A True Fighting Spirit

A true fighting spirit defined the life of Edward Carter-Edwards. Not even horrific conditions in a Nazi concentration camp could shake his positive outlook, and almost in defiance of those experiences, he lived a life full of joy and love.

Known to family and friends as Ed, he was born in Montreal. He grew up in Hagersville and Hamilton where he and his brothers spent many hours happily puttering around, building and fixing whatever needed to be built or fixed. In 1942, Ed decided to apply his skills to the WWII effort. He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and became a wireless radio operator in a Halifax bomber plane. He flew twenty-one successful missions before being shot down, captured, and sent to the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. There, Ed endured utter degradation, fear and horror. Miraculously, five days before he was scheduled to be executed, he was liberated by German allied airmen.

When Ed returned home to Canada, he met and married Lois and started a family. He was a proud father, loving and supportive. He never lost his pleasure in fixing things and with a whistle and a hum, he would tackle any handyman project. While he had a long career at Westinghouse Canada in Hamilton, he always loved music. Blessed with a clear tenor voice, he regularly sang at weddings, in church choirs and even musical theatre.

A direct result of his wartime experiences was Ed’s strong opposition to any form of bullying or mistreatment in the workplace or schoolyard and he became well-known for his safe work place advocacy. Ed often spoke at local high schools about what happened to him, bringing a very real face to a war the students could only read about.

Another legacy of the Buchenwald experience was dormant tuberculosis. After receiving cancer treatment in 2016, the TB was unfortunately awakened and made his care more challenging. When his illness came to the final stages, Ed and Lois’ daughter Leanne Cunliffe had a difficult decision to make. Her dad’s illness combined with her mother’s recent relocation to a retirement home led her to honour her parents’ wishes; that Ed move to McNally House Hospice. Haunted by her memories of her late sister’s noisy and confusing final days battling cancer in hospital and concerned that McNally House would be another forbidding, institutional facility, she decided to make a visit. As she approached McNally House and saw an inviting, beautiful homelike building in the middle of a residential neighbourhood, complete with a soothing water feature and meticulous landscaping, her worries quickly disappeared.

Leanne’s relief that her father would be able to stay in such a welcoming setting was challenged by her sadness of the reality of his situation. Though Ed was bedridden, Leanne carefully watched her dad settle in with his usual cheerful stoicism, and very soon, to her great relief, saw him relax and embrace his new surroundings.

Leanne asserts that McNally was, “Like heaven from a patient’s point of view, with all the caring, professional people.” Ed called the staff and volunteers his “Angels”. As Leanne says, “everyone is invited to be totally at home here, you can be yourself. “Ed even enjoyed a sip of cold beer with family that had been brought from Florida!  Although Ed did not feel up to eating, he was comforted that his family and friends could visit him and continue to share stories and enrich each others lives while enjoying homemade soup and delicious baked treats.

Ed lived at McNally for six weeks, during which time both he and his family were able to receive support and guidance from the staff in such a compassionate way that Leanne was led to wish for hospice care for everyone at end of life.

After everything he had been through, Ed’s fighting spirit could finally relax in his last days at McNally House, surrounded by family and friends, music and love.

McNally House’s mission is to bring compassionate care to families like the Carter-Edwards. McNally provides free of charge, 24-hour specialized end-of-life care to people living with a terminal illness, as well as those in their life circle.