Josephine passed away at Victoria Hospice in 2000 at the age of 60.
Inspired by the care her mother received, her daughter Susan established a gift of life insurance. As Susan says: “It is a chance for an average person to make a really substantial gift without much financial hardship.”
We invite you to read this Q & A with Susan to learn more about her fascinating mother and her innovative and generous gift to help families like hers.
Susan: Mum was born in March 1940 in London, England. Soon after, she was evacuated and spent much of the war with her maternal grandmother in Devon. She was an only child and had quite a lonely childhood. She married my father in 1961 and in 1967 the family came to Canada – my parents, myself and my younger brother. The four of us came by ship, landed in Halifax and then travelled across Canada by train to stay with my father's oldest brother in Vancouver. In the years that followed we lived in many places in British Columbia, settling in Victoria in the mid 70’s.
Mum took up running in her 40’s and was well known on the local running scene right until her death (she was a proud Prairie Inn Harrier). Cancer really blindsided her – she was very fit, hardly drank, never smoked and seemed to have very few risk factors. As with so many ovarian cancer patients her disease was caught late and although she responded well to the first round of chemotherapy, symptoms returned soon after she finished treatment and when she found the second line treatment physically punishing, she decided that she'd had enough. She died in October 2000 at age 60, only about 18 months after her diagnosis.
Susan: My mother was quirky and definitely a product of her wartime birth and post-war childhood in England. She believed in squeezing every last drop of use and utility out of everything – clothing, tools, appliances, food and resources. Wastefulness in any form made her see red! People who had fruit trees in their yard from which the fruit dropped and rotted (but refused to give it away after she knocked on their doors and offered to take it off their hands) were to be scorned.
I admired so much about her – she was so hardworking and never seemed to be afraid to tackle big projects about which she knew very little. She'd just teach herself. She could lay ceramic tile, put up wallpaper and she once told me she made all our clothes when we were little. She was physically tough – during the blizzard of 1996, my mother was working as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) at the Gorge Road Hospital and she walked from her home at Quadra and McKenzie to report for work. It took her hours but she did it.
People still tell me that they remember seeing her striding along the sidewalk, often with a colourful bandana on her head after she had her head shaved during chemotherapy (rather than endure the coming-out-in-clumps hair loss), at a pace that would be hard for a well person to maintain.
Susan: I think being diagnosed was in some ways a blessing. She had been having symptoms for months – bloating, fatigue, feeling unwell and knowing that something was deeply wrong. Things moved very quickly after she was diagnosed – she had surgery within about a week and then spent a month in the hospital. She lost a lot of weight (which she could ill afford to lose) and spent much of that time being fed intravenously. She was very weak and frail when she came home and I wondered how she could possibly take chemo.
Susan: I think the most helpful aspect of Hospice Care was just the confidence that these were people who knew what they were doing. My mother valued most the expertise of the staff of Hospice. She had incredibly high standards in everything she did, and I know for her that the clinical and medical expertise were just as important – or possibly even more important – than what she might call 'touchy-feely stuff'. For those of us that are 'ultra-rational', an emphasis on conveying information plainly, completely and dispassionately somehow makes devastating news easier rather than harder to take.
Susan: I wanted to give a gift that was in excess of what I was likely to be able to afford – life insurance seemed like a good approach. It is a chance for an average person to make a really substantial gift without much financial hardship. I also get a certain amount of satisfaction out of seeing that charitable donation slip at the end of each year since I don't 'feel' the donation at all as it comes out of my bank account.
Susan: I believe we may find cures or ways to eliminate the suffering associated with diseases – but death will ALWAYS be with us. So it is imperative that we try to make for as good a death as possible, for as many people as possible. When people understand and accept their time is limited, I don't think they want to endure endless medical interventions that are unlikely to change the outcome in their final weeks and months – and it certainly isn't good for our healthcare system. I think Hospice has a huge role to play in changing attitudes and norms around end-of-life care, and I am happy to spread the word about what a great organization Victoria Hospice is.
Susan: I don't really think about it in terms of 'my' gift – I am just happy to help an organization that helped me when I needed it most, and since I have the resources to contribute, I see it as my responsibility to do so.