The love he had

As many who are reading these words already know, love is an emotion—more properly, a force of nature—which, like water, finds a way to flow no matter obstacles to its course.  In January 2014, several women in the room of a patient at Victoria Hospice discovered this to be true under particularly moving and mysterious circumstances.

The patient was James Robert Searle, known to everyone as Bob, who would have celebrated his ninety-third birthday that February.  Born in Regina, Bob had served with the Regina Rifles in the Second World War and was discharged in 1945 as a lieutenant.  He married Cay two years after that, and the couple raised their daughters Susan and Barbara in Regina.  Bob and Cay moved to Victoria in 1995.

After a period of hospitalization, Bob became a patient at Victoria Hospice. “My father was unable to communicate at that point,” says Susan Searle. “But he persevered. We had purchased for him at the Royal Jubilee gift shop a denim heart that had the word ‘love’ in the centre, and as he lay there Dad would point to the heart and say, ‘love’.”   Shortly after this, Bob entered a state of unconsciousness.  “Of course, this made his efforts to show his love to us all the more precious,” Susan explains.

The day before Bob died, Susan was helping a nurse bathe her father.  “She did one arm, I did the other,” Susan recalls, “and when I got to his left leg, I saw a most unusual mark. It was red and raised and in the definite shape of a heart.”  Her father had no such birthmark, Susan says; nor was there any reason why a mark should be there.  “Nothing was pressing against his leg,” she adds. “Nothing was there to cause this shape on his skin.” 

Susan brought her mother, Cay, and sister Barbara into Bob’s room, where they examined the mark and were as moved as Susan and the nurse.  “Mom put her hand beside the mark, and a photograph was taken,” Susan says. “Then she leant down to kiss the mark. When she did so, it got visibly redder.”  According to a nurse who was present, the atmosphere of the room seemed charged with love, as if it were an element of the air everyone, including the unconscious Bob, was breathing in like oxygen.

Bob Searle died on January 19, 2014, and the mark on his leg, which both his daughters searched for, had disappeared, “as if it had never been there,” Susan recalls. “It was so incredible, so inexplicable to everyone,” she says, “yet it spoke to something we all understood clearly: love.  It was as if my father, unable to tell us or point to the cloth heart, found a way to communicate with us up to the end—a continuation of the love he showed us in life, and the love he had for life.”

Quality palliative and end-of-life care for all: Our mission is to enhance the quality of life for those facing life-limiting illness, death and bereavement through patient and family centred care, education, research and advocacy.