In May, 2019, Sandy and Rick Orr celebrated their thirtieth wedding anniversary in an unusual way. Rick is brought to tears when telling the story of how he and his beloved wife, Sandy, shared a specially catered dinner, with their favourite music, and candlelight. It was an incredibly beautiful time for them both. This lovely celebration, however, did not take place in a restaurant, or on a cruise, or even in their own dining room. Sandy and Rick celebrated their anniversary in Sandy’s room at McNally House Hospice in Grimsby.

Sandy had been admitted to McNally House in April, 2019. Sandy herself made the decision to come to McNally House after consultation with her oncologist, and with Sue Shipley, the Resident Care Co-ordinator at McNally House. Sandy Orr was no stranger to cancer. Several members of her family had been afflicted with the disease. Ironically, Sandy worked at the Walker Family Cancer Centre in St. Catharines as a clerical supervisor. She dealt with cancer on a constant basis. She was familiar with McNally House through her work, but, also because she and Rick lived in Grimsby. She had heard countless stories from friends, read about it in local newspapers and on the McNally web-site, took part in the Hike For Hospice, one of McNally’s fundraisers. Hike For Hospice takes place every year to help raise funds for the on-going needs of hospice care. Sandy and Rick were all set to walk with “Team Sandy” in the May, 2019 Hike. “Team Sandy”, composed of family, friends and colleagues, had participated in Hike For Hospice, as well as in other fundraisers for cancer research.  Sandy Orr had been community-minded all of her life, volunteering at breakfast programmes, food truck programmes providing nourishment for homeless people, and helping in prison ministry. “She was a server,” Rick says with pride.

Sandy had “chased the dream of conquering cancer” for years. She was nearing the end of her quest, and she now wished to support the work of McNally House in caring for those needing end-of-life care, especially since she was now a resident of McNally House. Unfortunately, she became too ill to take part in the Hike. “Team Sandy” walked without her, while she cheered them on in her heart.

Rick is engulfed in emotion when he talks about McNally House. He calls the two months that Sandy was a resident there, the “hummingbird connection.” The hummingbird is considered to be a symbol of love and hope, and is used as the symbol of McNally House Hospice. “The caring and compassion shown by the staff and volunteers was incredible,” says Rick. “It wasn’t just care, it was love.” Being at McNally felt like “being at home.” He remembers with fondness the bonds made with the families of other residents while sharing a coffee, or doing a jigsaw puzzle. He remembers delicious homemade soup, and, the “best date squares in the world.” “McNally House gave us everything we needed. They nailed it.”

Rick chokes back the emotion as he recalls one afternoon when a bird flew into the window pane of the window in Sandy’s room. It flew away, seemingly unharmed, yet, it had left an imprint on the glass. “The imprint looked like an angel with its wings spread out”, Rick whispers.

He also remembers sharing the beauty of spring with Sandy as they watched the flowers and trees in the gardens outside her room come to life from their winter sleep. Sandy loved to be wheeled outside on to the patio, right in her bed, so that she could breathe in the spring air, hear the birds, enjoy the sunshine.

The day that Sandy died, it had been raining, the sky was cloudy, the day gray. In the early evening, Rick went outside on to the patio where he had often sat with Sandy. As if on cue, in one small spot, the clouds parted and radiant light beams cascaded through to bring the beauty of light into Sandy’s room. Rick calls this special light “love beams”, love beams for Sandy.”  Shortly after this treasured moment, Sandy died.

Rick and his family readily share the story of their experience at McNally House Hospice. They wish everyone to know that McNally House brought them “a light in the darkness of their journey” and made the last days of Sandy’s life on earth one of peace and comfort. In his tribute to Sandy, Rick wrote, “Sandy found that the meaning of life was to give life meaning.” McNally House Hospice strives to do just this.

At McNally House Hospice we feel privileged to provide compassionate, person-centred care not only for our residents, but for their family and friends in the community who journey with them.  For every one resident for whom we care at the hospice, there are at least five family members or friends that will require our support.