Maureen Tonge, a Yellowknife teacher diagnosed with a brain tumour at the start of 2019, passed away on Monday morning – World Teachers’ Day.
Maureen’s passing was confirmed by her sister, Kirsten, who described it as “beautiful and peaceful.” Maureen had been living with a grade four glioblastoma multiforme, described by her as “a brain tumour located so deeply in my brain that it’s inoperable.”
At the top of her Facebook page, which hosted hundreds of supportive messages as her condition deteriorated in recent weeks, Maureen had written: “There is so much to be grateful for in my life.”
Kirsten told family and friends online: “She just knows that she is loved and we appreciate that very much.”
She had taught at Yellowknife’s Sir John Franklin High School since 1992 and more recently began teaching yoga.
“Maureen had a larger-than-life personality that left an impression on everyone who met her,” said Ed Lippert, the YK1 school board’s superintendent.
“Maureen chose to live out her remaining days doing what she loved and spreading positivity. She will always be remembered for her infectious enthusiasm and zest for life.”
In August, with new tumours growing, Maureen was told she had a matter of months to live. She had earlier been forced to give up driving, then riding her bike, as the impact on her daily life grew.
In combating cancer, Maureen told Cabin Radio last year she had made the decision to experience the journey “from a sense of curious fascination.”
“Learning to listen to my body has been key, and resting when I need to rest. I feel more fully present to everything that’s going on in my life, as opposed to getting wrapped up in the list of things to do,” she said at the time.
“I’ve actually been overwhelmed – and I might get a little choked up here, because it continues to touch me deeply – by the amount of support. It’s been absolutely overwhelming from literally all over the globe.
“From the very beginning, I’ve had this unwavering faith that there’s an organizing wisdom of the universe, call it whatever you want – a lot of people call it God, I tend to call it source, or universe – and it knows that this is just part of my journey. This is a chapter in the Book of Mo.”
‘Teaching us every day’
Kirsten told Cabin Radio time spent with Maureen and family in recent weeks had “meant everything.”
“Her husband, Robert, has been a rock throughout and her number-one fan – tied with me,” Kirsten said.
“Robert and I became her caregiver team. The two of us, in the past two weeks, were administering her medicine and taking care of her.
“For us, they were acts of love and a token of our love to her. The palliative nursing staff recognized how much Maureen knew and appreciated that we were doing that for her.”
Family members including Maureen’s parents, Ray and Diane, and sisters Jocelyn Smith and Melanie McClelland joined Kirsten and Maureen in her final weeks.
“We were together as a family. The laughter, oh my goodness, and the joy we shared with Maureen every single day – to the point of tears, we were laughing so hard,” Kirsten said.
Maureen had carefully avoided many foods as her intolerances grew, but threw such caution out of the window as her time grew near.
“To watch Maureen take such joy eating sourdough bread, it was so much fun,” Kirsten said.
Asked how she hopes Maureen will be remembered, Kirsten said: “Maureen remained a teacher. It was her calling. It was her passion, it was who she was.
“She said to me maybe eight weeks ago: ‘I’m afraid that I’ve lost my purpose. I don’t feel like I have a purpose if I can’t teach.’
“And I said, ‘Mo, you are teaching us every day. You don’t have to be in a classroom. You continue to teach every single person.'”