Terry Harber: Poet. Advocate. Dreamer. Mother. Born Oct. 3, 1946, in Sarnia; died April 13, 2021, in Toronto, of medical assistance in dying; aged 74.
Her name was Marie Therese, but she went by Terry – a deal between her Anglo father and French-Canadian mother.
The compass of her heart often led Terry down the road less travelled. She was a bit of a rebel, a hippie, a poet, a social worker, a single mother, a sister, a lover and a wife (more than once). Terry was a dreamer and a creative soul, who had a fascination with words and cunning ways to weave them together.
Terry was an advocate for those less fortunate than herself – a habit she began at an early age when she took her father’s winter coat (unbeknownst to him) and delivered it a few neighbourhoods away to a new student in class whose family was wanting.
As a young single mother, she kept a “magic” hat high up in her bedroom cupboard: When it was all just too much for her young daughter Erica, Terry would reach into the hat. If the girl’s ailment was genuine, just like magic, a small treat would appear.
Terry believed in second chances. When Erica failed a test in her final year of high school, Terry celebrated with a Champagne dinner. The teen was utterly confused as to why her mother was celebrating failure. To which she replied, “You failed and survived. That is cause for celebration.”
This is why so many who crossed paths with Terry loved her so. She always had an ear available to listen and she flourished in her social service work over the years in Montreal, Victoria and Toronto. Whether she was working with seniors or refugees, doing theatre with street youth or organizing a choir for homeless men, she always knew how to make people feel seen and remind them of their potential.
Terry also had a propensity to exaggerate – a lot. Which left her friends and family wondering which of her magnificent tales of life in Montreal in the late 1960s were true. Did she hang out in a café drafting poems with a bunch of writers, including Leonard Cohen? Did she really tell Jimi Hendrix off because he told her all youth should try drugs and she had seen the negative impacts on the kids she did theatre with? And did she dance – just that once – with Prince Charles at a navy soiree? Who can say? It would have been possible. Without a doubt they made great stories.
Later in life, the challenges her body had given her most of her life became less tenable. Her long-standing essential tremour accelerated beyond the point of medical intervention, which meant she could do very little with her hands. As chronic pain spread and worsened, Terry’s mobility – and, subsequently, social engagement – decreased significantly. In the last year-and-a-half of her life, as COVID-19 drove us all apart, yet another neurological condition began to eat away at her nerves making her bedbound, in unbearable pain and in need of constant care.
Thankfully she maintained just enough rebel strength to finish her book of poetry and qualify for medical assistance in dying. Terry took her power back; the same power she had so generously inspired in others her whole life.
On the day she left, Erica brought a top hat and a bouquet of handmade paper butterflies to the hospital. While Terry mustered all the courage she had in her to leave this life and those she loved, her daughter hoped the hat would bring her all the magic that she needed for her next journey.
Terry left her family and friends with more than enough magic to carry on.
Erica May is Terry’s daughter.
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