On a bleak winter day, five members of the Phillips family are sitting in a living room, trying to come to grips with a devastating loss.
Trying to articulate their grief over the death of their mother and sister-in-law Louise Phillips.
In voices often choked with tears, they share their memories, their pride and their love for the woman they have lost far too soon.
In Salmon Arm now because of his mother’s death last Friday, 24-year-old Eli has two tickets left behind at his Calgary home — tickets that will never be used.
Eli and his mother planned to attend a concert by the band Heart, yesterday. Louise had bought the tickets last fall as a birthday gift to Eli and had planned to fly to Calgary for the event.
Instead, Eli is sitting on a couch, grieving her loss.
Going to concerts was a joy Eli and his mom shared.
“She saw Fleetwood Mac in Vancouver and I saw them in Calgary and we compared notes,” he says, suddenly animated. “She was always wanting to know about new adventures we could do together.”
Casey, Louise’s 20-year-old daughter, is unable yet to put words to her grief.
She is comforted by her Aunt Wendy, who silently wraps her arms around the bereft young woman.
Perry and Beth Phillips, the children’s uncle and aunt on their father’s side, tell of how everyone in the family valued Louise’s artistic talents and how often she indulged them.
“If something creative was needed, she’s the one we turned to,” says Perry, recalling his joy years ago when he purchased a Mustang and couldn’t find an appropriate Mustang cap. “She surprised me. She silk-screened one for me.”
The couple describe Louise as a great artist, laid back and not phased by much of anything.
“And my God, she was a great cook,” exclaims Beth. “She had a great sense of humour and that’s why I saw her so often.”
Grief is palpable in an email from Louise’s sister Linda Damant.
“Louise, ‘Cookie’ as we nicknamed her, was my only sister,” says Linda, who notes she was 17 years older than Louise and that three brothers, Ted, Laurie and Chris arrived in between. “She was a beautiful sunny, happy baby and we adored her.”
Linda explains that theirs was a very close family until the kids were adults with families of their own.
“Louise always put her family first, especially Eli and Casey: no mother was ever more proud of her children,” she says, describing how happy her family was to share the past two Christmases with her and how much the whole family is grieving.
“We promise that we will do everything in our power to see her children through this horrible time. Cookie, we miss you and love you. The pain of losing one sweet person extends to hundreds of others.”
Linda’s daughter Zoe shared her pain in an email.
“I have known her all my life and she has been like a big sister to me, so it is hard to pick a favourite memory or thought,” she writes, noting that her six-year-old son loved to tease her by saying ‘Geeze Louise.’
“This was his little joke that I am sure irritated her, but she never said so, and instead humored him, which in turn made him feel special,” writes Zoe.
She also tells of the delight with which Louise’s hand-crafted gifts were received.
Christmas 2009 will be best remembered for the awesome hats she made for every member of Zoe’s family, while 2010 was the year Auntie Cookie made “super awesome” pajama pants.
“And that was who she was, a person who was always doing nice things for others.”
Sharing the contents of Zoe’s email in Salmon Arm, members of the Phillips family recall that to some of them, Louise was known as Wheezy, that they first knew her simply as Cookie – without a last name, that she grew up in Salmon Arm as Louise Laas, she loved boxer dogs and believed strongly in donating blood.
“The bottom line,” says Perry, wiping his eyes, “is that we really love and miss Louise.”