When his wife died of cancer four years ago, Larry Merritt felt an emptiness and heartache he could not have anticipated.
He wanted to remember his lifetime partner Lois in a meaningful way and help other families who are coping with cancer. When a friend suggested he hold a fundraiser dinner, the Kordyban Lodge – a home away from home for people undergoing cancer treatments – immediately came to mind. March 16 is their wedding anniversary (this year they’d have been married 42 years) so Merritt chose that date for the event.
“We started sending out letters to everyone we knew, and now every year, new people have come on board. So far, we’ve raised $20,800 for the Lodge.”
This year’s total will add to that.
People continue to support the fundraiser and over the years it has grown, said Merritt, a local chiropractor. One of his patients brought in bottles of wine, a wine rack and four glasses for the silent auction.
“That really surprised me,” said Merritt. “Some of my patients who knew Lois have come to the dinner every year and supported it, but this was from someone who didn’t know her but still wanted to help. Prince George is full of wonderful, caring people.”
His volunteering experience in the Canada Games Plaza clinic during the Winter Games only reinforced that feeling, he added.
“We have a lot of volunteers who step up when necessary – even when it’s not necessary, the offer to help. When I was out walking, with my green jacket on for two weeks, I talked with a lot of people about their experience here. So many of them said we (Prince George residents) were the friendliest of people. And the energy at the Plaza was just amazing.”
Monday, as he organizes last minute things for the fundraiser, Merritt says it does trigger memories of the woman behind it all.
“I was in chiropractic college, we had just finished mid terms. My friend wanted to go out to dance at a place where he had a membership. I wasn’t looking for a date that night but he said this girl wants to meet you. So we met and spent the rest of the night dancing.”
The loss of Lois nearly four decades later, inspired Dr. Merritt to throw himself into the chiropractic work he loved and still loves to this day, but it also brought out his artistic talent as a way towards healing himself.
“Just after she died, in three weeks, I completed a trilogy of pencil drawings of her that I did from photographs,” he said. The photographs were milestones in their 38 year relationship including a radiant bride on her wedding day and years later, a happy and relaxed mother and grandmother on their final vacation to Hawaii.
Merritt has since done other drawings which wave garnered him acclaim from the local art community and he has also dabbled in photography and tried his hand at modern art. One of his contemporary pieces shows a cut-in-half red heart with jagged edges exposed and tiny fragments spurting out of the wound like blood, onto a white background.
There is no attempt to hide the artist’s meaning; it depicts a broken heart. These days however, Merritt is on the mend – and who understands more than he does as a chiropractor that healing takes time. He keeps busy with his downtown practice and often meets new people who continue to inspire him with their generosity of spirit and donations for his annual fundraiser.
It all helps him to helps others who are going through the very difficult cancer journey with a loved one.
“When Lois was getting her radiation treatments, we had to go to Victoria and we talked about how good it would be to have a local place for cancer patients and their families to stay (the Kordyban Lodge was completed in 2013) so I know how important it is to have a place like this.”