Our father, John Curtis, was born in Toronto and raised in Mississauga, where he spent most of his life with our mom (Gillian), his three human children (Eva, Clare and Desmond), and his fourth, and often favourite child, our Chocolate Lab Grace. Our dad lived a busy life – he worked on Bay Street and his career took our family to Bermuda for three years when we were toddlers. He was an avid runner, often participating in the Terry Fox Cancer Run. In swimming, he worked his way up to his personal best of more than 70 laps. He even took up Karate with Desmond and Yoga with his sister Robin.
And we can’t forget his love of music – he played guitar, loved to go to live concerts, accumulated over 500 LPs and even still had a juke box! Family time was precious and as we all grew older and moved out of the house, we always made a point of getting together for dinners at our favorite spots, for holidays, and quick hugs and hellos. We’ll treasure all of these
Dad’s cancer diagnosis came on Labour Day 2016. The big “C” word hit like a ton a bricks when the MRI results came back. Within days our world had been changed. When you are told someone you love may only have 3-6 months left, your priorities quickly shift and your loved one’s comfort becomes the number one thing in your life. This is when the Dorothy Ley Hospice entered our lives. Dad’s doctor at Trillium referred him to a palliative doctor affiliated with the hospice and we took a tour. We were comforted by the warm and home-like environment and dad was particularly struck by a room that looked out onto an area where he had walked Grace many times.
Our father lived for nine more months and The Dorothy Ley Hospice helped us at every step of the way. Care Coordinators came to visit regularly in our home and there was a wonderful Wellness Day Program where people on their end-of-life journey met weekly for social time, a lovely meal, and activities. For us there was grief counselling, support groups and even massage therapy sessions. When caring for our Dad at home was no longer possible, he moved to The Dorothy Ley Hospice Residence, where he received consistent, compassionate care around the clock. Friends and family were welcome to visit 24/7 and everyone had their chance to say a peaceful good-bye. At the hardest time in our lives, we were in the best place we could be.
The last weeks were filled with meaningful moments. One of our most memorable experiences was during a warm sunny day when our family cobbled together a playlist of songs that reminded us of special times from different aspects of Dad’s life. The staff arranged to have his bed and oxygen tank brought outside – their gracious accommodation will never be forgotten.
Gathered around Dad’s bed with the sun shining down on him, listening to the music he loved, and sharing favourite memories felt like a celebration of his life. It was a beautiful way to say goodbye and we will cherish this special time forever. You see, in moments like this, you realize that hospice is not all about dying, it is about living life to the fullest, right to the end.