Bahama wear. He would travel in his Tommy bathing suit even when leaving Calgary at 40 below. There are stories about some of his very colourful shirts, including one ( pink, orange, green in splendid stripes) that gained quite the reputation.
He loved all genres of music, read all varieties of books, and was probably the best cook you could encounter. His secret – a pound of butter and a quart of cream – and maybe a few jalapeño peppers. He researched restaurants as soon as someone said ” lets eat out’ , and knew where to eat on each holiday. He was rarely wrong. When Lorna and I went to Florida together, we decided to just choose restaurants randomly and see if we could find good restaurants without a day of research (boycotting one of the “all things Cliff). We didn’t dare tell Cliff of this unscientific process – but we found good food!
His collection of cookbooks was impressive, but you knew that even a famous chef’s recipe probably had a “Cliff variation”. He was always ready to teach. He wasn’t afraid to tell me (the time my oven failed and my thanksgiving turkey was sitting raw at 1 pm) , that my turkey would cook – after all “you always cook them too long anyways” and I could always count on advice (yes even on the phone) on any recipe (or actually on any financial matter as well.)
I learned from Cliff to know immediately when the french fries in a restaurant are frozen rather than fresh cut but I do not necessarily ask the “question” when I order fries . Maybe I will take that lesson from him now from now on. Boycotting frozen french fries is certainly a cause that Cliff would want us to continue.
He was more than just an uncle to my three children, he was special. He agreed to have two of them live with them when they needed a place to stay and hosted the other even when he even brought a flock of friends with him for a weekend. He always engaged them in his passions and knew how to draw them out. Politics could get my oldest son and him on a long discussion.
Cliff’s diagnosis of incurable cancer came three years ago and it shocked us all. How could cancer hit this always healthy, exercise addicted, fit man? This was just at the beginning of their retirement years, in the midst of their travelling days, and while they were getting used to being grandparents and enjoying seeing their two children successful and happy.
Cliff accepted his diagnosis and pushed through fear and lived life to the fullest this last three years. Between biweekly chemo treatments he would travel back and forth to Phoenix, their cabin in Invermere, their son’s Ironman competitions, Cabo and even Hawaii. It was a whirlwind of travel, doctors appointments and treatments and we almost imagined that he could actually beat this disease. In June, was the big and final blow, when they were told that the chemo was no longer was working. A last ditch experiment was tried, but that too, failed to stop those wicked cells from gathering and multiplying. His time with oncology was done, palliative care would begin.
So he planned more trips – a family trip to Disneyland, and Halifax and back to Phoenix twice. During this time, he saw his son meet a wonderful girl and choose a small family wedding to ensure his dad could attend. His last trip to Phoenix, he even golfed more holes than most healthy men golf, then was able to fly home to Calgary alone in late November, staying a bit longer than his wife. Days later, by the first week in December though, his health went downhill, with two months of pain, an increasingly weakened body, and finally one week in Palliative Care, and one week in Hospice. Despite that, he was able to manage the wedding day, and enjoy his grandchildren’s antics at Christmas.
His last two weeks were spent with more challenges with pain control but true to his nature, he, with tears, confirmed his love for the people who surrounded him. This man who spent his life as a successful geologist and larger than life personality, ended it with tenderness, and love and a legacy to remember.
There were some very wonderful nature displays on Monday that assure us that Cliff will be “all right” in the life after this. I believe that right now is in Heaven where there is no pain, no sorrow and where cream and butter doesn’t contain calories. Monday just as the singer was singing the beautiful Rankin Family song, “Fare Thee Well” a large flock of geese gracefully flew by the huge picture windows – and then circled to come back as the song ended. Later, a sunset the colour of his flaming red hair could be seen in the sky as we ended our family time together. Great visuals, that I believe were sent by a loving God to reassure mourners that Cliff was at peace.
These are only a few of the thoughts I have of this man, there are so many more, and our photo albums journal each wild moustache, each hair style change, and many wild outfits, but mostly precious times with his wife, son and daughter, grandchildren and with all of us who shared a piece of his life.
I will close with words from Glinda from Wicked.
“It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime.
So, let me say before we part:
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you.
You’ll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart.
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have rewritten mine
By being my friend.
Because I knew you…
I have been changed for good.
” For Good” Idina Menzel