It’s taken Reba Douglas some months to get ready to talk about her wedding. Even now that time has passed there is a tug in her voice as she speaks about her big day. She married the man of her dreams and she’s enjoying married life but her special day also involved saying goodbye to the most influential man in her life.
Reba’s grandfather, her “Papa,” was her guide, her rock and the source of so much joy. From her early memories of dancing around in his living room, she says she always felt his love.
“I was obsessed with ‘Rock around the Clock’ and he would let me play it over and over again and he would rearrange the furniture so that I could dance and dance,” Reba says. “He was all about laughter and anything that would let other people laugh.”
Because of her Papa’s passion for sharing joy, Reba decided to offer him a very special gift at a time when it mattered most.
“My Papa was very open, honest and caring,” Reba explains, speaking carefully, sadness in her voice. “He was my protector in many ways and he taught me about unconditional love, how to listen and he taught me about deep caring.”
These life lessons have stuck with the young woman who has just finished defending her Master’s thesis at the University of Guelph. She’s been studying couples and family therapy and she credits her Papa with inspiring her to want to connect with people and help others and to keep giving back.
When Reba met her future husband Brian, her Papa knew about the happy connection. When Brian proposed to Reba her Papa was the first to hear the news.
“I called him at 1am – right after the proposal,” Reba muses. “He didn’t even mind about being woken-up. And he spoke to me about building a strong foundation and being the voice of reason, he just wanted to know that I was happy and that this was what I wanted.”
With the wedding far, far in the future life went on as usual for everyone. Together Brian and Reba worked on their foundation, school was a big focus and the future looked bright. And while Reba’s Papa had some health concerns and some surgeries, he always bounced back.
But then, in the early part of 2014 things changed – it was suddenly clear that Reba’s beloved Papa was going to die.
“I just took for granted that he was going to be here,” Reba says. “He was going to be ok. He was always going to be with us.”
But as his illness progressed the family started focusing on less joyful planning and a decision was made for Reba’s Papa to spend his final days at Hospice North Hastings.
A remarkable place, Hospice North Hastings is a residential hospice in Bancroft, Ontario. It is based in a small house right downtown. The bedrooms are bright and care is provided for the whole family. Anything the family wants or needs, Hospice North Hastings provides it.
And this gave Reba’s fiancée an idea.
“Brian asked if we could get married right away,” Reba says. “I called my Papa and told him and he was worried that I was making too big a sacrifice but I told him I needed him at my wedding.”
So with her Papa preparing to be admitted to Hospice North Hastings, Reba, Brian and their families set to planning a wedding. It made sense. Immediate family was gathering to share his final days and Brian’s family was also available for support. Reba’s Nana set to finding a minister and Rev. Jennifer Canning made herself available. Brian started looking for a suit the night before the wedding and Reba says the whole community came together to help with her dress – a cocktail dress that had belonged to her great-grandmother on her father’s side of the family. Family friends from Boulter Lake made the alterations in record time, ensuring everything would be perfect for the wedding. The ring was purchased in Bancroft the day of the wedding.
On the day that Reba’s Papa was admitted to Hospice North Hastings the house was a flurry of activity. Welcoming a new patient and family is always a busy time but Hospice North Hastings also had a wedding to help coordinate. And in true Hospice style – the whole Hospice team jumped at the opportunity to add life to the final days of a very special man.
When Reba’s Papa was tucked into his bed at Hospice North Hastings the wedding began.
Reba says it was bittersweet. He was present and awake but her Papa could no longer speak. Throat cancer had taken his voice – but not his spirit.
“When we were pronounced husband and wife my Papa was the first person to clap,” Reba remembers. “He tried to say he loved us and I knew in that moment that we had done the right thing. We had given back. He knew I was loved and protected and he knew I would be ok.”
The Hospice North Hastings wedding party enjoyed some special treatment that evening at the Bancroft Eatery and Brew Pub and Reba says they were spoiled by the owners who had been tipped off to their circumstances. It was both a joyful time and one of deep sorrow.
Reba’s beloved Papa, Harold Raymond Murphy, died a couple of days later.
Transitioning into married life is never easy but Reba says her husband has been a rock for her. He has stepped in to fill the void left by her Papa. But it’s still tough. Reba thinks of her Papa each day and is slowly coming to terms with his death.
Reba’s final gift to her Papa was made possible by a supportive fiancée, families, minister, friends, strangers and Hospice North Hastings. She says it was the right decision and that while the memory of her wedding will always be bittersweet, a mix of loss and joy, she knows that she and Brian did the right thing.
“It was a great wedding and Hospice North Hastings provided everything we needed and more,” Reba says. “Everyone celebrated with us, ate cupcakes and made us feel like we were at home. It was a beautiful experience in a beautiful place.”
As the time passes Reba remembers to make space for the grief and loss but she knows the spirit of her Papa lives on.
“No matter how much pain he felt he always wanted to make others laugh,” Reba says. “I think about this and I can still hear him saying, ‘keep your head up, kiddo!’”
Reba shared her story so that our community could have a better understanding of what Hospice North Hastings does when a family is in need. Hospice North Hastings provides free services to North Hastings residents through their medical equipment loan program, a lending library, through the R and R program for caregivers and through our unique rural residential Hospice programming.
The Hike for Hospice will be hosted by the Bancroft Golf Course on Sunday October 5 starting with registration at 3pm. Chili Fest runs after the Hike at 5pm and everyone is invited. Pledge forms are available at Hospice North Hastings. Please consider joining others at the special event.