By Kristian Partington
Mary Haggarty has several different roles at Riverside Glen but if you asked her about her favourite, she’d likely point to her companion time with the residents in the retirement neighbourhoods.
One gentleman in particular, Jim Grasley, has had a deep affect on Mary’s life and through her time with him she’s come to learn many things – perhaps the most important being the concept of living life to the fullest in each and every moment.
It was around the beginning of December that Jim’s health began to turn for the worse and he was deemed palliative by the clinical team. At this point, caring for Jim or any other person in palliative care is about making sure they’re as comfortable as possible as they move through their final days in this world. But one day Mary arrived in the village and there was Jim sitting upright in his wheelchair waiting for her.
“He says to me, ‘My legs are really tired; I’ve lost some muscle tone ‘cause I’ve been lazy laying in my bed,’ ” Mary recalls with a hearty laugh. “He had been wheeling himself – foot-propelling – all around (the neighbourhood) for two hours.”
Now it’s not uncommon for someone in his or her final days to get a burst of energy. Mary didn’t really analyze the moment, however, beyond registering how incredibly moved she was by the spirit Jim showed that day. Whether it was simply a burst of energy or not made no difference at all.
And Jim continued to show that spirit in the coming days. He began to ask about working with the village physiotherapists again in the program for active living.
‘Can we get back on that?’ he asked Mary. ‘I need to work on my muscle tone.’
As of Dec. 11, Jim’s situation was being reassessed as he continued to show signs of improvement, proving that with some people, you just never know. From Mary’s perspective, ensuring Jim has comfort and companionship is still the main priority and while he continues to respond well, there’s no certainty in what each day will bring.
In past months, she was with him during his cancer treatments, growing closer all the time, and she was preparing herself for the worst when she thought he was actively dying. Now she’s simply enjoying every moment she can – the laughter he inspires or the happiness in his eyes when she brings him a bowl of his favourite Kawartha Dairy Maple Walnut ice cream.
“I just take every single moment that we have now as a bonus moment,” she says. “If he’s one of those exceptional people who has turned the tide, then every day is going to be a great day, and if he’s not and this is sort of following a typical palliative pattern, then I’m absolutely blessed to have these extra moments.”
It’s safe to say the blessing go both ways.