Helen Ether Fallis – It is with great sadness that we mourn the sudden passing of our beloved wife, mother, nana, sister, and aunt Helen Ethel Fallis, on October 18, 2016, at the age of 61. Left to cherish her memory are her husband Blaine, son Brad (Marie) and two grandchildren Ethan and Jacob, sister Verla (Chris), in-laws Joan (Ron), and Garry (Karen), along with all of their children and grandchildren and Helen’s close friends.
Helen was born to Ross and Ellen Cavers on June 10, 1955 in Brandon, Manitoba. Helen spent the first part of her life in Lauder, Manitoba, where she attended a two-room school house. In 1970, her family moved to a farm south of Souris and Helen finished her schooling there. At Souris Collegiate, Helen met her future husband, Blaine Fallis. In high school, Helen and Blaine played many sports, such as baseball and curling and spent much time curling together in mixed bonspiels.
After high school, Helen went on to the RN nursing program in Brandon and graduated in 1975. After Blaine and Helen were married in 1976, they moved to Souris to take over the Fallis family farm and Helen began her nursing career at the Souris Hospital. Helen spent 32 years nursing, showing great patience and compassion for the patients in her care. In particular, she took pride in being able to provide comfort for those in palliative care, helping patients and their families at a difficult time. After retiring from the Souris Hospital, Helen did casual work at Valleyview Personal Care Home and Victoria Landing before fully retiring in 2015.
Helen was actively involved in sports throughout her life. When she was younger, Helen enjoyed playing slow-pitch in various leagues. Curling was always a passion of Helen’s, as she played competitively for many years, going to provincials and attending many bonspiels around the province. Later on, Helen became an avid golfer. Most recently, Helen loved her Tuesday golf with the senior ladies and the evening league with the ‘younger’ crew. In curling, Helen was involved with organizing bonspiels and in golf she helped out with fundraising and planting flowers on the course.
Helen also enjoyed gardening and liked to grow wildflowers and tomatoes in front of the house at the farm.
Helen loved her family. She was especially fond of her two grandsons, Ethan and Jacob. She regularly drove to Winnipeg to help look after the boys and take them on adventures in the city. Helen took great joy in showing pictures, and sharing stories, of the boys with her friends, which always brought a smile to her face.
Helen will be remembered for her gentle spirit, kind heart and warm smile. She will be greatly missed by family, friends, and community. In memory of Helen, donations can be made to the Palliative Care Unit at the Souris Hospital, or the Souris and Glenwood Golf Course.
Good afternoon everyone. I’d like to share some memories with you today about my mother, Helen Fallis. She’s a woman that we all knew and loved and wished would have been here longer to create more memories with… When someone passes, we are left with memories…Memories of a special time that we shared, something we said, or wished we would have said, a feeling that we felt, a laugh that shook the rooftops, or a way in which someone touched our heart, or maybe even our soul. Today, I will share with you the ways that I have felt, seen and heard about my mom affecting the world around her.
Now, I know I’m going to be talking to you about my mother, but if my mother were the one up here doing the talking, and if you’ve seen her share something important, you know exactly what I mean, she would scoot forward (in her chair), straighten up her back, put her hand up in the air and wave it around a bit and say, “Well, I’ve got something to share here, if that’s okay.” So, if it’s okay with you, “I’ve got something to share here.”
On Tuesday night, some of mom’s friends were telling me stories about mom in high school and her infamous red sweater, with the frills at the front. Now, I’d never heard anything about this sweater until a couple of years ago, but I’ve been told that it was mom’s favourite sweater and she wore this red sweater all the time. And… it sounds like it was ALL the time.
When I was looking through pictures of mom the other day, I couldn’t help but notice the amount of red clothing she had throughout her life from dresses, to shirts and of course… sweaters. Also, I noticed the amount of bright and bold pieces mom had accumulated over the years. When mom came back from a trip to Texas, it wasn’t unusual for her to return with a bright pink, or shiny black purse, with large metal decals all over it, bringing a grin to my face. Even mom’s favourite Nike golf balls had to have the red check on them, not the black or blue one.
When I think of the colour red, I think of passion, bravery, and strength… And in many ways, that’s who mom was, in an understated and humble way… passionate, brave, and strong. What she may not have always expressed with her words, she expressed in other ways… showing that it isn’t just about what we say or do, but how we make people feel. And… as I have experienced throughout my life, and especially over the last week, she has made a lot of people feel pretty darn good. For this, I am so proud of her.
Part 1: Mom’s contribution to our lives
Mom was passionate about helping others and bringing a little sunshine to their lives, always thinking about the needs of others before herself.
Mom became a nurse because she wanted to be part of a helping profession. During her 32 years of nursing, her gentle, patient, and loving nature helped her comfort those who were ill. She took time to listen to peoples’ stories, respecting their voices, knowing that this was as important to quality patient care as anything else. When I was a little kid, I remember going to one of the Hutterite colonies to get extra cucumbers for pickling with mom. When mom went off with the ladies I was left with all the kids. They turned and asked who I was, but before I could answer, one of the older kids from the back said, “That’s Helen’s boy. Helen the nurse.” Before I knew it, they rushed me off to the kitchen where they gave me a fresh cinnamon bun and a juicy peach.
Mom’s care and compassion didn’t start at work. It started at home and carried into her work. At home, mom tended to those around her… When I was little, I remember regularly going to the personal care to visit Grandma Cavers for teas and other celebrations. When grandma Fallis was by herself, she and mom were nearly inseparable, spending time shopping, talking and going for coffee. More recently, mom spoke fondly of the time she spent with Clarice Saunderson, lunching at the Woodfire Deli, trying all the different delicious salads and sharing good conversation. All of these experiences meant as much, if not more to mom, than they did to the wonderful ladies mom was helping.
As a mother she was like a character from a Disney movie, wonderfully whimsical, decidedly determined, and incredibly sentimental, all the while, unwavering in her love and support. As an only child, mom and I spent much time together, bonding over board games like Trouble and Monopoly, but more recently, we bonded over my kids/her grandkids and coffee, coffee, and more coffee.
When I graduated from high school, she gave me a copy of the book Love you Forever because she knew it was one of my favourite books as a child and she wanted me to know that she would be my mother forever, whether she was with me or not. As my 3 year-old said the other day…maybe not quite this articulately…everybody dies, but they still love you… Throughout my childhood, and into adulthood, she equipped me with strong values, a big heart and an understanding of the importance of being there for the ones you love… and letting them know how much you love them.
Now, mom had wanted grandchildren for a long, long time. Some nights Marie and I would get a call from mom, saying, “Oh, did you hear that Colette’s going to be a grandma again?” I’d say, “Nope. Handn’t heard that until now.” She’d say, “Oh, yeah she’s sure excited about that.” “Oh, I’m sure she is,” I’d reply. After several of these phone calls, identifying several of her friends as upcoming grandmothers, she realized that this approach wasn’t working. From what I’ve been told, she was talking to her friends after curling one night and they told her that she needed to get us a dog to practice raising before we’d become comfortable with kids. She was a little dismayed by this because she knew that we did not want any animals of any sort. This is where her determination kicked in. She could be a little crafty. Christmas rolled around and we were opening presents when one came up that made her do that patented Helen giggle where her hands went up in the air. “Oh go ahead, open it up,” she said. We opened it and inside was a little stuffed dog, named Misha. Marie and I looked a little confused, as we thought we were a little too old for stuffed animals at Christmas. She went on to explain that it was our ‘dog’ to help us get ready for kids… We gifted the dog back to her for mother’s day two years later when we told her we were expecting our first child.
Eventually we did have children and mom was thrilled. Not only was she infatuated with her first grandchild, but she was also a tremendous help to Marie and I. The first child, especially, is a big change for a couple, getting used to having a little baby in the house who didn’t seem to want to eat or sleep, or anything else we wanted him to do. Enter mom. She could be quite calm, which was exactly what we needed during times of high stress. She came to live with us for three or four weeks in the first couple months of Ethan’s life. The first week, was especially difficult when we were finger feeding Ethan and he wouldn’t sleep. Mom always wanted to help. At around 2am one morning, mom went downstairs to make a pot of coffee for us, since none of has had, or would sleep that night anyway. She also had a splint on her wrist from an accident she incurred the previous week, but she was determined she was going to help with everything. She walked up the stairs with the three cups of coffee, delivered one to me, one to Marie, then proceeded to sit down. Instead, she went tumbling to the floor and Marie and I jumped up, nearly sending Ethan across the room, thinking she’d had a stroke. Mom popped back up and said, “Don’t worry, I didn’t spill the coffee. I just put the wrong hand down on the floor.”
Mom has always made sure that we’ve been taken care of and that our needs have been met. The people around her were always of the utmost importance. She had a welcoming heart and soul that made people smile just from being around her. Walking through the Bigway the other day, I couldn’t help but think of all the people we would have stopped to talk to, or shared a smile with, on our way through the store. Walks downtown with her always took a while because we had so many conversations along the way. I loved it because it showed me the joy that could come from taking the time to show you cared.
Just to prove how important it was for mom to have a welcoming attitude and personality, she also wanted to share this trait with me and Marie. When we bought our first house, she bought us at least four different welcome signs over the course of the year, just to make sure that any visitor who entered through any entry to our home would feel welcome. Even if it were the back basement window at midnight.
Mom’s passion and love for my dad ran strong for 43 years. They showed me how to love…they showed me a beautiful love that was wonderfully real. They supported each other through life’s biggest moments… career changes, retirements, major surgeries and all the other curve balls and celebrations that life throws your way. They shared common interests and spent much of their free time with each other, making their relationship that much richer. I just learned this week about how dad wooed mom to begin with. Apparently dad was so taken with mom when she moved to town that he convinced one of his friends to get her to curl on her team at the big Winnipeg Christmas spiel so they would both be there, where he was hoping they could have a date. His wooing worked… and once they were married, they cherished stolen moments together, as I regularly caught them sneaking kisses in the kitchen. Dad frequently sang to mom in the kitchen and she’d respond with ‘Oh, Blaine you should join the glee club.”
They were there for each other with unwavering support throughout their relationship… and in their hearts, they will still always be together… The only thing my dad may not have been ready for, was when mom began to beat him at golf, which I believe happened recently, and was probably the source of some good ribbing amongst their friends. I think it was that new driver he bought her for her birthday. Now, I’m assuming the motivation behind mom wanting to beat dad at golf must have been payback for the ribbing mom got when dad bought her the swanky ‘Evening in Paris’ perfume back in high school.
Part 2: Mom loved to celebrate
While looking through her pictures I kept coming across ones old and new of camping, golfing and curling trips with family and friends. In every one, mom was laughing with bright eyes and a wide smile, whether she was…
- At Pelican or Clear Lake with the Fallis and Saunderson families — where she relentlessly tried to learn how to water ski, but rather than seeing herself gracefully glide across the water, saw huge welts on her legs from where the bar continually crashed into them when she fell down. Regardless, she kept trying.
- Adventures on camping trips to Adam Lake, Spruce Woods, or Lake Metigoshe with good friends and even better stories afterwards
- On their first trip to Texas, having happy hour on the patio
- Giving out Halloween treats to her great nephew — to one of the only trick-or-treaters they even got — but there was always lots of Halloween candy in the house, just in case. For such a skinny woman, she quite the stash of chocolate bars!!
- At one of the many Cavers family reunions, or the recent Fallis reunion at the farm
- On curling trips to the states with old friends
- Costume parties in Deadwood, South Dakota, with matching team shirts and pyjamas
- Or their recent trips to Sturgis — still can’t believe mom actually rode on the bike, considering the first time she tried to ride a bike, decades ago at the farm, she ran right through the fence behind the house
- Birthday and anniversary parties that well into the wee hours of the mornings
Mom loved celebrations surrounded by family and friends. In particular, she loved Christmas… everything about it, the magic and spirit of the season and how happy everyone was. She enjoyed decorating the Christmas tree, making homemade Turtles with Autie Verla, buying the gifts, the crackers and paper hats, and opening the presents on Christmas morning. Dad and I frequently caught her shaking the presents, trying to figure out what they were. At one time, we made a pact to only give her wrapped presents because we figured she’d peak inside the gift bags.
Mom was sentimental and enjoyed finding small items that meant a lot. She was always on the hunt for treasures to include in our stockings because she wanted to see the excitement in our eyes when we opened something special.
While she was staying with us, one December, nearly 3 years ago, after a long day at the house, helping Marie and I and the kids, mom said she’d like to go to the Grant Park Mall for a little while to look around. This was at about 7 p.m. We said, “Go ahead. We’ll be good to put the boys to bed.” Mom said she probably wouldn’t be too long. 8:30 came along and she didn’t come back. 9:00 came along, then 9:30. The mall closed at 9:00, so I was getting a little worried. What’s my mother doing? She’s at the mall by herself, in the middle of winter and I don’t know what’s up! I called her, and she calmly answered. I asked, “Mom, are you okay?” She replied, “Oh, yes. I just left Target a little while ago and I’m at McNally Robinson right now. There’s so many nice things here. It doesn’t close until 10 pm, so I’ll be home after that.” I couldn’t help but think that this was some sort of retribution for me retuning home late as a teenager.
Part 3: Mom the Teacher
As I mentioned at the beginning, mom had always wanted to be in a helping profession. When I was a kid, she told me that she’d always wanted to be a teacher. Her mom was a teacher and she liked the idea of providing that support for young people as they were growing up.
- While she may not have held a teaching license, she was my teacher for 34 years. When I was stressed or excited about work, she let me vent, ramble, celebrate and problem-solve. She regularly told me that as a teacher, all I needed to do was be myself, to be a caring role model who showed the students that they mattered as people because that was the most important curriculum I could ever teach them. Everything else could come later.
- She told me to appreciate the little things in life and find pleasure and joy in the mundane and ordinary, like the beauty of a sunrise, the rich flavour of cheese, or the savoury smell of freshly brewed coffee… that’s when we’d usually brew another pot to share.
- She bought Marie and I books about how to live the best life we could and how to have fun on a school night.
I started writing this eulogy last week in Winnipeg… I went to my favourite Starbucks because mom and I shared a mutual love of coffee and I thought this would help put me in the zone for writing. Now, I must admit that the people around me at Starbucks must have been confused or concerned about what I was doing because as I wrote, I laughed, I cried, and I slapped the table. Honestly, it was a great experience doing this because I was overwhelmed by positive memories of so many great moments from my mom’s life.
I realized that mom was a teacher to all of us…she showed us how beautiful someone could be inside and out…how passion, courage, and strength don’t have to be loud and outrageous, but can be felt in the smallest gestures and witnessed in the simplest, but most important actions. She has taught us how…
- To smile, laugh and share our hearts with others
- The power of our actions, no matter how small, make a difference to those around us
- To summon our inner passion, courage and strength to do what needs to be done
- And to remember to show and tell people how much we love and care for them because it always matters… ALWAYS…ALWAYS
Over a week ago, I commented to Marie about how it had been so gloomy for the last three weeks and I just needed to see the sun. When we woke up on the day after mom passed, we looked out across mom and dad’s deck to see the most beautiful sunrise I’d seen in a long time. It was mom’s sign that she was okay. Someone else had the same experience and took a picture.
Every time I see a beautiful sunrise, greeting the earth with its warm embrace, I will think of my mother and how she’s telling us that she’s okay, and we’ll be okay, and a new day will always begin. I love you mom. Until we meet again.