Prescott-Russell residents continue to follow the updates, case numbers and transmission rates of the virus through the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) website and regular conferences. But behind each of those numbers is the story of a human life, something that can be overlooked amidst the overwhelming spread of the pandemic over the last year.
Cliff died of lung fibrosis on November 2, after being admitted to hospital and diagnosed with the condition in February. While she had started to recover and was discharged in September, her condition deteriorated when she contracted COVID-19 during an outbreak at the Prescott and Russell Residence.
Cliff’s family shared their thoughts about her to celebrate her life and highlight just one of the many losses experienced in the area during the pandemic. They remembered her as a film lover and her special bonds with her four grandchildren.
Born in L’Orignal as the third of four children, Cliff started work at 14 for Bell Canada in the village. Her son, Alain Menard, said she was an independent adolescent, moving to Ottawa alone at 16 to work for Bell as an operator for two years. The move to the big city inspired a lifelong love of cinema. “She finally had her freedom,” Menard said.
She married at 19 and had her first child a year later. A second child followed six years later, before her divorce in 1974. Menard said Cliff “met her true soul mate”, René, in 1978 and married him four years later. “They lived 26 years together before her husband passed away in 2004,” Menard said.
Cliff worked at Bell Canada in Hawkesbury, then at the former Smith Clinic as a receptionist until 1975. She switched to work as a receptionist at the Hawkesbury General Hospital, where she stayed for 21 years until her retirement in 1996. Menard said her time there helped her get to know many people in the Hawkesbury area, and developed strong friendships.
Cliff’s grandson, Vincent Menard, said memories of his grandmother gave him “happiness, love and comfort”. Now working in the film industry, he said Cliff had shared his love of the movies. “My grandmother and I could talk for hours about our favorite movies, filmmakers, actors,” he said. “We’d go on about Judi Dench, her favorite actor, stories and themes explored in movies. “Her passion in cinema and pride in me as a pursuer of filmmaking continue to inspire me to this day.”
Grandson Patrick Massie recalled Cliff’s love and support for her family. “When I wasn’t well, I knew she was there to listen to me and advise me,” he said “Now without her, I feel lost. Part of me died on November 2. I will remember her as a strong, gentle and loving woman. Always there for her family.”
Her eldest grandchild, Véronique Landry, also remembered the love and kindness Cliff gave, as well as her philosophical approach to life. “She’d often tell me a quote she loved: ‘slow down ,happiness is trying to catch-up with you’,” Landry said. “I loved going to her house and having one-on-one chats with her over a glass of wine, cheese and sweets She had a great sense of humour and there was never ever a dull time with her. She had her heart on her sleeve. She worried about everyone, she wanted to make sure that everyone around her was comfortable and happy.”
Cliff’s funeral in November was an intimate affair, with only 15 people permitted, but the family planned a larger celebration of her life once the pandemic had passed. Landry learned she was pregnant a few days before Cliff’s death, but her grandmother was unable to answer the phone.
“I tried calling her to tell her the big news and hopefully have some advice from the wisest person I know, but she was too weak to answer her phone,” she said. “I try to find comfort in telling myself that my grandmother passed on her light to my family at one of our darkest moments, and this light is in my womb.”