I gave this speech at our first Celebration of Life in May 2018.
Leonard. George. Gail. Within one week in 2014 we lost all three Residents.
For those of you who don’t know me and what I mean by Residents, I am the Executive Director of Victoria Manor Supportive Housing. Currently we are supporting 115 people residentially who have complex physical and mental health issues.
In that one week in 2014 we lost three of our own, and none of the three had funerals. All three had one remaining sibling that were unable to undertake the planning of a funeral for different reasons – and so they were buried without us being able to say good bye. And nothing remained of them.
We feel the loss of any Resident death in our home, but three in one week was very hard and when a Resident said to me “it’s like they were never here, like we don’t matter” that hurt my heart. And I hated that I hadn’t already viewed the losses through their eyes, I was wrapped up too much in my own feelings – we are a family, a dysfunctional one, but we are a family and of course they would feel the loss far more than I – I go to my home every night, this is their home they share.
When you know better you do better. We began creating spaces to pay respect to those of us who have passed on, and other spaces that would enshrine the lives of any Resident who lived in our home, whether they moved on or not – a small piece of their history would be kept with us so when they die we will say be able to say “we remember you”.
In the time since we have been the family that has identified bodies, we have been the family who has planned funerals and often are the only ones at viewings; we have been the ones who have shared in grief and we are the ones who still continue to tell the stories of those who have gone. And it made me wonder what happens in our City to those who have no one. There are many ways for someone to have no one. As it is with many of our Residents, some with mental illness or addictions have lost family and friends who’ve severed those relationships in self-preservation after suffering too long beside them. Sometimes families just break down and fall apart. Sometimes people just out live everyone else. And some have endured unimaginable tragedies and lost everyone they had.
We are living in a time where it seems like the lines drawn to divide us are more and deeper. Regardless of what we believe about each other, what we should remember is that every life lived has value. You do not have to see some mark of that life somewhere to know it’s true; the truth is in each small action and reaction and interaction in every step of our day and every stretch of our life’s journey. Our lives touch each other in a million unknown ways. There is no one who exists that has not changed the course of history by simply being. How can we be divided when we are so connected? Anyone who leaves this world should be given at least a moment of reverence. “You mattered”.
I have to say a very heartfelt thank you to Sherri-Lyn of Leadership Windsor Essex and the members of the Community Action Project Team of this year’s class that took my idea and made it into something so beautiful. Please help me recognize their work.
Leonard. George. Gail. You needn’t have known them to know that their lives set many things in motion – and even after they have passed on, their lives are changing our lives today. Thank you all for coming.