Almost a week later, I still have trouble believing our friend Lori is gone. Even after Tom and I served as pallbearers yesterday, solemnly accompanying her into and out of the church for her funeral service, it just doesn't seem possible. After all, she was at our place just a week ago Saturday while we suffered through our beloved Wisconsin Badger hockey team's collapse in the NCAA championship game. Within four days of that fun evening (game notwithstanding) Lori died unexpectedly. She was 42.
Tom and I came to know Lori and her family because, quite simply, there was no avoiding it. Mark and Lori Larsen and their kids, Brooke, Grant and Garrett, sat directly behind us for the past five seasons of Badger hockey. For about a dozen Saturday evenings each season, we would come together with some or all of the Larsens, joined occasionally by some of their friends or ours. If it were anyone else, we may never have gotten to know them, but Lori was too social and too fun to let that happen. Early on she made the effort to get to know us. It started with quips and comments back and forth, mostly between Lori and me. Finally we introduced ourselves, and it became as if we shared our collective seven seats together. We even made sure to buy our tickets together for this season's special outdoor game. Tom would catch hell for missing games. We'd joke with the kids and find out what was going on in their lives. Lori would make disparaging remarks when Tom and I brought back huge plates of nachos. We'd all be up for high fives. Lori and her family were as much a part of the games for us as the players.
Lori knew Tom's "alternates," since he didn't make it to every game. Ed, Craig, Doug, J.J., and my nephew Steven all were lucky to make her acquaintance. Because of her outgoing nature, we came to know Mark and enjoyed watching the kids grow. For whatever reason, I knew Grant's name (right) but could never remember Garrett's name, so he became Ralph to me. It was just such an easy going friendship that it only made sense that it started to grow outside the hockey arena. The Larsens were over to watch some games and bar-b-que a few times in the past month or so. We were just really getting to know them as good friends and enjoy spending time with the kids.
After the services yesterday, Tom and I were talking about Lori and how she was so genuine; she was the same person to everyone. She was eulogized by four people: a close family friend, a coworker, a neighbor and her daughter. Each of them eloquently described a woman whose motto was simply "excel" and who felt that referring to "the work/life balance [is] backward... it should be life/work balance." Words such as passionate, enthusiastic, exhilarating, and dedicated were used multiple times, and all were so appropriate. Brooke told of how she recently told Lori she was the coolest mom ever, to which Lori responded, "I want you to write that down, sign it and date it! I'm the coolest mom ever!" I could so totally hear Lori saying that. Not just saying it, really; exclaiming it. I'm pretty certain she's a lock on getting into the Coolest Mom Hall of Fame.
Lori was much more than our hockey BFF. She was an accomplished nursing professional who was beloved by patients and colleagues alike, as was evident by the notes her coworker read and the stories people told. She was a dedicated volunteer for a suicide prevention program as a way of honoring her sister's memory. And it was ever so clear to Tom and me from early on that she was an exceptional wife and mother.
You never know what will strike you as so funny you can barely contain a laugh at an inappropriate time... like during a eulogy. Lori's coworker told those assembled of a certain habit Lori had -- some might say a bad habit -- and it is one I share: chewing ice. And as all ice-chewers know, some ice is better than others. Her friend from Stoughton Hospital said Lori felt the ice available in the ER, where she worked, wasn't nearly up to par so she would travel up to "med/surg" for her ice fix. Lori! I do that too! I know exactly where on campus I can get the best chewing ice (Grainger Hall, first floor water dispenser near the deli, FYI). No wonder I loved that woman. She was an ice aficionado like me!
The first hockey game next season is going to be a challenge. It won't be quite the same without Lori giving me shit for always texting and tweeting my way through the evening. I won't get to tease her about bringing a Sodoku puzzle or the like. She won't be holding a tight grip on the cookies that were only distributed once the Badgers scored a goal. (They were scoreless for that championship game we watched at our place, and I'll be damned if that woman didn't take those cookies back home unopened. No goal? No cookie.) But she'll be there in spirit, and I hope Mark and the kids will renew their tickets and keep coming. I can't imagine hockey without the Larsens.
Farewell, Lori. I shall miss you more than words can describe. But I am so very happy that I came to know you and your family. We'll be mindful to keep up with Mark and the kids. And I know I will think of you often.