Judith Dianne Pasternak: Potter. Poet. Mom. Grammy. Born Nov 17, 1948, in Milford Bay, Ont., died Oct. 29, 2019, in Toronto, of complications from pneumonia; aged 70.
Judith Pasternak was deeply connected to the woods and water. Her family, the Blanchards, had small-town roots and even lived on a rural byway called Butter and Egg Road in Milford Bay, Ont. From a young age, she would wander through the trees – fearless, spiritual and serene – undoubtedly an escape from her parents’ conflict-filled marriage. In those forests, creativity flourished, and serenity grew a heart filled with poetry that would last a lifetime.
By Grade 10, Judi’s mother urged her to leave, saying, “Go become a secretary in the Big Smoke.” So, she left school and her rural roots, for a different life in Toronto. She found a job, got married and became the mother of three girls she adored. For Judi, homemaking was an art form with both hands and heart. She made Halloween costumes from scratch; threw birthday parties with elaborate execution and passed down magical stories from her childhood – stories filled with sun and rocks, bears and wolves, and polka dot snakes. Many nights would be spent singing with her children while playing her old, bass ukulele; Judi played piano by ear and became a gifted, professional potter, mostly self-taught. She called her studio, perhaps ominously, Muddy Dreams.
Judi would characterize those times as the “happiest in my life,” but they would not last. There was divorce and crippling mental-health challenges. The girls were young and the split was traumatic. Like so many who touch such darkness, Judi lived much of the rest of her life in the shadows, trying to fight her way to wellness. The path was to say the least, challenging, but her daughters remained loving and fiercely loyal, ultimately knowing that their mother was so much more than the diseases that had cost them all so much. They were determined she not be lost in a system that often marginalizes those with mental illness.
Despite mounting hardships, Judi filled notebooks with to-do lists, positive affirmations and gratitude statements. She fought for her life. She finished high school in her 50s, quit smoking in her 60s, spoke to and saw her family often, and felt passionately about politics – she was thrilled to vote days before she died. While she had many reasons to feel bitter, she made it a mission to express gratitude for even small gestures.
Complications from years of mental illness led to chronic physical illnesses, as they so often do. In the last few months, her increasingly frequent ER and ICU visits became too much. Despite near constant pain, immobility and a poor prognosis, she was refused a medically assisted death. Still, she clung to dignity and her quest for autonomy. She exchanged more life-saving medical treatment for comfort care back at her long-term care home. Her family stayed close and loved ones surrounded her when she took her last breath.
In Judi’s journals, it is clear she remained connected to nature and her rural roots. While bed-bound and only her window to view the outside world, she still marvelled with wonder at the nearby trees as their leaves turned crimson; a reminder of the beauty, serenity and magic of a more idyllic past.
Cortney and Reagan Pasternak are Judi’s daughters, Ralph Benmergui is her son-in-law.
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