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An uncanny ability to dodge the odds

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Last week, I was again reminded of the incredible strength that women possess as my sister-in-law -- my wife Jean's sister -- passed away.

Lynda became a Klassen years ago but was born a Johnson, part of the baby boomer generation. Her mettle showed early in life as one of seven children, one who suffered unfairly like any child who begins life battling illness.

Lynda had heart troubles. Cardiac arrest as a youngster was her starting gate to a lifelong and rough road of surgeries, strokes and heart attacks.

Some of Jean's earliest memories are of Lynda's constant nosebleeds and being together with her siblings and best friend, Sherry, on the grounds of the Children's Hospital. Kids weren't allowed to visit inside so their mom insisted they be "good little soldiers" for their sister, outside. They played and acted goofy as Lynda looked out, waving from her window, confined inside during that long, hot summer. They'd get her to laugh from afar.

Lynda had resilience in childhood and carried it throughout her life. She wasn't frail.

We watched old home movies the other day. Lynda doing the twist with her fiery red hair and laughing as she played with her younger brothers. Skating rinks, toboggan slides and Christmas were the usual backdrops. She never felt sorry for herself. Not for a single minute.

Maybe that's why back in the 1970s, Don Klassen dumped his blind date, focused attention on Lynda and proposed just months later. They married and made a life in small-town Manitoba, Roseisle.

With three children, Cindy, Nancy and Jason, wealthy is not the word I'd use to describe the Klassens. But they were rich. Lynda instilled in each of her children a clear understanding of right and wrong, helping, hard work and self-sufficiency.

Those qualities have served her kids well with the choosing of like-minded spouses, raising their own kids, coping with Lynda's never-ending health battles and their dad's premature and unexpected death five years ago.

Over the years, I could easily count the hundreds of times they made the three-hour round trip to visit Lynda in hospital for an afternoon, sometimes overnight. Today, all in their 30s, they don't know any other life.

And I don't have enough fingers and toes to count the times she bounced back from a gloomy prognosis, happily confounding the docs who seemed to think she'd never get to meet her grandchildren.

Well, she did. All 10 of them. From the eldest, Graeme, to the littlest guy, Dodge, himself a redhead. Most people believe he got his name because of a Klassen affinity for Chrysler products. I'm pretty sure, though, it was in honour of Lynda's uncanny ability to dodge the odds.

Lynda's heart was weak. She knew that, making up for lost strength with an abundance of compassion and an inner strength that allowed her to accept things as they were. She had no regrets.

About a year ago, she was back in hospital. Not her heart, but a car accident where she broke most everything. Months recovering -- first the Health Sciences Centre then one closer to home in Notre Dame de Lourdes. Traction and healing. She was never quite the same, except for her inner spirit and optimism. At 60, she landed in Foyer Notre Dame, a personal care home.

It wouldn't have been her first choice but she spoke so warmly of other residents and the staff, so appreciative of the care they gave her and the near-daily visits from the kids.

Then about two weeks ago, something wasn't right. Nobody could put their finger on it. She was hustled back and forth between country hospitals and St. Boniface.

We went to see her in emergency. There was little reason for hope. She knew it too. It's not as though she was welcoming death. She wasn't. She'd stared it down and escaped it so many times in the past. But this time she knew she'd been caught. Everything was just worn out. Her wishes were clear and calm.

The next evening, a contingent of friends and neighbours from Roseisle was at the hospital. Lynda had been moved to ICU. She was unconscious and receiving regular injections to ensure there was no pain. The two-visitor rule was waived. As the machines that had been helping were one-by-one turned off, the folks from Roseisle ushered her from life with the sweetest and quietest singing I have ever heard.

There was no death notice but her funeral was packed. It was a salute to strength and compassion with music and words from family, friends and her favourite pastors. Her heartbroken grandkids belted out hymns as their salty tears tumbled down their cheeks.

I doubt that I could ever muster Lynda's kind of strength. But then, I'm not a woman.


Robert Marshall is a former Winnipeg police detective.



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 27, 2011 J11

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