I was first introduced to the house in the fall of 2008 when my mother-in-law, Nancy Hillman, took up residence there for the duration of her final journey. It is during her nearly four month stay that we, as a family, began to understand that this is no ordinary house. Indeed, it is a home…a very special home filled not only with every comfort but one that is also filled with peace, joy and love. It is a home that weaves the old with the new and the medicinal with the pastoral into a rich tapestry of convenience, community and care.
While in this caring home, Nancy’s legacy began to take shape as she dictated to me several letters for her two little great grandsons who live in Guadalajara, Mexico. In her “Letters to Diego and Emilio”, she told the boys of her full life on the farm in Buchanan, Saskatchewan. She told the story of how she and her ten siblings grew from hard-working farm children into fine productive citizens, who spread out across Canada and the United States, one sibling even reportedly working for NASA – all were musicians, all were great family people. She told them of her father, a renaissance man who was a trained teacher, a historian and a politician who worked alongside the great Tommy Douglas. He was also an inventor whose registered hybrid crabapple and plum trees are still grown in Saskatchewan today. She spoke of the birth of her own children and related tales of their growing up years and of their current families…all accompanied by evocative photographs. She described in detail many of her travels and her other interests. Through the telling of her story, which eventually became a sixty page odyssey of love, Nancy shaped her legacy in her own mind, receiving a deep satisfaction that her life had, indeed, been filled with meaning and purpose.
It was a profoundly gratifying experience for me, as well, as I learned of the rounded character of the family into which I had married. It also helped the staff at Ty Watson get to know Nancy a little better, as she was, by nature, a private person, not easily given to sharing the details of her life. With her permission, we left the daily print-outs of her story by her bedside. As the story evolved, the staff slowly gained an insight into what really made Nancy tick and she gradually began to make friends with the staff as she found a new trust in their care and companionship.
After Nancy’s passing in December, 2008, I left a copy of the published book at Ty Watson House. Lynn Turner, the then Executive Director, called me in to have a conversation about Nancy’s story and about the implications that it could have for the House. She suggested that this kind of sharing of one’s life story is a service that we might offer to all the residents and their families at Ty Watson House and in the palliative care community at large and she thought I could do it. Lynn, a force of nature, attested to by any who know her, immediately dubbed me “The Story Lady”. I have to admit that this is a little like being anointed by the Queen of England…you are honoured but more than a little overwhelmed at the same time. Eventually, after several more conversations with Lynn and Theresa Maxmenko, the Hospice Services Coordinator, and with the blessing of the new Executive Director, Erin Girling, I tentatively agreed. Following several weeks of highly valued training in palliative care, I whole-heartedly agreed.
The ultimate vision of offering this confidential service to residents and their families - to have their personal story shared for their own purposes - is in its infancy as we continue to work out the details on how to develop the service. Meanwhile, we also recognize that there are a multitude of stories that abound within the walls of Ty Watson House and within the community of care throughout the Alberni Valley that can be shared with a wider community audience. Henceforth, once a month in these pages, this newly dubbed “Story Lady” will be relating tales of valour, strength, courage, humility, determination, compassion and much, much more. Through these stories, we hope to reveal the profound humanity that is the glue that holds Ty Watson House together and to allow you, the reader, to more fully understand and appreciate the value of hospice care as a whole.
If you have a story to share, please don’t hesitate to contact me, “The Story Lady”through Ty Watson House: 250-723-4478 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org - Subject “Story Lady”.
Hospice Services are dependant on the financial support of the community.
Check out the “Potluck Story” at www.potluckceramics.com to learn about a unique and innovative community interest business that supports Ty Watson House through you, the community.