Death of Dr. Ivan Witt

On August 18th, 2001 I was one of the hundreds of people who packed the Medicine Hat College Theatre to bid final good-bye to my friend and partner, Dr. Ivan Witt.

Ivan was larger than life. He worked hard and thoroughly enjoyed the fruits of his labour. He cared about his family, friends and patients. Many of us will miss his sense of humour. His zest for life and work.

Ivan’s sudden and premature death affected people in many different ways. To me it brought back memories of similar tragedies in my own life. Please allow me to share with you some thoughts.

In the afternoon of August 4th, when my phone rang, I could not believe what I heard – that Ivan and his family were involved in an accident and Ivan had died at the scene. My mind immediately flashed back to Sunday, October 14th, 1984 when my phone rang at about 10 pm to let me know that my younger brother, Mansur, was killed in a motor vehicle accident near his home in Royston, B.C.

Mansur was 36. He had two young children, girl seven, and boy five. Few months prior to Mansur’s death, his daughter had spent about six months in a Vancouver hospital with debilitating effects of viral infection of the brain. The family had to go through two major setbacks in one year. How many of us can understand the magnitude of the situation?

My sister, Gulshan, used to live in Uganda. She had three children. She was expecting a fourth child when she was blessed with triplets. Three and three makes six! Then came the terror of Idi Amin (some of you may remember him). Gulshan’s family, with six infants and a sick father-in-law, had to leave Uganda overnight penniless. Canada was kind enough to take them as refugees. They settled in Quebec City.

They eventually moved to Vancouver. By 1996, all the kids were old enough to leave home. Gulshan celebrated her 60th birthday and was looking forward to some easy time and relaxation. She wanted to go back to Quebec City and visit many friends who had helped her survive the trauma of dislocation. She wanted to go to London, England. She had never been there before.

But fate had planned a different journey for her. In July 1996, she was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas and died two months later. Few years before her death, her oldest daughter was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and has been physically challenged since.

Unfortunately, almost every family has sad stories like these. But do we learn anything from these stories or by attending funeral services?

Certainly the message is quite clear. Life is too short and we are all going to die one day. If that is the case then why are we in this world? What is the purpose of our existence?

The answer to these questions come in the next tragic story I read in the Golf Digest. This is the story of a 45-year-old Pete Farricker, Golf Digest’s equipment editor. Pete was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. The author of the article says “the disease goes on to ravage the victim, in a cruel twist, shutting down the body while leaving the mind intact.” While Pete was waiting to die, he wrote his own eulogy that was read by his wife at his funeral service.

In part this is what he said:

“…. it was the never-ending gifts of love that came my way, which convinced me that the main reason why we’re all here is to simply love one another. We all have what seem like complicated lives, and we often get caught up in the daily minutiae of work, family and school…It’s love that makes us strong – and love that solves the mysteries.”

Ivan was good example of this. He loved his work. He loved the people he came in touch with. And he loved a good life. To Ivan, I would like to say: Partner, thanks for the memories. You will be missed! To his family, I would like to say: Have faith and be strong. New life is just beginning and many people are praying for you.

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