Time out: To mourn, to remember, to be with family

I’m taking time off from my regular posts to mourn the untimely death of my wife of 31 years, and my best friend, Lorraine Leo de Jong. Lorraine was smart, funny, articulate, and had a scholarly understanding of anthropology, history, and much else. For a dyed-in-the-wool academic like me, she was a wonderful companion: A source of ideas, a sounding-board, and an honest critic. We spent many happy hours ranting at each other, sharing ideas, and arguing.

When we were married,…

IMG

I was a professor, and she was the curator of the Anthropology Department’s collection of artefacts at the University of Winnipeg. We both had decent salaries and our plan was to become a Yuppie couple with two incomes. But then our first, Gabrielle, came along and spoiled our plans. Lorraine didn’t have the heart to leave her with a baby-sitter, so she asked me whether I would be willing, instead, to have her become a traditional homemaker. I agreed. It is, after all, a pretty good deal for a man, as my feminist friends (including Lorraine) would be quick to point out.

HadrianWall3

So Lorraine assumed the role of forceful, good-humoured sovereign over our home, as we co-operated in meeting the challenge of raising six children. As anyone who has raised children knows, it was a big challenge, that produced many fights with children, while the tension had us often fighting each other. Those fights were unpleasant, but they left me with an important life-lesson: You don’t mess with a de Jong woman.

One incident in Lorraine’s life as a stay-at-home mom has become a neighbourhood myth. A common and unhappy reality of childhood is that, if school administrators are lax, their passiveness encourages pint-sized fascists, schoolyard bullies, to target other children. One day that was happening to Rachel as she walked to school. When Lorraine looked out the front window of our house, she saw the bullying and sprang into action. The neighbourhood myth has Lorraine, bathrobe flapping in the breeze, running down the street wielding a broom while the little bully flees for his life. I think there may be some exaggeration in that account, but, for sure young Mussolini learned my life lesson about messing with a de Jong woman.

It wasn’t easy raising our kids, and we made many mistakes along the way, but our six little girls have turned into six beautiful women, who know right from wrong, have active and sensitive social consciences, and take their responsibilities to their eight children very seriously. I’m pleased that Lorraine got her naches, as we say in Yiddish, by seeing grandchildren growing up. I’m devastated that she won’t be here to watch them finish growing up.

MyBeautifulWomen

A tribute to Lorraine wouldn’t be complete without a reference to travel. She loved to travel and was an expert at planning really interesting trips that didn’t require a big budget. Thanks to her acumen, we travelled all around England and Germany, and visited Denmark, Prague, Verona, and more. In the second picture above, we see her checking Hadrian’s Wall off her life list. Lorraine always wanted to revisit Rome, travel to St. Petersburg, and tour Scandinavia, but, sadly, that’s not going to happen and, without her, I’m not sure I’ll go either. Without Lorraine, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

Lorraine is the love of my life, and I’m privileged to have been with her through hardship and laughter, work and play. It won’t be easy to go on without her, but I know she would want me to try to be around for our grandchildren, and I will try.

14 responses to “Time out: To mourn, to remember, to be with family

  1. I’m terribly sorry, Chris. wilson

  2. a lovely photo of your family. and you are a good writer. you should write more about your life with Lorraine.

  3. You and your family have such strength. I’m glad to have met you, and I look forward to more dinners together in the coming months.

  4. Richard Lennon

    Hi Chris, I’m really sorry to hear this, but your loving tribute tells me you have countless wonderful memories to cherish. Please take care – am thinking of you.
    Richard

  5. Anna Stefanovici

    My best friend in Winnipeg, Melissa Chung, loves and respects you very much. I saw your beautiful words through her posting.

    I am sorry for your loss but I am very moved by the love that is growing from them. On my walk home from school, I read on a passersby bag the words in Spanish for “Words carry memories within them.”

    Sincere condolences professor Leo but speak of her often and she will remain with you. And do go to Rome. For her.

    Regards,
    Anna

  6. Fatima Bahir

    I am so sorry for your loss, Dr. Leo. Lorraine will live through the memories and the family she has left behind.

    Our physical lives are never permanent but the loved ones can always live in the imagination of the living ones.

    Deepest condolences to you and your family.

    Fatima Bahir

  7. Dear Chris,
    I just came across this as a I was checking your blog. I am so very sorry to hear of your loss. This is a wonderful piece you’ve written.
    Take good care,
    Tamara

  8. What a beautiful remembrance of Lorraine, Chris, especially the portrait you pain of her determination and commitment.I sense how much her passing is, not just to you and her family, but to the whole community of upright and compassionate people. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  9. Hi, Chris. I just now saw this note. A touching memorial. It’s good that you could recover enough to write about her death. I know that, for you surely as it is for me, writing can sometimes be the best way to get the pain and anger out.

  10. My deepest condolences in the loss of your wife, and what a beautiful tribute to her. I hope time spent with family has renewed you, and that you will continue to write. You are indeed very gifted.

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