Suzanne Hnatiw (pronounced ‘Na-too’) spent her life engaged in the joys of music. A talented violinist and fiddler, she was a part of several fiddle groups including the Celtic Orchestra and Wild Women Fiddlers, and more recently she had been accepted to the Milton Philharmonic Orchestra. When she first came to the MPO, there was no indication that Suzanne was anything other than a vibrant, talented musician. She smiled constantly, bringing a warmth to her fellow violins that was both radiant and infectious.
Suzanne took me aside one day soon after she had started with the MPO to let me know her health status; she was fighting Mesothelioma, a particularly deadly lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Fighting she was – the strength and courage shown by Suzanne was a continued source of amazement for me. When my own mother was diagnosed with multiple cancers in April of 2015, fought, and lost her own short and brutal battle with the disease, Suzanne was a constant source of information and support for me throughout the entire ordeal. Quietly supportive, always quick with a hug, and generous of spirit like no other I’d ever met.
As her illness progressed, Suzanne would often come to rehearsals toting an air tank and potent concoctions that she sipped throughout the evenings to maintain enough strength to keep going. When she had to miss a rehearsal, she practised her music at home, and was ready and waiting for the next one. Never once did we hear her complain, even when it was obviously taking everything she had to keep going. Her love of music was strong, and her determination to keep living was indomitable.
In December 2015 things were looking very grim for Suzanne, and we were all bracing for the inevitable news, but this remarkable lady battled back. We heard tales of her playing for fellow chemo patients throughout her treatments, and during hospital stays she would cart her IV pole and join her fiddling friends in the lobby to entertain hospital guests and patients.
This is the last note I received from Suzanne, just as our 2015-16 season had ended:
In August 2016 I happened to be scrolling through Facebook one evening before turning in, and there it was. Suzanne, the remarkable, strong, fearless woman was gone. I felt like I had been hit in my soul.
From a mutual friend and fellow violinist, Honey Thomas, I learned that Suzanne played until her last day, when her hand was barely able to hold her bow. Of course she did – this was Suzanne, and we could expect nothing less from her.
On April 8th the Milton Philharmonic Orchestra presents Classical Gold, which will feature a tribute and celebration of the life of Suzanne Hnatiw. We are pleased to welcome members of her fiddling groups who will perform some of Suzanne’s favourite pieces, and also continue their entertainment during intermission for this special show. Join us and our wonderful MC for the evening, Michelle Emson of Sanctuary Studios, at St. Paul’s United church, 123 Main Street E. here in Milton. The show kicks off at 7:30pm. Tickets available online and at the door.