The Wright Family Story

Jim and wife Barb Wright have been well known in the Grimsby community for years, raising their four children here and becoming active members in the community.  To many friends, family members and co-workers, Jim was known as a larger than life character.  This is Jim and his family’s story, the final chapter in a three-part series on living, loss and learning to heal, and the special role that McNally House Hospice plays in our community.

Jim and Barb Wright met as teenagers in 1957 thanks to side-by-side lockers at Dundas High School. They married five years later.   A big man with a congenial presence, Jim loved football and played for the Ontario Agricultural College team (now University of Guelph) while earning his recreation degree. Jim worked for the municipalities of Dundas, Burlington and Scarborough before joining the town of Grimsby as director of parks and recreation in 1966, a position he would hold until he retired 32 years later.  During this time Jim would also become a Grimsby volunteer firefighter.    An avid traveller, and reader, Jim also loved golf, curling, fishing, camping and spending time on Lake Haliburton.

In 2008 Jim and Barb’s idyllic life was turned upside down when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer.  When Jim’s condition progressed, he became a resident at McNally House, a residential hospice in Grimsby that provides free, round-the-clock care for the terminally ill.  McNally House would prove to be a home away from home for the Wrights, their family and friends, as Jim would live out his last three months there.

“I never thought in a million years we’d need McNally House, but I was so glad it was there when we did,” Barb says.

“I tried to keep life as normal as I could,” she recalls. “I can’t imagine not having McNally House here. It was a wonderful place for him to be and for us. It was our home.”

“The residents retain a sense of dignity there. They’re not a number or a room. They’re a person. I think that was something Jim was worried about. I remember him saying, ‘I’m still Jim. “

With four children and nine grandchildren, friends and other family members, there was sometimes a lot of coming and going, but McNally House allowed every opportunity for the Wrights to create special, living memories they cherish today.   The football team from Grimsby Secondary School, where Jim volunteered as assistant coach before his diagnosis, would often drop in to say “Hi.”  The players even signed a jersey for Jim that Barb treasures today.

Jim has been gone 3.5 years now, but Barb looks back on their 47 years together with tremendous fondness.    “We had a beautiful life together, more than most people get,” she says quietly from her home in Grimsby.

Following Jim’s death, Barb was heartbroken, but through McNally House, received the bereavement support she needed to get through that difficult time.  And today Barb channels her time and energy into volunteering at McNally House, a move that started in 2009 during her many visits to her ailing husband. While Jim rested, Barb would use her energy digging out weeds in the gardens at the hospice. That same year, she helped organize the Hike for Hospice, a fundraiser that has become an annual event for the hospice. In the four years she’s been involved Barb has personally raised more than $10,000.

As a  non-profit organization serving Grimsby, Lincoln and West Lincoln, McNally House depends on its dedicated team of volunteers who typically work an average of four hours per week, preparing meals, receiving guests and offering bedside comfort to residents, their family and friends.

Watching the love of your life fade away is a “tough journey,” says Barb, a retired nurse who worked at West Lincoln Memorial Hospital. But as a volunteer who also has firsthand experience with McNally House, means she can now bring a unique and compassionate perspective to the hospice residents and their loved ones.

Barb understands the determination many family members acquire in the face of a loved one’s death. She recalls Jim asking her to take him along to buy some groceries and how badly she wanted to bundle him up for a ride in the car. But she simply couldn’t. She jokes now about how wilful she got about insisting that Jim eat his favorite foods. “It was the only thing I felt I could do for him. I was a fanatic, bringing in cut up cucumbers and salmon because he loved fish.”  McNally House allows families the ability to make these accommodations, to let their family members live out their days in full, to be themselves.

Barb’s return to McNally as a volunteer two years after Jim’s death wasn’t at all filled with dread or sadness.  “It felt like coming home,” she says. “The place is near and dear to my heart so I want to help the people there. I’ve been on the receiving end and now it’s time to give back.”

Barb’s nursing background naturally helped, but she also took a palliative care course and attended the 30-hour volunteer training program required and offered by McNally House. The volunteer training is comprehensive, covering all aspects needed to support hospice residents such as understanding family dynamics, communications and pain management.

Volunteers, like Barb, go a long way toward supporting McNally House, contributing a total of over 8,400 hours each year, which results in a  an annual cost savings of $125,000. Even with this savings, McNally House still requires $500,000 in community fundraising annually to cover its operating costs and maintain its gold-standard of care.