“We didn’t say much, but we said everything.”
Renée and her mother Ursula had a very close bond and shared many interests, including travel, gardening and a love of animals.
Born in Berlin in 1921, Ursula was forced to move at 24 when the Russians occupied the city. In 1953, she immigrated to Calgary. Sadly, she never visited her homeland again as she was fearful to return.
Renée was born in Calgary and raised in the Okanagan. One of her first memories is counting out cash to pay staff at her parents’ electrical contracting business. Little did she realize this would pave the way for a successful career in payroll and human resources at the Greater Victoria Public Library.
In 1975, Renée and her mother moved to Victoria so that Renée could pursue a degree in German Language and Literature at the University of Victoria. To cover some of her expenses, she worked part time as a Page for the Greater Victoria Public Library. Upon graduation, Renée was offered a full time position with the Greater Victoria Public Library, a career that spanned 36 years.
Renée was passionate about her work at the Library as it aligned with values she holds very deeply. She believes the public library is one of society’s greatest democratic institutions, and that literacy is a basic human right. One day she witnessed a homeless person reading a library book – an experience that anchored her beliefs, and reinforced her dedication to her career.
As time passed, Renée and Ursula remained close. Indeed, they lived together their whole lives. She recalls: “Mom was a vital woman with endless energy. But in 2007, she developed lung disease and began to lose strength.” Working full-time meant her mother was home alone during the day, so Renée arranged daily visits with the Victoria Hospice Palliative Response Team.
One night in March 2008, Ursula experienced terrible pain. Renée was relieved to have a direct line to the Palliative Response Team, who supported her in making her mother comfortable and pain-free. “While Mom was in and out of consciousness that night, there were some lucid moments,” recalls Renée. “We didn’t say much, but we said everything.”
She says those final hours were very challenging. “The people from Hospice led me through everything so gently and lovingly. I couldn’t have managed without them…and I’m so incredibly grateful they could help me fulfill Mom’s wish to die at home.”
Renée took advantage of Hospice Bereavement Counselling support. She admits she wasn’t ready at first, but with time, felt she could participate. “It was as if the volunteers knew when to call again,” says Renée.
Since Renée retired in 2013, three of her close friends, have passed on the Victoria Hospice Unit. Renée witnessed a deep level of care and attention from the doctors, nurses and volunteers. Those many untold moments of beauty and connection touched her deeply.
Renée speaks of how important it was that she could take one friend’s wire fox terrier, Bella, to visit her on the Unit each day until she passed. She recalled how Hospice fulfilled another friend’s final wish to have the Bedside Singers perform a favourite hymn in her final hours. How heartwarming it was when a harpist who had been performing in the Hospice Lounge came to give one friend a private concert while she was having dinner. She noticed the special care that the nurses took to comb her friend’s hair just before she passed, adding dignity to her final moments. And she was deeply moved to ring the Hospice Bell in the Rooftop garden following one friend’s passing, “to send her on her way.”
Now, Renée is now the proud owner of her friend’s dog, Bella, as well as Bella’s brother, Harry. Having two pups underfoot has filled her life, and is a constant reminder of the care her mother and friends received in their final days.
This year Renée finally spent six weeks in Berlin, where her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were born and raised. She had recorded the addresses of their former residences, and embarked on a solo journey to find her roots. She had bought guide books before she left, but, uncharacteristically, didn’t read them. She later realized she hadn’t wanted anyone to influence or filter how she experienced Berlin. She felt tremendously at home, and was proud that while waiting at a bus stop chatting in German with a local, they couldn’t believe she wasn’t a Berliner herself.
Renée gives back to Victoria Hospice by volunteering and giving monthly. Most importantly, she has left a gift in her Will. “Legacy giving is my opportunity to help others receive the care that my mother, my friends and I received,” she says. She has such faith in Victoria Hospice that she has left her gift undesignated, to be used for the area of greatest need at the time. She has every confidence her gift will be used wisely.
For further information about legacy giving, call Gina at 250-519-1743 or visit www.victoriahospice.org/how-you-can-help/give-gift-future