’Til death do us part

By Mike H. O’Donnell

Valentine’s Day lost half a heart this week.

Longtime Journal editor Lyle Olson’s wife, Naida, died Tuesday — four days before they would have exchanged Valentine’s Day cards for the 65th time in their married lives.
It came suddenly of a heart attack after years of the two of them coping with Naida’s recurring multiple sclerosis, a disease that attacks the nervous system and hit her first as young woman when it impacted her vision.

Earlier in the day, Lyle had come into the Journal offices to check newspapers from around the state and the old Apple computer where he still hammers out editorials in a building where he has toiled for more than five decades. He went home for a little lunch and a cup of coffee.

While drinking a cup of java together, Naida grabbed her chest and fell to the floor. Unable to lift her back up because of a bad back and an injured knee, Lyle called 911. A fire department ambulance crew arrived and rushed his wife to Portneuf Medical Center, but she didn’t come home.

I’ve been a part of the Journal staff for nearly five years — as a columnist and then as a full-time assistant editor. Lyle is the person who convinced me to help write editorials before I ever joined the staff. He was delighted to have me help him with the task of generating grist for the opinion pages.

Our history of knowing each other goes way back. About 25 years ago, Lyle wanted to hire me as regional editor of the Journal back when newspapers still ruled the world, and multiple sections in printed dailies were as common as websites are today. His strong voice and tall stature filled the newsroom, but he had a sincere and caring nature that made a person feel at ease.

I was editor of the Power County Press in American Falls at the time and felt it was time to move up. Unfortunately, we couldn’t come to terms on pay.

That is irrelevant today.

Since the first moment I started working at the Journal, Lyle’s dedication to his craft has always inspired me. His dedication to his wife and family has left me in awe.

Lyle is a man who well into his 80s still comes to work at least 10 hours a week to write editorials or cover his passion — golf.

Over the past three and a half years, I’ve overheard Lyle on the phone to Naida saying things like, “I’m almost done here. I’ll be home soon, dear, and maybe we can have a sandwich together.”

God knows how much she heard that over the decades as they raised four daughters and Lyle covered everything from the assassination of President Kennedy to the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.

They met on the campus of Idaho State College and eventually married without her knowing she was marrying into the newspaper business. They made it work.
The day after Naida died, I visited Lyle at home. His eyes told me he was lost.
I know the look because it was the same one my father had when my mom died of a heart attack 22 years ago. My always-powerful dad was reduced to a struggling soul.

High school sweethearts, Mom and Dad had been connected for more than 43 years. They had raised four children together and weathered many lean years, just like Lyle and Naida.

When I returned to Iowa for mom’s funeral, I remember well overhearing my father tape record the eulogy he wanted everyone to share in the intimate funeral service held for close friends and family inside our home. Mom didn’t want a church service or anything big, and she had made that clear before she died.

Dad put his comments about how much mom had meant to him on tape because he knew he could never express the words at her funeral without a complete breakdown.

He talked about how much she did to create a home and family, and support his educational endeavors. He talked about her sense of humor and ability to make guests feel welcome.

At the very end, my father said, “Goodbye, darling. I miss you.”

This week, as I watched Lyle search for balance in his life without Naida, all that came flooding back. Lyle said he had to get to work on his wife’s obituary. He noted that just a few days before, he had spoken to her about what they would do with all the knickknacks they had collected together over the years if they had to move.

The Olsons have been in the same condo in the southern end of Pocatello for seven years.

“It’s got a great pool. Naida loved to swim,” Lyle said, as if he pictured her in the water.

For couples like the Olsons or my parents, the phrase, “’Til death do us part,” just doesn’t apply.

Michael H. O’Donnell is the assistant managing editor of the Idaho State Journal.