LIFE STORY OF MENNO FRIESEN
May 11, 1967 – March 9, 2019
With sadness, shock and deep gratitude, family and friends are remembering the life of Menno Friesen, aged 51 years and 10 months. Menno was raised to full consciousness on Saturday, March 9 at Health Sciences Centre after a catastrophic stroke that occurred two days prior.
A Celebration of Life was held on March 26 at the Qualico Family Centre, Assiniboine Park in Winnipeg. In lieu of flowers, friends and family are welcome to make donations to one of Menno’s favorite charities: Christian Peacemaker Teams, Mennonite Central Committee or Siloam Mission.
Menno was born in Winnipeg at St Boniface hospital. The nurse told his mom that Menno’s good looks would surely make him a ladykiller.
He was predeceased by his Dad, Cornelius Friesen on New Year’s Eve, 2014, and his Mom, Helen Neufeld Friesen in June 2018.
Menno attended school at Lord Wolseley Elementary School, John Henderson Junior High and River East Collegiate in Winnipeg. He attended Springfield Heights Mennonite Church where he was baptized at the age of 20.
As an adult, Menno held a variety of jobs including residential care worker with mentally-challenged adults, teacher’s aid substitute, working in a dairy factory, canvassing for an environmental group, working in a lumber yard, and he caretaking for an apartment block where he lived.
Menno volunteered at Camps with Meaning, visited prisoners at Stony Mountain, and worked at a day camp and did house repairs for seniors in Oklahoma City. He taught Sunday School, worked with youth groups and helped to settle refugees through Aberdeen Mennonite Church. Menno volunteered as a community development worker together with Liz in Rigolet, Labrador for 2 years, visiting seniors and tutoring adult and high school students. He also volunteered as a tutor for adult EAL (English as an Additional Language) students in Winnipeg.
One of the adult EAL teachers he worked with in teaching Level 1 students wrote about Menno’s great patience, consideration, humour, and that the students “felt very comfortable with Menno and enjoyed his help”. He “spoke slowly and clearly in a kind and respectful manner”. People often express how they felt a sense of safety with Menno.
Menno married Liz (or Lucy, as her family knows her) on December 15, 1991. They were married for 27 years. Before they married, Menno told Liz that he didn’t know how he would take care of her. Well, he took care of her alright, in so many ways. The most evident way now is the close network of family and friendships he nurtured and built around them over the years.
Menno always loved youth and working with youth. He wrote and organized several dramas for the Aberdeen church youth group to perform in church services. Pastor Ardith Frey wrote that Menno, “shows genuine interest and curiosity”, is “well-liked by youth”, and is “extremely gifted in informal relationships.”
Menno attended Canadian Mennonite Bible College and University of Winnipeg where he earned a BA in Psychology degree minoring in History. Later he attended Providence Theological Seminary toward his Masters in Counselling certificate and Canadian Mennonite University for a Youth Ministry Internship.
Over the years, Menno attended Theology, English Literature and Writing courses towards a teaching degree and earned an ESL (English as a Second Language) Teacher Certificate from the University of Winnipeg in 2011.
Menno drove a school bus for Winnipeg School Division #1 from 1998 to 2019; his last day of driving was on March 7. He deeply valued his friendships with other drivers and often came home with entertaining stories about the bus kids and his co-workers. His driving schedule allowed time off for breaks when he came home and was able to spend time writing or doing chores around the house.
Regarding one boy, a student with complex needs, a letter from one of the teachers on his bus route reads that Menno gave her “an overwhelming feeling that he is being taken care of …..the driver somehow goes that extra mile.” Over the 20 plus years that Menno drove the school bus, there were many notes and cards from parents to thank him for his kindness and care. Menno was adamant about posting every card and drawing he was given by the children on the fridge at his home.
Besides spending time with friends and family, watching football and hockey, watching his favorite TV shows, keeping up with local and international news, reading a wide variety of books, and going on trips, Menno’s great love was writing. He was working on a novel and completed numerous poems and short prose pieces inspired by people he observed throughout the course of his days. Nobody should ever assume that they were not the subject of one of Menno’s writings.
One of his professors, Margaret Sweatman, a well-known Winnipeg writer, wrote that Menno is “an unusually talented writer….[using] elements that we rarely see: a sense of style, of rhythm, grace combined with astute observation, absolute honesty and humane compassion. He is tough-minded, exacting of himself and has a wonderful sense of humour. He takes an interest in the world, ….Menno is a person of remarkable quality.”
Not enough can ever be said about Menno’s friendships. They meant the world to him. Every weekend and every holiday needed a plan to spend time with friends or family, and he made the phonecalls to make sure it happened, from watching Blue Bomber football or Jets hockey, to sitting around a campfire, going camping, cycling on paths (or on non-paths) taking long walks, taking road trips, sitting at the beach, swimming, cross-country skiing, playing poker, scrabble, crib, babysitting, going for coffee. He loved throwing a football around. A short little nap (or a much longer nap) was never out of the question. It was hard to pigeonhole Menno’s interests, but we do know he was NOT interested in riding the gondola at Banff. He was always fun to be around. Chores needed to be done and were done, but doing something relaxing and fun was priority. Evenings and outings and holidays will never be the same without Menno and his low-key but “slightly driven” energy.
Menno’s lists and notes covered every available surface in the house, so not the tidiest man, but Menno highly preferred cleanliness. Every spring he went out with a few garbage bags and picked up litter or trimmed branches in his most recent eyesore-of-a-place, no matter if it was public or private property. He wholeheartedly supported and took pride in Liz’s role as a housing support worker which includes bulky waste cleanups and home repairs in our Chalmers / Elmwood neighbourhood .
Emailing his cousin Peter and listening to metal and punk music were two of Menno’s private enjoyments. His brother Paul and cousin Peter know more about Menno’s music and movie interests as these were the topics of every conversation and email with them. The last CD that came in the mail was by The Sounds: titled Dying to Say this to You. If Menno meant it for Liz, he would have chosen a slightly different genre of music 🙂
Reading had a big influence on Menno’s philosophy of life. He had a regular subscription to Canadian Literature short story magazines and read books (at night, as long as he could keep his eyes open) with titles like The Power of Now, The Power of Intention, and The Diamond in Your Pocket. Menno had no interest in guilt-trips about how people should live better lives for some future reward in another place and time.
Life happens in the present, in the Here and Now, and we are good as we are, as we were created and born to be. If Menno would talk to Liz now about this huge incomprehensible loss in our lives, in a quiet moment in a gentle way he would sneak in the question: “What is the Universe trying to teach you through this thing?” When Liz asked Menno how to refer to her brother Lawrence’s death a few years ago, Menno said it was a consciousness-raising, that my brother’s consciousness was raised….in which case Menno is more conscious now than he ever was.
Menno had a travel bug, was always planning trips in great detail and travelled with Liz to exotic places including Egypt, Spain, France, Germany, Costa Rica and Cuba. His interest lay in visiting cities: Barcelona, Cairo, Paris, Hamburg, Berlin, Havana but was also willing to follow Liz’s inclinations to visit and work on farms wherever they went. Menno had a trip planned to Valencia, Spain for 2019 Spring Break but was holding off with booking tickets due to Liz’s parents’ health concerns which were then overshadowed by his own.
Since a dental appointment on Valentine’s Day, February 14, Menno felt dizziness when he sat up from laying down, for about three weeks prior to his stroke. On Thursday, March 7, Liz got a call at her work to say that Menno needed a ride home from work. He had a stiff neck, was feeling extremely dizzy and throwing up but still able to communicate his needs clearly. His supervisor called an ambulance while Liz was on her way. At Seven Oaks hospital, he continued to communicate clearly until he was overcome by a stroke followed by a seizure from which he never recovered. He was transferred to Health Sciences Centre where they took a 2nd CT scan that showed a catastrophic stroke that started in the artery of his neck. The final diagnosis is not yet available, but one nurse said that these types of strokes are rare and almost undetectable before they happen. The result is that we are all in shock and disbelief at Menno’s absence from his bus routes, from the lunch room at the Winnipeg School Division #1 bus yard, absence from his home, from get-togethers with friends, from family meals.
Menno gave permission for his organs to be donated for transplant. His liver went to someone in Toronto, and his kidneys to two people in Manitoba. According to Transplant Manitoba, 3 lives have been saved because of Menno’s organ donations. He also donated his eyes, skin tissue and long bones. The eyesight of 2 people in Manitoba was saved because Menno donated the corneas of his eyes.
Menno’s spirit is in another realm which we cannot see, a spiritual realm. But our love for him and his love for us continues.
Now that you are fully conscious, Menno, may you be Yourself in every way without inhibition and without the limits of a physical body. We will miss you terribly, but we trust that now, more deeply than ever, You are One with the infinite Beauty of the Universe. You are One with the Source of all Love and Light that surrounds and fills each of us in the here and now, even while we are unaware of it.
My daily decision, in my deep sorrow and shock, is and will be to accept this new reality with deep gratitude for the nearly 52 years of earthly life which you spent in relationship with us.