Reta Litwiller May 20, 1931 – April 9, 2020

“You wouldn’t think so, but sometimes you have to darken the light in order to see it.”
~ Reta Litwiller on mixing colours in oil painting, but really on life, too.

I’m looking for you. In every bird that flies past, I’m looking for it to land impossibly close to me. I’m waiting for it to turn its head and look at me, really look at me. It will tell me that everything will be just fine. It will be you.

In every paper that flutters to the floor, I’m looking for a word to catch my eye that I can say you sent me. A whole sentence. A flurry of words. I want them to wash over me in a torrent so I can be sure you are still here with me. So that I can be sure you’re really gone.

In every dream I’m looking for a hint of you, for a message that you’ve sent me. For words upon words; I am looking for the words.

We’re in your kitchen and I’m helping with supper. This is foreign land for me, this intentional process of making a meal, every aspect considered — and being invited to participate. Meals at home are haphazard and bare-bones. Any participation is controlled and my every action criticised.

Here, I prepare the three-bean salad on my own at your urging: open the cans with the electric can-opener, drain the liquid, look for a bowl. Should I slice the large ones? How should I cut them? Do I keep any of the liquid from the cans? What kind of bowl should I use? I am full of questions. I am full of uncertainty. I am a child with no confidence or sense of self, no trust in my own decisions, a mirror of what I see at home.

You look at me when I speak. You ask questions and listen for the answers. Do it the way you think is best, you tell me. You have a place in this world, is what I hear. Your ideas matter. You are valuable.

It takes over a decade for these seeds to fully take root in my unconscious. You do the dutiful work of watering them year after year without fail. You weed out the other messages until I understand this is a task I can take over.

Half of my beginnings were formed in her, my mother’s ovaries complete when she struggled out of my grandmother’s womb. We lost her then, too, my grandmother. As she floated above her body in a mysterious and indescribable peace, she wanted nothing more than to be back with her new baby and child already at home. She came back. She came back for all of us and she came back for me.

What is your experience of being a woman? I ask. I want to mine the legacy of my female line. I want to understand what’s been passed down — her own hysterectomy, my mother’s monthly incapacitation in my youth, my own malformed womb and cyst-riddled ovaries. I want the wisdom of my grandmother.

I hold her pain-filled answers that have never before been spoken into the world. I hear the strength in her voice and see the steadiness of her eyes. I hear her stories and we cry.

Grandma and I are like school girls. We giggle when we should be quiet and we laugh at the same unspoken jokes. We are each other’s confidants. I send her the Divine Light Invocation Mantra and she tapes it to the inside of her nightstand drawer in her nursing home room turned art gallery. She says it every night she tells me.

We lie on her bed with our hands clasped in comforting silence and we breath together, soft and gentle. I sing and tears slip out of her eyes. A healing voice, she says, and my heart surges, full. She says she is tired and I know what she means. I do not think that I will see her again.

I buy Honey Nut Cheerios to eat before I go to bed and imagine I hear the grandfather clock chiming. Even if I rush to Calgary for the 15-person-maximum burial, I wouldn’t be allowed to go. A legally-mandated quarantine awaits any return to Canada.

I wake craving waffles with whipped cream and home-canned peaches, heart-shaped chocolate cakes, eating everyday meals on the fancy Royal Albert China, brain massages, cherishing the moment.

I lie in my bed in the rainforest in Hawaii, but I’m not there. I’m at 59 Maryvale Crescent watching a storm come in. Isaac and I are standing at the kitchen window and the sky is dark. We’re no more than 8 and 10. Trees shake. No rain is yet falling.

It’s impossible that this approach be so swiftly definite, but we see it coming from the left and now there is water in the air between the neighbour’s house and their fence. In one more gust, a column of it begins to fall on top of the swing and fire pit in your yard. Now it’s raining so thick I can’t see clearly.

That’s what this leaving of yours is like. Blowing tree limbs heralding change. It was dry. It was dark with eventual inevitability. And then suddenly, in one instant, you’re gone, another victim of this pandemic. The world remains, sodden and heavy.

My grandmother was an artist and showed me what commitment to creativity looks like. My grandmother taught me to never draw a horizon in the centre of a painting, to group items in odd numbers, and the relationship between balance and beauty. My grandmother was kind to everyone she met. I never heard her say a negative or dismissive word about anyone. She taught me how to make a roast and use the drippings for gravy. She asked me to set the table only once, and then trusted that it would get done. She gave her full attention to the moment and to whom she was with. She had an encouraging word for everyone. She never stopped learning. She used years of challenge and struggle to turn her heart into diamonds. She shared those diamonds generously. Her light will forever shine in their facets.

Reta passed away at McKenzie Towne Continuing Care on April 9, 2020 at the age of 88. She is lovingly remembered by her husband of 70 years, Art; son Robert; daughter Peggy Ann; son David (Cheyenne); son Mark (Bridget); daughter Judy (Perry). She will also be dearly missed by her 13 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren. She was predeceased by her great grandchild Dylan.

Reta (Wagler) was born in St. Agatha Ontario. She loved going to school and was an excellent student. In 1949 she married Arthur Litwiller, and while living in Ontario, they had 4 children. Then in 1962 they moved their family to Calgary Alberta, where they had their 5th child. The majority of Reta’s working career was as a receptionist for the Biswanger Health Clinic, a job she loved.

After retirement Reta and Art spent many years as vendors at Millarville and other markets, selling their train whistles and wood puzzles. They met lifelong friends in the Parkdale Promenaders square dance club. These friends became an important part of their lives, sharing square dancing, camping, monthly card nights, and hosting parties to celebrate Halloween and other occasions.

Reta loved painting and joined various art classes including the Parkdale Art club. She became an accomplished artist, and her paintings are displayed in many homes across Canada. Her passion for painting continued for her entire life. She had 3 paintings in progress and her room was like an art gallery.

Reta was incredibly important to her family and friends; she had an abundance of love for everyone and we are blessed to have had her in our lives. She was always a lady but still had a heart for humor and fun, and always had time to “Enjoy the Moment”. Ever the optimist, often saying, “Everything will be just fine”, she made people feel good about themselves and life in general.

Thank you to all the staff at McKenzie Towne Continuing Care for taking care of this special lady for 9-1/2 years, especially during this recent pandemic. Knowing she was loved and cared for during her last days is comforting to the family.

There will be a celebration of life when circumstances permit and an invitation will be sent to all friends and family.


in pink

Grandma with me and my cousin Laura. Our new matching sweaters.

Judy, Grandma and Me

Aunt Judy, Grandma, and me.

Holding a random baby

Visiting my cousin Bobby’s store in Okotoks. A woman with a baby enters. “Can I hold your baby!?”

Apricot Brandy

Grandma kept a bottle of apricot brandy hidden at the bottom of her laundry hamper in the nursing home. The staff knew. They looked the other way. They loved her. Everyone loved her. 

Last Photo

Thanksgiving, 2019. Notice the paintings in all these photos. All hers.


  1. Aunt Judy · April 20

    Guen, thank-you for this lovely tribute!

  2. Nadine Duckworth · April 24

    This was so sweet and sentimental, it brought tears to my eyes. Guen, you are so talented – thank you for sharing this lovely writing and the heart-warming photos. I’m sure she would be as proud of you as you are of her. Goodbye Rita, Rest In Peace.

  3. Pingback: remembering to breathe: reflections on the last 10 years | bluemountainchild

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