The Ridder Family Story

The Ridder family is truly amazing. Their story is one of loss, living and learning to heal, and the special role that McNally House Hospice plays in our community.

Carolyn and Gerry Ridder, raised their four children Caryn, Paul, Jennifer and Rachel in St. Anns. At all to young an age, their children have been forced to deal with the death of both their parents. Their mother Carolyn was just 48 when she died in September 2010 of breast cancer. Her husband, Gerry Ridder, was diagnosed with lung cancer a year later. He died the same month as his wife, in 2012, at the age of 57. This has left their children – Caryn now 25, Paul, 23, Jennifer, 20 and 18-year-old Rachel – to fend for themselves. But thanks to the humour and affection they share as a family, their memories and the unwavering support from McNally House, they have found a way to manage.

The children are sharing their story as a thank-you to McNally House, a residential hospice located in Grimsby that provides free of charge, 24-hour specialized palliative care to people living with a terminal illness.

Over the past two years, the Ridder family spent a good deal of time at McNally House. Initially, with their mother, they were reluctant to consider McNally House thinking it was reserved for the elderly. The other common misconception they believed was that it would have the look and feel of a hospital setting. They also feared that hospice care would be unaffordable.

But as their mother’s condition deteriorated, the Ridder family found caring for her increasingly difficult. About six weeks before she died, Carolyn decided it was time to leave her home for McNally House. The relief for all was immediate.

The wickedly funny homemaker, famous for her dill pickles, oatmeal cookies and crocheting, came back to life at McNally House. “My mother perked up when she got here,” recalls Paul, who now lives with his sister Jennifer in St. Catharines. “You could tell it was a lot better and a lot easier for her being here. For me, it was good because at that time I wasn’t living at home so when I came there, I got a lot of one-on-one time with my mom.” The exceptional support and care from the staff at McNally House allowed Carolyn to be herself, to keep joking with family and friends until her untimely passing in September.

One of the blessings of McNally House is that even though it’s a haven for the terminally ill, it’s very much a place for life and for living. From its cozy family rooms, its welcoming kitchen and its warm staff and volunteers, McNally was built for families and friends to create lasting memories, to share and relive stories, to laugh and to cry. It allows families the freedom to just ‘be’ because the burden of care is lifted.

Following their Mother’s passing, the world of the Ridder children was rocked again when their father was diagnosed with incurable lung cancer a year after their Mother passed. Gerry was told he’d be lucky to live another eight months. But he was determined.

As a widower with four children, the workaholic truck driver had additional reason to live: he was about to become a grandfather. Baby Emerson was born in February 2012 and despite the joy she brought to his life, the cancer advanced. Radiation and chemo treatments did not help and the pain became intolerable. Gerry moved into McNally House in mid-June. Once again, the hospice became the family’s new normal. They looked forward to Sunday dinners together at the hospice, hanging out over a jigsaw puzzle, visiting with their Dad and creating cherished memories with him. Three months later, Gerry passed away.

Despite all they have endured, the Ridder family will tell you McNally House is a very special place. “It’s weird that I feel closer to some of the people here (McNally House) than with people I’ve known much longer” says Rachel, who’s finishing her final year of high school. “I miss all of them. We had an awful lot of support here.”

When asked what they would have done without McNally House, son Paul simply said “we wouldn’t have had the memories.” This is what McNally House is all about. “It’s our focus to provide leading care to residents, but to also help them create special living memories with their loved ones,” explains Pamela Blackwood, Executive Director of McNally House.