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Home to Newfoundland

She wanted to go home. She so desperately wanted to go home to Newfoundland. I think, no, I am sure she knew the end was near. That was why she fought me so when I told her she needed to go to the hospital; she was to leave in 10 days to fly home for the summer. My Nan, Mary Lynch. Nanny Mary, as my son, her great grandson, called her. She loved him dearly as she loved us all… her children, her grandchildren, her great grandchildren. But more importantly, she was loved by us all and we would do anything to get her home to Newfoundland. 

You see, Nanny was born in St. John’s Newfoundland. Her fondest memories, her friends, her life were all there. She would come to Ontario to visit everyone (many of her children had moved here) but Newfoundland was where she loved, lived and would die. She already had her burial plot and funeral arranged.

About 3 years ago, Nanny’s health started failing to the point of no return. She had survived three brain aneurysms, rheumatic fever as a child that left her with a damaged heart, mitral valve replacement, renal cell carcinoma and bowel surgery. Poppy, her husband and partner had died the previous year from metastatic Prostate Cancer leaving her alone in her little house in the country in Paradise, Conception Bay. If you have ever lived in Newfoundland you know that the winters are long and severe leave many people snowbound in the country.

With five of her eight children living in the Greater Toronto Area, she was encouraged, persuaded and finally convinced to winter in Ontario. And so, she came to live with my mother, returning home to Newfoundland in the summers. Each year it became more difficult for her, as her heart failure was becoming increasingly more severe. She was in and out of hospital every couple of months. Each time they would admit her, give her some Lasix, adjust her meds and send her home; her function declining a little more… every time her function declining a little more. By June 2007 she was mostly chair bound, becoming short of breath even to go to the bathroom.

June 2007. Nan was to fly home on the 28th of June. She was desperate to get on that flight. Unfortunately, 2 weeks before the flight her heart again started giving out. She became delirious and adamant that she did not need to go to the hospital. I, a second year Family Medicine Resident, a former nurse, a granddaughter that saw her every day, sadly convinced her that she needed to go. I knew that if she didn’t go to the hospital that she would never make it on that flight. I believe that she knew that if she went to the hospital that she would never get on that flight. Nan was right. She was admitted on the 20th of June 2008 and died on the 26th. But, I firmly believe that through the Grace of God and the power of music that she still made it home to Newfoundland. You see, when she was admitted a referral to palliative care was made. Dr. Devost, a wonderful, caring and inspiring physician looked after my grandmother and my family in those final days. She was able to see from the first meeting with my grandmother that time was short. Not only did she advise us of this fact she also shared about the power of music to reach someone even as they slip into a coma.

This seemed to be a great idea for Nan. She loved singing and dancing. In those final years when she wasn’t allowed to dance anymore because of her heart she would sit in her chair and dance to any music that came on. Her face would light up as a child’s on Christmas day as her spirit soared, her hands clapped and her feet tapped out the tunes. I will always remember her sitting in her chair singing to my then 2 year old son. Her enthusiasm infectious as always, she would have a room full of adults laughing and singing to any song that came on as if they were children themselves.

As her children and loved ones flew in from Newfoundland and Alberta to be with her, the lyrics of Amazing Grace and Be Not Afraid mingled with Sonny’s Dream and Cape St. Mary’s could be heard drifting from her room. I don’t know if you have ever met a bunch of Newfs but put them in the same room with some Newfie music and you would swear that you were in Newfoundland. As the song Isle of Newfoundland played, surrounded by her family and friends, I am sure Nan’s spirit flew home to Newfoundland. She never got on that plane - she didn’t need to. Music took her there instead.

Isle of Newfoundland

In the cold Canadian waters north from the coast of Maine
There's an island called Newfoundland swept by snow, wind and rain
And on the island there's a village with it's customs and it's ways
A little town called Corner Brook, my home of childhood days.

Now those childhood days were something and carefree all the time.
Ther's a girl in every story and you know there's one in mine.
Well, she broke my heart so often it stays a little sore
And that's the reason I left home and can't go back no more.

Where the people make a living on the land and on the sea
And there are people on the island that mean the world the me.
Well, I wish I had the power to change the course of time
To live again in Newfoundland, my home of childhood time.

Well, I'd love to watch the sailboats as they glide across the bay
Just to see again the farmers sow the seed and cut the hay.
Well, this island has no strangers 'cuz everybody is you friend.
This little isle of Newfoundland, I'd sure love to see it once again.

Where the people make a living on the land and on the sea
And there are people on the island that mean the world the me.
Well, I wish I had the power to change the course of time
To live again in Newfoundland, my home of childhood time.
Just to live again in Newfoundland, my home of childhood time.

Dick Nolan

Addendum: As a physician, and as a nurse before that, I had been taught about the therapeutic value of music. I had even recommended it when I didn’t know what else to do; but until I experienced it’s healing power myself…I had no idea.

Kristina Moreau, MD