Welcome. Please see below a penned letter from Audrey Parker to Hospice Halifax and her full obituary, published in The Chronicle Herald on November 2, 2018.
A penned letter from Audrey Parker:
Why is it that we believe that our first breath is so much more important than our last? I think society has it backwards. When I received my unexpected diagnosis of terminal breast cancer, I thought a lot about my two most important breaths; I just knew I had to be true to myself and give as much reverence to my last breath as was given to my first.
I knew that if I made peace with my death and made living well my new path in what was left of my life, I would have a fabulous end of life experience. Add to the mix, all the wonderful friends helping me every step of the way and there was no way this experience wouldn’t be exceptional in the end. These past few years can only be described as glorious. I’m eternally grateful that I was able to maintain such a positive and fun outlook on my life right until my last breath. I wish the very same for you.
Getting to die in a beautifully decorated, home-like environment that caters to patients’ every whim, is about living your best life right to the very end. I too lived my best life and thankfully I was able to live well doing exactly what I wanted every moment until I took my very last breath. Hospices are about living your best life right to the end as well.
It excites me to think about how this brand new hospice is going to help hundreds and hundreds of people that happen to live in Nova Scotia. They will likely be from all socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities, and people from all walks of life. Everyone will be welcome to use this facility to ensure loved ones are dying beautifully with respect, dignity and comfort. Everyone deserves this at the end of their life and your generosity is going to make such a monumental difference in someone’s end of life experience.
We are all equal and deserve to choose what end of life experience we want for ourselves. We actually need thirty beds, or three hospices, in Halifax to accommodate people who are dying on any given day, so the new 10-bed hospice is timely and it’s just the beginning. Your support and interest in helping the hospice means the world to me and I can’t thank you enough. With all my love!
Audrey Parker: Honouring a lifetime
Publishing Credits: The Chronicle Herald
Published: November 2, 2018
Author: Sarah Dennis & Audrey Parker
Audrey Parker was an amazing woman. She died yesterday, earlier than she would have liked but she did it on her own terms and with the help of Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID). Audrey wrote her own obituary and we think there is inspiration in her life for all of us.
-Sarah Dennis, Publisher, The Chronicle Herald
On Nov. 1, I died a beautiful death.
I was never able to get control of the cancer that consumed my body, but I did take control of every aspect of my end-of-life experience. I drifted off to my final sleep in my bedroom surrounded by my loved ones, flowers, candles, inspiring art and Laura Smith singing. It was perfection – except I had to leave weeks or maybe months sooner than I wanted because of late stage consent required with MAID.
Cancer was never in my plan and neither was becoming an advocate, but as it turned out, becoming an advocate gave me an incredible sense of purpose. My first advocacy began with wanting to die well. I decided to embrace my death and to show people a more positive way to approach dying which I found empowering. I shared what I learned with friends and, by demonstrating how to approach death with a continuous positive mindset, it became a huge lesson for all of us. There is so much negativity and fear around death, but I always believed our first breath gives us life, but it’s our final breath that honours our lifetime.
I coped by taking control of everything I could. I remained calm, made peace with my death, I discussed my wishes with friends and family, I prepared a will, purged my home, made a funeral plan, wrote my obituary, purchased things that would be useful when I became bedridden, and I assembled a team of friends to carry out my celebration of life. By taking control, I felt peaceful, happy and more powerful than I ever did during my lifetime. Happiness never knocks on our door so we have to get it for ourselves. I chose it, set my life up so it could happen and then everything fell into place. This is “your” life’s journey so I encourage you to take control everywhere you can.
My second advocacy was with Hospice Halifax where I became a spokesperson and fundraiser. Educating Haligonians on how much we needed a residential hospice and helping to raise money to build one meant the world to me. I was proud to be asked to make décor recommendations for the 10 new suites; creating a beautiful, colourful space that will provide comfort and peace for each resident as they spend their last moments on Earth.
My third and final advocacy began recently when my oncologist suggested I would suffer less from a medically assisted death. I was assessed and approved for MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying) through a rigorous screening process. When I learned that cancer had spread to the lining of my brain, I became distraught because my candidacy for MAID was put in jeopardy. If my cognitive functioning became compromised, I wouldn’t have been able to give the required late stage consent even with a legal directive. That’s why I chose to speak out and why I chose to leave this life early because I couldn’t take the risk of losing access to MAID and thus dying a very cruel, painful death.
My life experience taught me to be strong and to stay positive.
When I was nearly three, my newly divorced mother moved back home to Gaspereau, with her parents where we stayed until I was nine. We lived in a sagging, 100-year-old parsonage with no running water, no inside plumbing, no furnace, but we were happy. We played outside every day and experienced so many wonderful adventures during our childhood. Life was challenging; especially when I developed encephalitis brought on by the chickenpox and almost died. I came through that illness a stronger person.
When I was 17 and had a Grade 10 education, I moved to Halifax. I found success through hard work in retail but I knew I had to educate myself so, at the age of 24, I moved back home, attended my high school for a term, even rode the school bus to and from school each day. I began my love of higher education at King’s College, and by the time I finished educating myself, I had earned a B.A. in English from Dalhousie, an advanced diploma in Public Relations from NSCC, two years of Commerce from SMU and the Train the Trainer Program from St. F.X. University.
For me, education was the key that opened many doors and led me to a fascinating and varied career that included fundraising for important causes. There was the David Foster Foundation Gala in Halifax in 2008, the inaugural “Bust a Move” event in 2010, where I joined the organizing steering committee while my mother was being treated for breast cancer. We raised more than a million dollars that year to buy a mammogram machine located at the new Breast Health Centre. In 2012, I was asked to dance for Bridgeway Academy’s “Dancing for Our Stars” to raise money for children with learning disabilities. Dancing had always been important to me and my passion started early when I dreamed about taking dance lessons. From the underage “disco queen” sneaking into Acadia University’s dances, to teaching ballroom and Latin at Halifax Dance, I honed my skills and dancing was a big part of my life.
So were my friends. “Holy Hannah” did I have a network of fabulous women in my life! I spent a lifetime searching for “my people” and I’m grateful I finally found all of you. I considered the many beautiful friendships I cultivated as my greatest accomplishment in life.
“Our first breath gives us life, but our last one honours a lifetime.”-Audrey J. Parker
Kim, Nancy, and Maggie, thank you for being with me every step of the way. This last chapter would not have been as positive an experience without you in my life. Laurie, you were the spark I needed to get me to the finish line and the way you and Ray supported my mother, brought me peace.
Sarah – thanks for being the perfect roommate and friend during this journey.
To my extraordinary advocates, Mary Lynk and Dr. Rheume — thank you for assembling my excellent new oncology team for whom I am profoundly grateful.
And my palliative care nurse, Monica, and my home care workers Belinda, Candace, and Laura, your help was invaluable.
Melodi, you supported my desire for one last trip and made it perfect.
Laura, that 55th birthday bash was the best!
To the organizers of the Audacious Ball and all those who made donations, you inspired my fight to live.
Thank you to my Joannes and their husbands, for the fabulous parties you organized in my honor.
Dawna and Sarah, those monthly dinners at the Bicycle Thief filled me up in every way.
And to the owners of the Bicycle Thief, Hakan and Veronica, that cocktail party was beyond kind and generous.
Gus and Sherry thank you for all your meaningful visits.
Christine, thank you for always being there during our 36 year friendship.
To Marie, thank you for taking care of my affairs and for all your support over the years.
To Brenda and the staff of Uptown Salon, thank you for your generosity.
And thanks for your cottage hospitality, Marie, Deb, Dawna, David, ZuZu, Sharon, Duncan, and Laura Lea.
Thanks to everyone who took me on errands, and appointments through “Arms Around Audrey,” especially Sarah, Darrell, Laura, Fiona and Ruth.
To Robert and all those who contributed to my memorial bench that will soon be overlooking the ocean at Point Pleasant Park, thank you for making this happen.
To all my long-term friends not already mentioned, especially Mary, Heather, Lynda, Lorna, Deanna, Glenda, Lynn, Norma Lee, Zelda, Louise, Tammy, Kim, Marie, Sharon, Arlene, Ruth, Patti, Eva, Marjorie, Charlene and Janice, I love you all.
To my celebration of life team including those not already mentioned — Jane, Leanne, Linda, Kim, Pam, Vivian, and Alicia, you are my dear friends.
I loved my friends. I loved my life and I decided to love my death.
I am survived by my loving mother, Shirley Parker, and my brothers Owen and Brian Parker. I love you. To my niece Lara, I’m very proud of the woman you’ve become. To my nephews Nathan and Trevor, I love you. To my nephew and nieces Terik, Gabriella and Cadence, I pray that you get a good education so you have opportunities and happiness in your lives. I am also survived by my first husband, Michel Dubé, a prince of a man, my dance partner for nearly 13 years and a wonderful husband to me. And by my second husband and Czech mate, Dr. Jaroslav Kralovec, whom I loved deeply. Thank you both for bringing family and travel to my life. I leave behind my cherished Kralovec family. My stepdaughters Lenka (Dr. Lee Sample) and Lucie (Alan MacMaster), I love and cherish you and your children as my own. To my grandchildren, Ella, Lacey, Owen, Noah, Ben, Quinn, Willow and Ivy, your Nano loves you with all my heart and I’ll always be watching over you.
Throughout my end-of-life journey, people marvelled at how comfortable I was with dying, but I did not leave without sadness. It’s hard to say goodbye.
Until we meet again, I leave you with a simple message: Be kind … because you can.
Please join my friends and family at Pier 21 on Friday, Nov 9, 2018 at 2:00 p.m.
Come celebrate my life and contribute to my send off. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to Hospice Halifax (www.hospicehalifax.ca).
I’d like to leave you with the 10 most influential things I did to ensure I had a fabulous end of life experience.
Maintain a positive mindset.
Do whatever it takes to stay positive. You will feel better and people will want to be around you.
Avoid negative self-talk.
I learned to stop having negative conversations with myself about myself. This impacted my life and my self-love hugely. I noticed how critical I was to myself so I shut it right down.
Don’t borrow trouble.
Our fears rarely come to fruition so why spend so much of our precious life worrying and stressing over things that may or could happen. I found that assuming things would work out meant they usually did.
I found meaningful ways to help others. It helped me feel useful, part of my community and it really contributed to my personal happiness.
Avoid feeling sorry for yourself.
I knew if I allowed myself to go down the hole of self-pity or “woe is me”, I may not have the courage to crawl back out once I got there. If you do go that route, set a deadline for yourself so you can out.
I released resentment towards those who hurt me and I forgave myself for any mistakes and poor choices.
I took charge of every single detail of my life that I could and by doing so, I avoided feeling like a victim.
Create a bucket list.
I chose several bucket list items and brought them to fruition. I traveled to Paris, I took my eldest twin granddaughters on a trip to Mexico, and I finished my book. Accomplishing things late in your life feels so rewarding.
I removed all toxicity and negativity from my world. Anyone who was consistently negative towards me or others, was no longer welcome in my life. It didn’t matter if they were friends or family. Maintaining a positive environment was paramount to my daily happiness.
Using my experience with death to impact others who come after me is such a blessing and a gift. Knowing my life will impact others makes my death feel more worth it somehow. We should all take more interest in our politics, our country and contribute in any way that we can.