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Lisanne O’Leary

Life Stories

Teacher, Sister, Aunt

Born: November 25, 1960
Died: September 17, 2021 in Southampton, Ontario, Canada
Interred: Holy Sepulchre, Burlington

Lisanne was my big sister, and my only sister. We were 18 months apart in age. One of my earliest memories of my sister was when we were very young, and we shared a very small bedroom. The room was about 8 by 12 feet, only big enough to house two twin beds and a shared dresser between the beds. Lisanne and I used to play a game before we would go to bed. We would hook our feet between the bed and the wall, lean out between the beds and grab each other’s hands. Then we would proceed to pull each other as hard as we could until one of us fell off the bed and onto the floor. Lisanne, being older than me, I am sure could have won every time, but sometimes on occasion I won. I think she was just letting me win.

Lisanne was incredibly social and generous. It was not uncommon, when we were in Collingwood during high school March break or at the cottage for summer holidays, for Lisanne to invite 2 or 3 girlfriends to join us for the week. She would always include me with her friends.

Lisanne was an elementary school teacher for over 30 years. She was a natural born educator, and had a special way with young children. When we were in our late teens, our neighbour’s young daughter would come to the cottage door asking for Lisanne. They were at least 8 years apart in age, but Lisanne always graciously invited her in and they would spend hours sitting on her bed talking.

One of Lisanne’s colleagues shared a story with me. I would like to share it with you: “I remember being in Lisanne’s class at St. Joseph. I was working on her class computers while she was teaching. I have vivid memories of how much she cared for the children. As I got to know Lisanne it was evident she was a remarkable teacher. One day when I entered her class she was excited to tell me about one of her students. This young boy, perhaps grade 5, was reading at a grade 2 level. He would glance at any book given to him but could not absorb the contents. Lisanne tried everything then one day she got an idea. She found the same book in digital format and put it on an iPad and gave it to the boy. He read the book in its entirety and could tell Lisanne what the story was about. Lisanne was beaming with pride, not for what she had done but for what this young boy accomplished. There are good teachers and there are great teachers and at the top there was Lisanne. The love and care she had for her children was immense and immeasurable.”

In 2016, through attending a four month prayer and life workshop offered by the Archdiocese of Toronto at her local parish, Lisanne’s faith was reignited and became a central part of her life. She became very active in church activities and events, offering her time and talents to the Out of the Cold program and the Climate Action Group. Meditation and prayer became a deeply important part of her day, as did going to weekly mass. She continued to participate in parish events and activities, including retreats and a book study group.

Lisanne was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the spring of 2018. She faced an arduous battle. Two major abdominal surgeries and three chemo sessions. A testament to the strength of the bonds that she created were the number of people that were willing to help her heal, be there for her, and help her get to her various medical appointments. Throughout her illness, Lisanne was not afraid to show her vulnerability. She valued friendship and drew comfort from her relationships, even when she was not feeling well.

Lisanne’s faith, strong throughout her life, strengthened during this time. It became her source of hope, peace, and strength, sustaining her throughout her journey with cancer.

I was very fortunate to have been able to spend the last three months of Lisanne’s life with her. I witnessed the strength of her friendships with both family members and friends, and the generosity of those around her. I witnessed how everyone, including Lisanne, were able, in their own special way, to say goodbye. Throughout these last months, Lisanne was strong, courageous, kind, and gracious. I believe that her faith gave her peace and hope, allowed her to continue to experience joy and love, and helped prepare her for death.

Lisanne, the consummate educator, taught me several important life lessons over her final months. She taught me the importance of friends and family. She showed me the importance of faith. And most importantly, she taught me how to die with grace and dignity.