Mo’s note: I originally wrote this last July in the days after losing my friend, Laura Valko Vasseur, to a stroke but didn’t publish it as things were too fresh, too sad. She was six weeks from her 40th birthday.
It’s been almost five years since Jen and I put out the call on Facebook that we were starting a book club. Our first book was Sara Gruen’s Water For Elephants and Jen and I had no idea who was going to attend or not, if we would even succeed beyond the two of us, Jen’s mom, and our friend Mary.
We had about 10 women show up, and I remember pulling chairs from my mom’s breakfast room and into the dining room for there to be enough seating. There were a lot of familiar faces, some of whom had been mere acquaintances from high school.
All of whom have grown to be so near and dear to me.
Laura was one of those who answered the call. While she and Jen had been in the same core group of friends since junior high, Laura and I had only been friendly and rarely associated outside of shared classes. With book club, we very quickly found common ground in that she was a voracious reader, divorced, and we both had dreams of being writers, but life, as it often does, had gotten in the way.
My friend Laura had a severe stroke on Monday, and didn’t recover.
Tragedy is a cold, harsh reminder of our own mortality. There are times I feel I’m more comfortable with death than most simply because of my brother’s death. At other times, I worry about what it is that people will remember me by when I leave this world as I do not have a family beyond my sister who will survive me in death. And so today, I choose to write what Laura has left the world, in the hopes that perhaps someone may be so kind as to write something similar to this at the time of my passing.
My friend Laura was in love. If you were to scroll through her Facebook, you would see nothing but pictures of her family. The senior and graduation pictures of her two oldest, the birthday parties and school costumes of the two youngest. Pictures of her nieces and nephews at Christmas, at Easter…. Her Facebook page also reveals a love of the game Criminal Case. 🙂
She was desperately in love with her husband Jay. To this day, I don’t think they ever fought much beyond how long he may be gone out of state on a job, or how much sex she wasn’t getting when he was stressed. 😉 Like I said, they were in love. For me, it was almost painful to watch the two of them together as I certainly have never been in such a relationship before, and have doubts I ever will be.
Laura was loved. Scrolling through her Facebook page, so many people, from former classmates to family to her daughter’s stepmother, were asking for their Facebook friends to send prayers to Laura and her family during the difficult time. What was most impressive to me, though, was the number of women who posted from an online Mom’s group that Laura had joined 11 years ago. Eleven years ago. Women she may have never met in person were posting for prayers and healing thoughts for Laura.
We should all be so lucky.
One of the first books we read in book club was Laura’s choice. The Next Thing On My List by Jill Smolinski. I know some of our book club members found it to be too fluffy for them, but to this day, I think we can all agree that it is, to date, one of the best discussions we’ve had yet (and we’re talking FIVE years of book club discussions). It inspired all of us to write our own bucket lists. I’ll get to that more in a few minutes.
Laura, while opinionated herself, always, always respected you for your opinion even if it differed from hers. At our most recent book club (Faerie Tale by Raymond E. Feist), our friend Krista was talking about how fascinating the book was and how it really spoke to her own beliefs. As she finished, Laura looked straight at her and said, “Yeah, I don’t believe in a single thing you just said, but I love the fact that you do and aren’t afraid to admit to it.” Krista was a bit taken aback, but she grinned and said, “Thanks!”
That’s who Laura was.
She was the kind of woman who owned her shit. She openly admitted to mistakes she’d made, regrets she had, and didn’t hide anything. I think this was my favorite thing about her. She owned her shit.
We would have private conversations about things, and Laura would be brutally tactful. She is one of the few people I actually believe when she told me something about myself, whether it was about writing or dating or just about who I was as a person.
She was a HUGE fan of her family and friends, and always offered encouragement and support when they needed it.
My point about mentioning The Last Thing On My List and bucket lists….
Again, Laura and I both aspired to writing something that would be published. It didn’t have to be a best seller, but something that would be an indelible mark on the world, or at least part of The Library of Congress. I think it’s about time I get started on that.
Laura, however, had one higher aspiration than that. She wanted to grow old with her husband Jay, and live in a small home with a wraparound porch where they could sit in Adirondack chairs that were handmade by Jay where they could watch the sunset.
I only wish they’d been so lucky.