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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Z. Major

Saying goodbye.

A dear, wonderful friend died suddenly in April. Her family hosted a Celebration of Life yesterday, and my husband and I made the long trek from where we live to a town in the Ottawa Valley in Ontario.

The following is what I shared with the family and friends who gathered to bid her farewell:

I first met Shelagh in the summer of 2003, when our youngest was seven months old and training for the WWE. He was not a small baby, and upon meeting him, Doug affectionally named that child Bob. I asked him “why Bob?” His reply was “Well, throw that kid into the water and all he will do is Bob”.

Now, back to Shelagh. Each summer, my husband John was away for weeks at a time doing research at Petawawa Forestry and helping with The Deep River Science Academy. Finally, one year, Shelagh said to him “John…you’ve got a whole cabin to yourself, and you miss your family, why don’t you bring them with you?”

And so began my unending gratitude to Shelagh Ogilvie. For the first couple of summers, we had one of the regular cabins, then…thank Shelagh and the Almighty Himself, we settled into what we call now “our cabin”, that blessed timber cabin with the fabulous creaky steps and the lifetime of memories.  

Ogilvie’s, as we called it, is tied forever with The Ontario Camp of the Deaf in the pure joy category in our family. But I could not tell you which they loved most.

When we’d prepare for the end of the school year, it wasn’t “when does summer start?”, but “when are we going to Ogilvie’s?” When our middle son Jordan was tired of hearing a kid brag about going to Disneyworld, he shut him down with “Who cares? We’re going to Ogilvie’s!”  

Once we’d arrive, after an epic twelve to thirteen hour drive, the kids would drop like rocks into their beds, and then the next morning, they’d fly out of bed for an early breakfast. The first day was always the same, we would go to the dining room or up the hill to say hello to Mr. and Mrs. Ogilvie, then the kids would run around like escaped prisoners on their first day of freedom. During those summers, my kids would be routinely stunned that Mrs. Ogilvie just happened to have four extra cookies, or cupcakes, or muffins, or squares. They never once clued in that Mrs Ogilvie could plan a meal down how many grains of flour were needed, and that that she never just accidentally made four extra of anything.

Over the years, the kids graduated from building complex sandcastles on the beach and taking the paddleboards across the lake to deal with the beaver dams, to frog hunting and building bonfires at night under Doug’s supervision. And yes, one of their favourite activities was tormenting the Science Academy students. Their peak prank was banging on the doors to the dining room late one night during a split second of quiet during a horror movie. Doug absolutely loved the blood curdling screams of all those “city kids” as mine called them.    

One of their greatest accomplishments, again under Doug’s supervision, was the removal of a huge snapping turtle that was definitely going to bite off each and every one of Maeve and Fiona toes. Due to the foolish behaviour of some Hydro guys, who were caught feeding it chopped up hot dogs. I remember Shelagh’s absolute fury when she found out what they were doing. “Jennifer, do you know what chopped hot dogs look like to a stupid turtle? Those hotdog pieces look just like my granddaughter’s toes!”

The turtle exodus began the next day, and it only took those boys every ounce of strength in their adolescent and teenage bodies to get that unwillingly turtle up a ramp and into Doug’s truck. You’re welcome, Maeve and Fiona, for all of your toes.

One of the few times I saw Shelagh speechless was when Doug got roped into playing badminton with Jordan, who was about six at the time. Apparently Doug was not exactly a fan of the game. But somehow, Jordan worked him over enough that he played, while Shelagh and I watched through the kitchen window. Shelagh was astounded, and whispered “Jennifer, will you look at that, Jodie Ogilvie, the badminton coach.”

I cannot stress to you enough just how much my kids loved Doug and Shelagh, who we all viewed as their third set of grandparents. Doug let the kids explore the property to their heart’s content and encouraged them to catch as many snakes as they could, paying them for each trophy. And big surprise, they really got into snake hunting.

While the kids were running around Ogilvie’s paradise, I was enjoying hours of conversation with Shelagh, usually in the kitchen.

Graciousness was important to Shelagh, as was having the opportunity to show it, and have it shown back. I learned many things from her over the summers, but that one aspect was most prevalent. She had friends aplenty, but the ones who took time to listen to her, to hear what she said, and hear what she didn’t say, were the ones who became closest.

But the ones who did all that and knew to never speak during Coronation Street? They became family.

I was blessed to enjoy a multitude of long walks, long drives, long evenings and long conversations about every subject under the sun with Shelagh. There were a few rides in the Gator that may have dislodged a few teeth, and who knows how fast she was going, but we had fun and ate a few bugs as we yelled our conversation over the sound of the motor.

One topic was never ever off the books, and that was how much she loved Doug, and how she would never recover from losing him. If there was ever a heart that was trying to function after it had been broken into a thousand pieces, it was Shelagh’s.

As our years of summer visits to Ogilvie’s drew to a close, my visits to Shelagh didn’t stop. As I mentioned before, our family would go to Deaf Camp in Parry Sound every August, quite often after our time here.

A few years ago Shelagh asked me “Jennifer, do you think, and if it’s not too much to ask, could you and John bring all the kids up one last time?” I told her that I would do my level best.

Last summer, we realized that we would have a miraculous event, one that was as rare as a blue moon, a span of time during which all the kids were supposed to be in Parry Sound at the same time. We had an almost foolproof plan to do a one-day trek up here to see Shelagh. Even though we all knew that things might not go according to plan, she was so excited, and so were we. Unfortunately, one of the kids got stuck in BC because of forest fires, and was only in Parry Sound for three days, and we couldn’t get up here.

That was a hard phone call to make. I tried so hard to break the news without losing it, and she tried to take it without sadness breaking her voice, but we both failed.

So many times during my visits with her, I would hear stories of her family and their history, and of Doug’s family. Stories of her kids, grandkids, and nieces and nephews. Of faraway siblings and of long-lost loved ones. Of how brave her mother was. Of how hard it was to lose each and every person she loved who’d been snapped away, leaving her reeling, alone, and floating on a lake without an oar in sight.    

The house on the hill above the lake was always a haven for so many people, friends and family alike, who knew what a gift that Shelagh and Doug were to us all. I remember visiting her the August after Doug died, and weeping with her as she sobbed through the pain and anger and unfairness of his loss.

I know firsthand the agony of not being able to say goodbye to my mother, and my kids know that pain of not being able to say goodbye to their grandmother. 

Now here we are, all of us who are left behind to wish, as Shelagh quoted Tennyson about her grief over Doug,

“But O for the touch of a vanish'd hand, and the sound of a voice that is still".

Godspeed Shelagh, may you and Doug have fair winds and following seas.

We will miss you.

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