As we went to press, the news broke of the untimely passing of West Island Palliative Care Residence founder Teresa Dellar at the far too young age of 58. She died of cancer. And ironically not in the gentle surroundings of the residence she founded — the largest palliative care institution in Canada — but in the sterile environment of a hospital. We received dozens of calls within hours of the sad news hitting the airwaves.
Poet Edna St. Vincent Millay once wrote, “There is a hole in the world where you used to be, which I find myself walking around in daytime and falling into at night. I miss you like hell!” Her death has created a hole in the Montreal community and many — particularly grieving families of stricken members — will miss her like hell.
When Dellar began her work in 1998, there was a hole in health care. Palliative care was something few wanted to think about much less act on. The tragedies were left in dark, distant wings of hospitals where rich, fruitful lives came to their ends in dim, dank surroundings. Dellar changed all that. Her recognitions ranged from Governors-General Awards to a Queen’s Jubilee Medal.
Perhaps as important as the campaigns she led to build the soothing, leafy campus of WIPCR that serves all of Montreal, was the fact that she broke the cone of silence around death. She made people realize that the final passage was as much a part of this life as our entries into it. And should be treated with the same gentleness, dignity and peace. The team she put together gave the suffering what they needed most — personal care and compassion. The conversation she started changed our culture. Some 4400 lives made their final transitions with dignity and love because of what she began. And the work will go on.
Teresa Dellar and her colleagues filled long empty holes in our conscience and consciousness. Their example gave all of us the strength to deny death and destruction any final victories. Their’s are living testimonies that we need not fall into the “holes at night.” It is the courage inherent in the words of John Donne about death that, “Though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, thou art not so.”