This is how I’ll remember Elisapee. Kind, generous, surrounded by family, being honored and well-cared for.

Last week I had the incredible gift of being able to go back to Iqaluit to spend some time with Elisapee and her family during her last few days. She looked very different; I didn’t take pictures of her like that. Cancer is really awful. But she was still herself. Kind, generous, surrounded by family, honored and well-cared for.

Three days before she passed away, she was giving away some of her ulu collection. She included me in that. I’ve no doubt she made this case, what with the purple snap closure!

I was one of many people that she cared for over the years. She went through a lot of stuff, and was one of those rare people that took the bad things and turned them into good things for others. She had children, grandchildren, adopted children who she treated just like her own children, and people like me: qiturngannguaq.

There’s not really a good translation; -nnguaq is an Inuktitut affix that covers many applications of the idea of “not real.” A toy is a pinnguaq. Pretending something would involve “-nnguaq.” There are others that I don’t know. When she first called me paninnguaq, Elisapee told me it meant “step-daughter,” because it can mean that too. In English I get the idea across by saying she’s my adopted Inuk mom, though it’s more accurate to say I’m her adopted qallunaq daughter. Now I’m paninnguaq to all kinds of people.

When I was in Iqaluit last week, I kept thinking about what a gift it was to be a part of her life. I know I don’t deserve it; I’m just one more outsider coming in trying to help, trying not to stumble over my own privilege. Elisapee didn’t have to be kind to me. But because she was, she gave me acceptance and belonging. She understood, I think, that love is not a zero-sum game or a limited resource: the more love you sow, the more love grows.

I am so thankful I was able to go to Iqaluit to spend that time with her and her family. Her sister, my ayannguaq (or I just call her ayakuluk) it was a special blessing to spend lots of time with, as she’s been such a good friend. And to get to know her daughters and some of her grandkids a little more. They took such good care of her, and my prayers are with them.

Elisapee made such a big impact on so many lives, she will not be forgotten. I will remember her any time I make something purple, or with butterflies on it. And we’ll remember her with this Elisapee – who we are not supposed to call “little Elisapee” because she hated being called that as a kid! – since we gave little D her Inuktitut name after her.

Anaananguara ukua amautinngualiulauqtuq atiapinganut. Elisapee made this pretend amauti for her namesake.
This kid gets dressed in purple as often as possible.
D with another of Elisapee’s grandkids.

It was hard to start writing this post, and now it’s hard to stop it. I’ll say a huge thank you for my friend who generously enabled me to make this trip, and to those friends who made time to visit and take care of little D so I could spend time at the hospital on Thursday. You know who you are.

And I give praise and thanks and glory to God, who chose this way to make his tender love and mercy known. I am confident Elisapee is with him now, and enjoying the company of her beloved husband. She was an amazing person, but that’s not how I know she’s with God. None of us are so amazing that we can overcome all of our problems on our own. I know she’s with God now because she believed in Jesus, that he died for her on the cross and by his Spirit led her through life. Being near her during this time has made me reflect that Jesus loves her so completely, so tenderly, that in heaven even her beautiful relationship with her husband will take second place next to enjoying Jesus face-to-face.

I look forward to seeing her again at the great wedding feast.

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