Theresa continued servicing the School Board over the rest of the winter and into the summer of 1986. If weather curtailed or canceled a flight out of Cassiar, Theresa and I would revel in the opportunity to visit. Often there were others who wanted her company as well so our time was often quick, deep and thick with substance.
As we began the new school term in September of 1986, some political events were underfoot in the district. Al Passarell, the NDP- turned-Socred MLA for Atlin , needed to make a flight arrangements for himself and four other people. He contacted Theresa. It was pontoon season and one part of the journey included a necessary landing on Dease Lake.
There is a phenomenon known as “glassy water”. This means that the lake is so calm that it is difficult to read the distance between the plane and the mirror-like surface of the lake. To avoid misreading the distance, bush pilots would often carry a length of rope so they could throw it out and gauge the distance with the splash of the rope’s end.
It didn’t work for Theresa.
In September of 1986, the Beaver crashed into the lake killing all five passengers. Theresa, who could not swim, was thrown out the side window of the pilot’s door, head first, and into the chilly water of the lake. She was found by the rescue crew floating on the surface with her face and jaw in need of immediate medical attention. She did not remember any of these details. She had no idea how she survived.
After many weeks in the hospital, Theresa was finally allowed to return to Atlin with her jaw wired shut and an overnight crop of snow-white hair. She was 38 years of age.
I was frustrated that she wouldn’t be able to speak on the phone. I wrote a note and made a highly feeble attempt to let her know I was with her in every way. I could not imagine the courage it would take for her to face the community. How could she do this without some belief system? How was she dealing with Dick’s rapidly declining health? Could she drag herself through the inevitable, cruel paperwork that would follow an ordinary plane crash, never mind one that took the lives of five others?
Finally, she called me in early 1987.
“Amy, the gods have blessed me beyond words. I have no memory of anything about the accident. I marvel over the body and mind, working in conjunction to make this atrocity a blank screen for me. I know the story, but often I cannot sense that I was in it.”
“I heard you are being sued. How are you handling that?”
“Families are suing me left, right and center. Family members who haven’t been in touch with the deceased for years are coming out of the woodwork. Truly. In some cases it has been decades. So I see it as a big game. It made me heartsick at first. But for some reason when the tally of law suits hit $900,000., it became unreal. I laughed. The Insurance company is fighting me and there are many more suits being prepared. It is so impossible to ever pay these people that it has floated right on by. It hardly bothers me. Maybe I’ll wake up and it will smother me.”
“By the way,” she said, “I’ve sent you a little daily book in the mail. I have one, too. It’s what helps me keep my sanity so I want to know you are reading it with me.”
Theresa said that most people in Atlin had been very supportive, though some felt so insecure about what to say that they avoided her. She was experiencing the expected ‘survivor complex’ and assured me she was securing professional help.
Her biggest concern was Dick. The whole incident had taken a terrible toll on his health. In spite of all the horror she was facing over the accident, the cold and inhumane insurance processes and personnel, and the cruel cynicism within hearings and appeal procedures, her heart remained steadfastly on Dick. “While I was still in the hospital, Dick took my name off the title of this house,” she said. “That way the buggars can’t take the house away from me when Dick dies.”
A few months later, we connected by phone again. It was mid 1987. She told me that the insurance people were saying that her policy was null and void due to weight issues. They let her know they were leaning towards no payment. “I’m too tired to fight them, Amy. They can do what they like. You know what I did?”