To a haunting a cappella rendition of One More Day, friends and family quietly bore Catherine White Holman’s coffin past the flickering candles of hundreds of mourners silently lining Victoria Ave and into the WISE Hall Dec 9, for a standing-room-only memorial to a woman whose warmth and generosity of spirit touched many lives.
Inside the hall an estimated 400-500 people, representing a broad spectrum of the queer community, gathered for a multi-faceted ceremony that blended Irish, pagan and Jewish rituals, followed by an evening of open-mic music and reminiscing that elicited laughter and tears and quiet reflection.
Holman was one of six people who perished in a floatplane crash near Saturna Island Nov 29.
“We are here because we are part of Catherine’s great and amazing heart,” shaman Jack O’Rion Barker told the gathering. “We are here ourselves tonight as a tribe of broken hearts.”
Holman is survived by “her love, Shaira, husbutch of 10 perfect, amazing years”; her parents, Peter and Lois White; her sister, Sandra; nephews and several in-laws, Barker said.
Also mourning her, Barker noted, briefly pausing — “the whole fucking room.”
“I told her I’d say fuck three times,” he informed the crowd to laughter and tears.
Barker paid tribute to Holman’s pioneering work as a founding member and community counsellor at Three Bridges clinic.
“She helped establish standards and guidelines — oh my god yes, thank you Catherine — of care that integrated social work and health care for the disenfranchised, and we know who we are.
“Many of the programs that we now depend on in the community were guided by Catherine’s insight and dedicated work. The wisdom and compassion that she embodied will be profoundly missed,” Barker said.
“She saved a lot of people’s lives. She found people money and furniture and housing and help, and she was a light to so many people,” Shaira Holman told Xtra West Dec 2, her voice thick with grief.
“The reason that we have programs like Boys R Us and Prism — all the queer health stuff — we have because of Catherine, because Catherine was there at the beginning, and she made that clinic acknowledge queers and transsexuals and street homos,” Shaira said.
“She made space for us. She was a constant advocate for the queers, and all the freaks — all freaks,” she continued, noting that Catherine had “literally thousands” of people on her client roster.
She did “angel work,” Shaira said. “She loved her community.”
“We travelled in the same play circles, and she just had this brightness about her that instantly drew me to her,” says Lainy Beitler, who came from Seattle to attend the memorial.
There are no words to describe losing Holman, Beitler says. “But there’s a big room of love and so we’re holding each other close.”
“There’s a big hole in my heart,” says Catherine’s mother, Lois, pressing both hands to her chest. “I loved her dearly. I don’t know what else to say, she was so loved by the family.”
“The wake was beautiful and terrible. Catherine would have loved it,” Shaira wrote on an online condolences page dedicated to her wife, the day after the memorial.
“I have no words to express the thanks I feel for your love and support. This page is some comfort to me as [I go through] the awful days and nights without my beloved Catherine.”
The Holmans had 10 perfect years together and got married as soon as the laws changed, Shaira says. “She was grace and beauty and elegance. And she loved me so much. I’ve never been loved so well.”
Asked to describe her favourite memories of her wife, Shaira says there are too many to choose from.
Catherine loved singing, Shaira notes. “Always, I could say at any time, ‘What are you singing, baby?’ and she’d just start singing it.
“And she loved to dance; and she loved to look beautiful. She said before she met me no one ever told her she was beautiful, and so I told her she was beautiful all the time.
“Every day, I told her she was beautiful. She was the best person I have ever met. Ever.”
A friend recently asked Catherine if she had any unfulfilled dreams, Shaira adds. “Catherine said no. She had no regrets and her dreams had been fulfilled — more than fulfilled — that she was so happy,” Shaira says. “This gives me some comfort.”
Catherine loved to fly, loved to lead the Pride parade’s Dykes on Bikes convoy, and loved to travel, Shaira says.
When asked if she had fun on her travels, Catherine’s response was always the same, Shaira says. “She would always say, ‘Of course, I had fun. That’s what I went for.’”