Noreen Louise O’Hara

My cousin Noreen died on November 22, 2008 at 3:45 am at Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria, exactly three years ago today. It was two weeks after her 42nd birthday. At her funeral, a small funeral at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Chilliwack, after her brothers spoke, I said these words. They are based on notes I read from my BlackBerry. Her brothers thought that was appropriate, because when Noreen was in the hospital, I would visit her and afterwards, write and email a report for them.

“I’d like to say a few words, if nobody minds. This would be easier if I texted you all, because that is how I communicated when Noreen was in hospital, but here goes.

I have known Noreen for a long time. Not as long as you, Terry. We didn’t share a womb together. But Noreen wasn’t just my cousin, she was my friend. We were always close as kids. Our families would visit each other. I would protect her against her brother. But as Terry got bigger and stronger and tougher, he and I had to get along.

I remember at our cousin Cathy’s wedding, it had been a few years since Noreen and I had seen each other. I was nervous. Would she remember me? What would it be like. We said hello, and then later we spoke in the kitchen, and it clicked, and it was like old times again.

Over two summers when I worked in Nanaimo I would visit her and her family in Comox. Noreen was a groupie for a band she was involved in. So I was a groupie too.

Then as we got older and were heading off to university, we had to decide which of us would move into our grandmother’s house. Well, I won, and Noreen moved into our grandmother’s house.

We didn’t keep in touch much after that; would see each other every so often, or get updates through our families.

After her terrible tragedy, when she lost her two children in that fire, I didn’t know how to react. I felt so sad for her. My own daughter Jessica was the same age as her children. How could I tell her how Jessica was doing as she grew up, realizing that if Noreen’s children would have been the same age as Jessica. How could I stay in touch with her? What could I say? We had little contact after that.

Unfortunately Noreen kept it all inside her, and started to take comfort in the bottle – that was her therapy. Then Noreen had more tragedy. Her mother and very close friend died suddenly, and Noreen drank more to cope with that. Then her father developed ALS and ended up in hospital, and Noreen would go every day to look after him. And to cope, she drank.

After he died, which was a year ago, she drank more. She carried so much guilt. She didn’t know if anyone appreciated what she did for him, or if anyone cared. I was able to tell her that we knew, and the extended family really appreciated all that she did.

She drank more and more. It seems, looking at her calendar book that she always had with her, that her life ended in early September. She only has one entry, then nothing. Even her former fiancee, John, said that near the end he would go weeks without seeing her, and he would hardly recognize her.

In the end, I think she wanted to die all alone. But because of her medical condition, finding it hard to walk, and being unable to get up the stairs to her apartment, she went to a motel where she knew the people who ran it.

But I don’t think they wanted her to die there, bad for business, so after a few days, on a Wednesday after she fell, they called an ambulance and she was taken to hospital in Comox. They couldn’t help her, so on Thursday they sent her to Victoria. The hospital contacted Michial, who contacted Terry, who called me on Friday, and I went to see her.

Throughout the next week I would go see her every day. And I thank our cousin Jeannie who also visited her often. We would talk with her, comfort her. I always tried to be there when her doctor was there.

On Thursday I think she was ready to die. In hindsight, what she said to me, and what she said to Jeannie, she said goodbye.

I know she didn’t wait for you, Michial and Terry, but I don’t think she wanted you to see her in that condition, to see how bad she looked, how much she had changed.

In hindsight, there are so many ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’. We’ve been talking a lot these last couple of weeks. It is like the movie Butterfly Effect and we don’t know what we could have done. Was it
losing her children, or something even earlier. We just don’t know, and we can’t feel guilty or feel bad trying to figure it out. We just don’t know.

I think that, after seventeen years of torment and struggling, Noreen is finally at peace.”