Yet another spoiler alert!
The celebration of the publication of my first novel was tempered by the reason it came to be: the murder of my friend and colleague Louise Ellis. But from the beginning I felt Louise encouraging me to tell her story. She seemed to be providing me with opportunities to learn more about her, starting with a request that came from her sister, not even a week after Louise’s remains were found, to find out if any of Louise’s friends would speak at her memorial service. None, I discovered, felt they could: they were too shy, or too nervous, or too afraid they’d cry. So I offered to speak on their behalf, and spent several evenings on the phone, learning about a Louise I didn’t know.
The memorial service was held in Ottawa on Thursday, July 13, 1995. Here is the tribute I gave. Many of the words are Louise’s friends’ words—their thoughts and memories.
When Louise was a little girl, her favourite thing to do was to dance. And the story goes that she danced so much she wore out the carpet.
Louise lived her whole life with that exuberance—and with that thoroughness that made her wear down the carpet. She gave 2000 percent in everything she did. Whether it was gardening the organic way, or boosting a friend’s self-esteem, or teaching another friend Tai Chi, or turning a friend of her sister’s onto Freud, feminism and foreign films—not to mention spinach salad. (You may know, Louise was an excellent vegetarian cook.) Louise always had a special connection with children and younger people. She wrote and illustrated an award-winning children’s book of verse that paired up every letter of the alphabet with a different vegetable—and that’s no mean feat. The book made food fun for kids.
And she could talk to kids on their own level. One of the houses she lived in had a low stone wall around the property, and one day Louise came home to find a couple of ten-year-olds carting off some of the rocks from the wall. She instantly made a bee-line for them and called out, “Come on, you guys, that’s not fair.” She said it wasn’t “fair,” not it wasn’t “right”—she knew instinctively what word the kids would use and understand.
It was also a word that Louise herself would use. She demanded fairness. And if she felt she wasn’t getting it, she wouldn’t sit back quietly—she’d let you know. And she’d fight for it. Which sometimes meant her relationships with her friends and her family weren’t always smooth sailing. But they were never dull. She was an intense, dynamic person, with a contagious energy.
She was also a writer. In fact, she was so disciplined and diligent she was able to make her living very successfully as a writer. She brought an extra spark of creativity to her work, and when you gave her a challenge she rose to it. I was her editor, and I always tried to be careful not to ruin her wonderful images—as long as they were grammatical…
She could always grasp right away what was needed in a project, and she wasn’t afraid to confront an issue head on. She’d tackle the difficult stuff first and clear the air.
She did this with her partners in her relationships too. She was always keen to get right into the “work” of the relationship. She once told a therapist she liked therapy but that there was nothing like what she called “being in the trenches.” Being in the trenches meant being angry, having it out, demanding change, insisting on growth. It was as if, for Louise, relationships were a battle to be fought—and maybe they were as much a battle with herself as they were a battle with her partner.
She would do battle for her partner as well. She got right into the fight to get Brett Morgan out of prison—and we have to give her credit for her incredible energy and courage and faith, no matter what we might think of her wisdom. She gave him a new start in her home and she helped him start up a business. There’s no doubt she took risks—she considered them calculated risks. She believed if you’re going to value life, you have to take risks.
But I can hear her saying of her death, “Come on, you guys, that’s not fair.” And I know we’re all saying that with her.
We may never be able to make sense of Louise’s death. We may never find the answers to all the questions. But over the last two months, I’ve been finding answers inside myself to other questions—questions that Louise herself has posed to me. She was a great one for questioning, for probing. And she’s been probing me the last couple of months—posing major questions of who I am and whether I live out who I really am.
I’ve been very surprised—and I have to say not always comfortable—to find that in her death, Louise is in some sense living on in me.
And I don’t mean merely that she lives on in my memory. Some of you may know that I was the one who found Louise’s car after she went missing. I couldn’t help but see it—it was as colourful and as noticeable as Louise herself. But from the moment I identified that car, my life has not been the same. There are things I do now—and don’t do—because of what happened to Louise, and also because of things I am still learning about who she was and how she lived her life.
So it’s not just memories of Louise that are living on in me. In some way, Louise herself has become a part of me. She continues to challenge me and help me to become more truly who I am. She couldn’t give a friend any greater gift than that.
And I just want to say in closing that wherever Louise is now, I know she’s wearing out a lot of carpets.
© 2017 BRENDA MISSEN | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED