A Moment in Time

Written by Harold McNeill on January 1st, 2020. Posted in Biographies


Laura Isabel Skarsen (McNeill)(Wheeler)

Laura Isabel Skarsen (Wheeler)(McNeill)

This photo was taken sometime around 1998 when mom was in her early 80’s. Always the adventurer she travelled to Victoria to stay with us for a few months at our home on Leney Place to see if a move to Victoria might suit her.  She loved it, but her roots in Cold Lake were so deep it was impossible to fully settle in.  She returned to her home in Cold Lake where she would spend the rest of her life.

December 29, 2008, 10:00 am.
Cold Lake Healthcare Centre
Cold Lake, Alberta

I remember the hour and minute as clearly today as I did a decade earlier. Each time I tell the story, it brings a pinch in my chest and a tear to my eye. That pinch and the tears are not ones of regret for opportunities lost or an “I love you” left unsaid, it comes from the fond memories of the two persons responsible for creating, then setting, the boundaries that shaped my life. For the genes they gifted me, and in Dad on Fire Dutythe nurturing love provided, I am eternally grateful to my Mother, Laura Isabel Skarsen (McNeill)(Wheeler), and Dad, David Benjamin McNeill.

Photo (c1944).  Dad was a horse lover, first, last and always.  He was nearly born on a horse, and he died of a heart attack at age 55, while on his horse.  Due to a number of health issues and life events, it seems likely he also choose the time of his exit from this world.

While Dad predeceased mom by forty-three years, the memories of him remain close, however, that extra forty-three years with Mom provided an abundance of opportunities to see and experience the immense depth of her motherly, grandmotherly and great-grandmotherly instincts and her steadfast pioneering spirit. Over the years I have written dozens of stories about Mom and Dad and the life they (and we), along with their parents, brothers, and sisters, carved out of the raw wilderness of Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Now, at this moment in 2008, my sister, Louise Yochim, at sixty-four and two years younger than me, watched and waited as our mother slept peacefully, after having a short nap after her breakfast. When she awoke, the conversation we were about to have, would impact the remainder of her life. Even though the surgery was successful, mom knew her life would be unalterably changed and this might well include moving to an extended care facility where reliance on others to perform many day-to-day personal care needs, could well become a daily ritual.

In Edmonton one month earlier, with her three children and several family members nearby, Mom underwent life-saving femoral bypass surgery, a complicated procedure for a person half her age. Needless to say, after discussing the pros and cons, this fiercely independent woman, who had just turned ninety a month earlier, opted to give the operation a shot.

To this point in her life, she was relatively free from major medical problems, save for one fire-related accident that left her hovering near death (Explosion) for a couple of weeks while in her late twenties, then later in Edmonton after nearly dying following a natural gas leak in a rented basement suite. (Near Death Chapter 4).

The challenge at this moment was a blood clot in the femoral artery of her right leg. That the sudden onset of this life-threatening clot that was left undiagnosed for nearly ten days is another story for another time. Although in great pain, never, for one moment, did Mom let her positive attitude slip.

Louise, Dianne (the baby of the family at 52) and I, had earlier in the week talked with mom about the decisions she would need to make, knowing full well the final decision would rest in her hands. Whatever path she chooses, we knew her thoughts would be mostly about the welfare of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Because, her recovery to this point had taken some weeks, our younger sister, Dianne, had to return to her family and job in British Columbia.

On this morning, as Louise and I continued the vigil while Mom slept, we watched in silence, contemplating the path that led to this moment. That the world had gone through seismic changes over the ninety years of her life was traced in the books, stories, and anecdotes presented at Mom’s her 90th birthday party we had celebrated just a few months earlier. The party included all but two of the immediate family of three children, thirteen grandchildren, fourteen great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren, along with dozens of other family and friends.

Grandma's Family Group

July 2008 Birthday Party (Link to Post with Names)

Now, over the Christmas period, while in the Cold Lake Hospital, and in spite of the pain and challenges faced, mom was filled with good cheer. She spoke jokingly of one leg that was largely disabled due to the clot, “Yep, when I walk down the hall, I take one step with my good leg, then drag the other.”

That was the story of Mom’s attitude towards life, no matter how bad things became, she never seemed to let it get her down, and on those occasions when she let her guard slip, she would quickly rebound for the sake of her family.

Over the holiday period, we would spend some time singing Christmas Carols in mom’s room and other locations in the hospital. Most often this included our little band of six-eight kids who ranged in age from five or six to their mid-teens.  Sometimes two or three of us would just sit in the room with mom strumming the guitar and singing. Between those carols and the story-telling of which mom so well known, the days before and after Christmas passed quickly.

Now, with Louise on one side of the bed and I on the other, Mom’s eyes suddenly fluttered open. She took a moment to focus, first on one of us, then other as she awoke from a sound sleep. After a few minutes of exchanging morning greetings, mom looked intently, first at my sister and then at myself, then asked: “Son, would you put in my teeth?” Mom never liked being without her false teeth when others were present. Then she then turned to Louise and asked: “would you put on my glasses?” After this was done, she again took a few moments to focus on each of us as she expressed her deep love for us and the lives we shared.

Mom then laid back, closed her eyes, shuddered a few times as her spirit slowly departed, she then stopped breathing. After having accomplished all that was possible in this life, she chose to pass quickly and quietly to the next, to a place that promised the rest and peace of mind we knew she so richly earned.

After having spent a full ninety years in this life, we knew mom had chosen a time to depart that not only suited her but that she also felt was right for her children and all the loved ones in her life. From that moment forth I have never missed my mother as she lives with me in spirit as she did in life.

As the Christmas seasons continue to pass, our thoughts are with you Mom and Dad.

Love, Harold, Louise, and Dianne

Link to the full Biography of Laura Isabel Skarsen.

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Comments

  • Harold McNeill

    February 28, 2022 |

    Hi Robert, I do remember some of those folks from my early years in Cold Lake (Hazel was my aunt and our family spent many fond times with Uncle Melvin, Aunt Hazel and Family. I knew Lawrence and Adrian. Having read a half dozen accounts it is clear their were many false narratives and, perhaps, a few truths along the way. I tried my best to provide an even account from what I read. Cheers, Harold. (email: Harold@mcneillifestories.com)

  • Robert Martineau

    February 25, 2022 |

    Its been a long time since any post here, but its worth a shot. My Grandfather was Hazel Wheelers brother Lawrence, and son to Maggie and Adrien. Maggie Martineau (nee Delaney) is my great grandmother. The books and articles to date are based on the white mans viewpoint and the real story as passed down by the Elders in my family is much more nefarious. Some of the white men were providing food for the Indians in exchange for sexual favors performed by the Squaws. Maggie was the product of one of those encounters. Although I am extremely proud of my family and family name, I am ashamed about this part of it.

  • Julue

    January 28, 2022 |

    Good morning Harold!
    Gosh darn it, you are such a good writer. I hope you have been writing a book about your life. It could be turned into a movie.
    Thanks for this edition to your blog.
    I pray that Canadians will keep their cool this weekend and next week in Ottawa. How do you see our PM handling it? He has to do something and quick!
    Xo Julie

  • Herb Craig

    December 14, 2021 |

    As always awesome job Harold. It seems whatever you do in life the end result is always the same professional, accurate, inclusive and entertaining. You have always been a class act and a great fellow policeman to work with. We had some awesome times together my friend. I will always hold you close as a true friend. Keep up the good work. Hope to see you this summer.
    Warm regards
    Herb Craig

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Hi Dorthy, So glad you found those stories and, yes, they hold many fond memories. Thanks to social media and the blog, I’ve been able to get in touch with many friends from back in the day. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Well, well. Pleased to see your name pop up. I’m in regular contact via FB with many ‘kids’ from back in our HS days (Guy, Dawna, Shirley and others). Also, a lot of Cold Lake friends through FB. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Oh, that is many years back and glad you found the story. I don’t have any recall of others in my class other than the Murphy sisters on whose farm my Dad and Mom worked.

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Pleased to hear from you Howie and trust all is going well. As with you, I have a couple of sad stories of times in my police career when I crossed paths with Ross Barrington Elworthy. Just haven’t had the time to write those stories.

  • Howie Siegel

    November 25, 2021 |

    My only fight at Pagliacci’s was a late Sunday night in 1980 (?) He ripped the towel machine off the bathroom wall which brought me running. He came after me, I grabbed a chair and cracked him on the head which split his skull and dropped him. I worried about the police finding him on the floor. I had just arrived from Lasqueti Island and wasn’t convinced the police were my friends. I dragged him out to Broad and Fort and left him on the sidewalk, called the cops. They picked him up and he never saw freedom again (as far as I know). I found out it was Ross Elworthy.

  • Herbert Plain

    November 24, 2021 |

    Just read you article on Pibroch excellent. My Dad was Searle Grain company agent we move there in 1942/3 live in town by the hall for 5 years than moved one mile east to the farm on the corner where the Pibroch road meets Hwy 44. Brother Don still lives there. I went to school with you and Louise.