Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Life Remembered

There are friendships that last forever, and others that come and go. Some people touch our lives and then disappear. They might get too busy, move away or pass away. But friends who have inspired us in some special way will never leave our hearts.

I once had a friend (a dear old friend of my parents) whom I knew for most of my life. I’m only familiar with pieces of her life story, and my visits with her were sporadic over the years; but since her passing last February, she lingers in my heart and mind as a wise, warm, and constant presence.

Louise (Loulou) was born in Arvida, Quebec in 1942, the daughter of devout Catholic French-Canadian parents. Her father was a lawyer and her mother, a strong matriarch, stayed home to raise their brood of seven children. When Louise was eighteen, she set her sights on becoming a nun. Highly intelligent and ideologically driven, she thought she knew exactly what she wanted.

Then George came along.

George, a young Hungarian immigrant and my parents’ great friend, had discovered Louise while dating her older sister. His passions soon moved on to Louise (which was fine with her sister) and a friendship developed. Thirteen years her senior and more than ready to settle down, George had some work to do to win her heart. Strong-willed and determined to follow her calling, this spirited young woman was not the best marriage candidate. But George was not to be deterred.

Commuting regularly on weekends from Montreal to Arvida, George continued his pursuit, determined to win her over. When he finally declared his love, Louise rejected him. He was crushed.

My parents advised him to stop the visits for a while and give Louise some space. But he couldn’t stay away. He went to Arvida again using the excuse of visiting her family, with whom he had developed a warm relationship. When Louise caught sight of him walking down the street one day, she called out his name and swooned (like a scene from the movies!).

From that moment, her life changed directions. They married and then moved to a small university town in Germany, where George was transferred with his job. Louise immersed herself in learning the language and starting a family. Within a few years, the couple had four children. As much as Louise loved being a mother, she wanted more. A feminist without really knowing it, she began to study psychology at the University of Gottingen. She earned her degree and then went on to do her masters. For a small town French-Canadian girl who didn’t speak a word of German when she first came to the country, Louise had quickly found her ground.

The family eventually moved to California and later, to Montreal. There, Louise built her psychology practice and continued raising her family, then teens in high school. She took up painting, played tennis, studied alternative and new age religions, sailed around the world for two years with her husband, and hosted a radio show answering call-in questions about life’s problems.

This was a very busy lady—yet never too busy to have us stay if we were visiting Montreal, or to invite us for dinner if we were passing through. She loved to laugh and to engage in deep conversation. She had strong opinions and was keen to share them. Her affectionate hugs were as natural as her heartfelt tears. She was sincerely interested in what you said and listened with intensity.

When speaking to Louise, she’d make you feel that what you were saying was terribly important. I could be talking about the weather, my children, or a personal problem, but whatever the subject, nothing else mattered at that moment and every word seemed to interest her.

At some stage in her life, Louise lost her faith in God. Unfortunately, I never had the conversation with her to find out why. But I know she was a deeply spiritual person who meditated daily, read many books by enlightened spiritual leaders, and practiced Eckhart Tolle’s philosophy of living in the present moment (as described in his book The Power of Now).

Two years ago, after fighting a valiant battle with cancer, her beloved husband George passed away. At his funeral Louise was beautifully collected and profoundly heartbroken. Having been together for almost fifty years and weathering so much together, she could hardly imagine a life without him. Unwell herself, Louise’s own struggle with follicular lymphoma, which had been in remission, soon became her new challenge.

When I sent her a letter conveying my concern (and my lament that what was happening to her was unfair) she immediately wrote back, despite suffering great pain and knowing that her end was near.

Her wise, caring words were a valuable gift. This is what she said:

Carla, nothing is unfair that befalls us. At least that's the way I see it. Human behavior can be unfair, but what life serves us is just that, life. George and I always believed in living life fully. That means to accept it and make the best of what it brings us. Not always easy, I grant you. But I know this positive attitude has helped me throughout my life and does so in facing this new challenge.

I'm thinking of you too, knowing that you are facing challenges of a different kind. Tolle would tell you not to lose time and energy worrying, to live in the present moment, face this challenge with determination and creativity. Set your goals and make them so real in your heart and mind that they will become reality. It works for me.

Louise died a few months later, at the much too young age of 67.

One way we can know for sure that a spirit never dies is by the powerful impact left on the people it has touched. Louise’s four fantastic children and much loved grandchildren, her relatives, her multitude of friends, and the folks she met along her life journey, are all graced with her eternal presence. I am grateful to be among the crowd.

Note: I was going to write about the Olympics today but when I sat down at the computer, thoughts of Louise drifted into my mind. When I checked my calendar after writing this article, I found that her funeral was exactly a year ago. The spirit works in interesting ways...


  1. Thank you Carla for a beautiful story about a very special woman. Today you inspired me when you wrote about your old friend.
    Pat Snow

  2. An amazing story Carla. Thank you for sharing.