Tears and smiles; remembering Lois

Sisters Lois Halliday and Ruth Henkin sit together for a photo in the summer of 2007. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)

Even when my Aunt Lois was suffering from dementia at age 88, she still had a big smile on her face and told me she loved me. That’s how I left her a couple of weeks ago.

Three days later my sister Nancy called to say Lois was sick and had fallen; she wasn’t expected to live. Nancy and my mother sat with her that afternoon and evening. The next morning she died peacefully.

“She looked so peaceful,” said my 94-year-old mother about her only sibling.

But I was shocked by the news. When I left her a few days earlier, she seemed like her normal, if diminished, self.

The only good thing was that my son Bernie and I had just visited. It had been a while since he had been there, and she loved seeing him again. I snapped pictures, as I do on every visit to Grand Rapids, Mich., just for the record, on the very off chance it could be the last time. This time it was.

About two weeks later, I was back in Grand Rapids for Lois’ memorial service. My cousin Carol put those last few photos up on a picture board along with many others of Lois’ life.

Celebrating Lois

At the memorial service, my cousin Rich played his guitar and sang songs he composed about his mother. Two great-grandchildren toddled around in front of vases of flowers on the floor. Lois would have loved it.

Three of my cousins told happy stories about their mother and how she was always known for her big smile, her welcoming personality, easy acceptance of others and her generosity. Aunt Lois and Uncle Bill’s home on a lake was the center of activity when my cousins were growing up.

In his eulogy, Rich said his mother bicycled 40 miles a time with girlfriends, probably into her 60s. He remembered his last long ride with her; she just couldn’t quite finish. That’s when he sensed something was wrong. Her big welcoming heart wasn’t as healthy as it should have been.

So she did shorter rides. Nancy said later, “Well into to her late 70s, Lois would be seen riding her three-wheeled bike with a safety flag on the back around town. Friends would comment about the elderly woman riding her three-wheeler with a smile on her face. I told them, “That’s my aunt!”

Lois and I shared a birthday, which made our relationship special.

Before Bill died, he and Lois had traveled all over the world and met a couple of presidents. It was always fun to look at the photos they had scattered around their house.

After Bill died, Lois moved to the same building where my mother lives. They had breakfast together every morning and sometimes lunch or dinner. Every time I’d visit my mother, I’d see Lois, too.

Lois stayed active as long as she could. She would walk around the grounds of the complex, eventually with her walker, even on windy, snowy days. I have vivid pictures of that in my mind. And always she had a smile and a cheery word for people.

Near the end, she went to the dining room in a wheelchair after help to get dressed. She spoke very little but always smiled. Asked to make her selections from the dinner menu, she just agreed with what we finally suggested but only ate a few bites.

“But she had a good breakfast,” my mother said when we urged Lois to eat a little more.

Laughing, crying

It was hard for my mother to go in the dining room after Lois’ death.

Reality hadn’t hit, and she would be looking for Lois to come in.

The memorial service and luncheon were also tough on my mother who had bronchitis at the time and was hospitalized with pneumonia three days later. She was the saddest person there.

It was a weird weekend because everyone else was enjoying an impromptu family reunion that included a big family dinner at Nancy’s. Lois would be glad for the celebration, my cousins said. They knew their mother had been declining and had already made peace with her death.

We watched a wonderful video my daughter Kate made two years earlier of my mother and Aunt Lois sitting side by side — the Bobbsey Twins Lois once said  — chatting about their childhood. It really brought Lois back to life.

My sister Sue stayed in Grand Rapids an extra day before heading home to California and said it almost broke her heart to leave my mother who was sick and grieving.

We will all miss Lois.

“For all of Lois’ travel and success and fascinating life, we will remember her for her smile,” Sue said.

Pamela O’Meara can be reached a pomeara@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7818.

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