A story of the wonderful, spunky woman who still inspires us.
Photo by Jorge Lopez, courtesy of Unsplash
“You’d never see her without a smile”
Before I joined Spark, I worked as an activities director at a retirement residence. I used to love crocheting with the ladies, it’s how I kept up to date with the latest news. I had a lot of “grandmas and grandpas” who treated me very well. But, I had a real soft spot for Edie.
Edie had no family. Didn’t marry. Her parents, brother and sister had long since passed away. She rarely had visitors. She had a lot of health issues. Even on her good days she was very weak. But you’d never see her without a smile on her face.
I would visit Edie because she didn’t have the strength to come down for activities on her own. She was in a wheelchair, and would never ask for help. She “didn’t want to be a burden.” It wasn’t part of my job, I just loved spending time with her. Everyone did. She was a joy to be around.
She loved dogs. We had a golden retriever at the residence named Elsie. I once walked in on Edie feeding her kibble out of a pill bottle. When she had to be in hospital for a time, Edie asked for a photo of Elsie in her room. Any time the doctors asked her to make a decision she would turn to the photo and cheekily ask “well Elsie, what do you think I should do?”
Edie found the sunshine in the little things. If you brought her grapes she acted as though she had just won the lottery. My favourite memory is probably the time we introduced her to video calling. A resident who she’d grown close with had recently moved to Quebec. He used to tease her and call her ‘Mother Edie.’ When he answered the video call, Edie was completely baffled. “It’s like he’s right here!”
On her 90th birthday we took her out to Red Lobster for lunch. She ordered chowder in a bread bowl and a glass of white. She hadn’t left the building in years. Even getting out a chair was painful and challenging for her. But she never complained. Never felt sorry for herself.
A few months after I left the retirement residence, I was on my way to see a friend in Sharbot Lake. I got a call from the Director of Care (DOC) on a Saturday. Edie was palliative. She didn’t have much time left. And she was alone. The DOC asked if Spark might be able to help.
No one enters this world alone. No one should have to leave it alone. I immediately called Brad (our Executive Director) to get things arranged. In the moment, I didn’t have the emotional strength to provide the support for Edie. So Brad and I started calling our caregivers. Our goal was ambitious: immediate, round-the-clock support.
We were blown away by the response. Within an hour, we had scheduled a caregiver to be with Edie, every hour, for the next 48 hours. The willingness of our caregivers to give up their weekend plans at a moment’s notice spoke volumes about their commitment to people. We’d always felt that Spark has the best caregivers around. This moment affirmed that feeling.
We’d been caring for Edie for over 24 hours when Brad called me. One of our caregivers scheduled for that night wouldn’t be able to make it. It was time for me to take a shift...
I’d wanted to from the moment we got the call. but the thought of her dying ‘on my watch’ was devastating. Even though I’d worked with seniors for years, this was something totally new and outside my comfort zone. It was too personal.
I was reluctant. Brad could’ve staffed it with someone else. But he knew how much I cared about her. He knew that I needed to say goodbye. I’ll always be grateful to Brad for understanding what I needed, and caring enough to help make it happen.
I took over for Kathleen at 11pm on Sunday. Edie was laying in a hospital bed in her living room.She was in a lot of pain. I tried to make her comfortable. I moistened her lips with chapstick. When she indicated pain, I held her hand, gave her water. When there was nothing else to be done, I just sat beside her.
I didn’t want her to leave. But I knew it was time. “If you want to go, it’s ok. You can go.” I left her at 7am on Monday. Four days later, she left us.
Edie, The Educator
A year after Edie passed away, we inaugurated Spark University - a program designed to help make our culture at Spark world class. Combining education, career development and plain old “good times”, Spark U is the program that empowers our team to learn, grow and have fun through certifications, seminars, sports, socials and much more. One of our ideas was to start producing videos that would educate and inspire our team. We came up with the idea of a character - a “Resident Educator” - to anchor our videos. Make them fun, and human. Someone inspiring, wise, spunky.
I thought about it for a long time. I was convinced that Edie would get such a kick out of the character being inspired by her. She loved whimsy. She saw the sunshine in the little things.
Allison is the Director of Culture and Caregiver Success at Spark. She loves playing hockey, woodburning, and helping people enjoy life. With the rest of her time, she's probably relaxing at home with Sean and Hannah (11 months).