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Spirit and smile untouched by battle with ALS

Saint John - Rev. Ernie Eldridge of Beaver Harbour says his wife Barb's courageous decade-long battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) "may have been able to cripple her body, but not her mind, or her spirit, or her smile."

    Right up until her death on Nov. 10 at the age of 71, he adds, that heartwarming smile was often triggered by the humour and fortitude of those who cared for her over the final four years of her life at the Fundy Nursing Home in Blacks Harbour.

    "In a sense, she became their Barbie doll," he says. "They fed and clothed and cared for her around the clock. Barb made quite an impact on them, and many others."

    One of the caregivers summed up her feeling this way: "Thank you (Barb) for a year full of laughs and fun. You are one of the most special people I've ever had the honour to know. You have put up with a lot from all of us, and you smiled through it all. You have taught me more than you will ever know."

    At Barb Eldridge's memorial service last Saturday, her husband of 49 years introduced his remarks by telling a story about a musician who still managed to play music with great difficulty.     "At the end, you know sometimes it is the artist's task to fin out how much music you can still make with what you have left," he quoted the musician as saying.

    "In Barb's case," he added, "her challenge...was how to live life with what you have left. And Barb did amazing well!"

    Born in Saint John on April 27, 1935, Barbara Gene Eldridge grew up on Sydney Street, the only daughter of Harold and Vida Eldridge. She graduated from Saint John High and studied music and business at Mount Allison University.

    Ernie was studying for the Anglican priesthood in Toronto in 1955 when he was asked to show a younger third cousin he hadn't seen for years around the big city. She moved there the next year and the two married in 1957 after he graduated from Wycliffe College. After spending three years of ministry in northern Ontario, they served in carious parishes in the Vancouver area until he took retirement in 1994.

    Ernie says Barb wasn't only the "perfect minister's wife" and compassionate mother of two - Miriam Avery of Beaver Harbour and Thomas Eldridge of Kingston, Ont. - and grandmother of three who also got involved in her community. She taught English as a second language to Asian immigrants and visited polio patients in the hospital.

     Retirement came with a new cottage overlooking the water in Beaver Harbour adjacent to the old family homestead, occupied by their daughter, but also - as it turned out - with many trails. But despite what he calls the "sadness" of the ALS journey, Ernie Eldridge says it became a fairly meaningful one.

    "We both discovered it was a time when life came to be lived with more clarity, with a deeper faith and greater appreciation of love than ever before," he says.

SOURCE: New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal (November 23, 2006).

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