Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

She was some woman

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There are many different reasons for mourning.

The British writer of nonsense verse, Harry Graham, defined one of them:


Poor Uncle Joe has gone, you know,

To rest beyond the stars.

I miss him, oh! I miss him so,--

He had such good cigars.


I suppose that's as good a reason as any for mourning someone -- a good cigar is nothing to be sneezed at. But there are other reasons as well.

On my dining room table at the moment there is something like a little shrine in memory of my wife, Laurie, who died unexpectedly from a stroke in March. There is a funeral urn containing her ashes, dark grey with butterflies engraved on it, a crystal cross and three photographs. One was taken about a year before I met her in 1978, and it is clearly a spontaneous snapshot, because when she knew her picture was going to be taken, her face would get all scrinched up and her body posture would become very tense.

The second was taken at a family outing at St. Vital Park just after she learned that she had terminal cancer. Whoever took the picture must have said something to her, because there is no scrinch -- she is laughing and looking pretty.

The third, which is my favourite, is a photo of her and our grandson, Jaxson, which was taken about a month before she died.

Jaxson is the son of our son Kristofer, who died accidentally two years ago in March and whose funeral urn is sitting across the room under the baseball cap adorned with newspaper headlines that he always wore. March doesn't seem to be a good month for Olesons.

The last two years were very hard for Laurie. There was first the death of Kris -- she would cry in bed every night and sleep with a teddy bear for comfort -- and then there was the diagnosis of terminal cancer and the resulting continual pain.

But that did not stop her from doing anything. She cleaned and cooked and shopped every day as if nothing were wrong.

In the photo of her with Jaxson, however, you can see how her relationship with him helped to heal the hole in her heart that was left by the death of Kris. Her great green eyes are bright, and there is joy in her face that no amount of physical pain can erase. She was some woman.

She is a woman much missed by many. My daughters posted a notice on Facebook saying that we would hold an open house for friends after her death. That annoyed me, but I thought that at worst, five or six of Laurie's friends might show up in the course of the afternoon and I could live with that.

Instead, there were about 50 people there all through the afternoon and much of the evening.

Most of them were in their 20s, friends of my children whom Laurie had counselled and comforted and some of the various strays and castaways that she had taken into our home over the years. Some kid, it seems, was always living in our home because he or she had nowhere else to go.

By the shrine on the dining room table, there is a notebook where people could write a memoriam if they chose to. It was surprising to me how many of these kids referred to Laurie as "Mom," or "Mom O." It's a measure of how big her heart was that she could embrace this many people.

She was also an Olympic-class nag. I miss everything about her, even the nagging, but, for better or worse, her daughters have stepped up and taken on the job. Dad! Dad! Dad! Don't do that! Do this! Eat something! Take a shower! Why did you take money out of the bank?

Like their mother, they are naturals at it. I guess it's because they are, like their mother, hard Icelandic women.

It is hard to believe, when you are being nagged by your wife, that you will miss it one day, but it's true. Relationships between people are basically simple, but they are also complex. There is the basic affection between a couple, and then there are all the details, and we all know that the devil is in the details.

You can mourn for the most surprising reasons -- take poor Uncle Joe, for example. Rudyard Kipling once wrote that "A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke." How utterly, utterly wrong he was.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 14, 2012 A17

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