Mary and Roger's Story

A New Year’s Day Surprise: Mary and Roger’s Story

Mary Miller’s rosy cheeks and warm smile light up her residence suite at St. Joseph’s Hospice. Her husband, Roger, sits by her side—iPad in hand—flipping through photos from this past New Year’s Day. He beams as he points out one photo. Mary and six of her family members are seated around what appears to be a festive banquet table—heaps of Chinese food laid in front of them. And it all took place in Mary’s bedroom at Hospice.

"We were asked by the staff here: ‘What are you going to do New Year’s Day?’ And we said we were ordering Chinese food, but we didn’t know where we were going to put everyone because we had a lot of family coming."

It wasn’t long before Personal Support Worker Derrick Harrison started gathering the necessary supplies to set up a celebration dinner within Mary’s room.

Mary Miller and Family

"I wanted the family to have a wonderful experience and know that Hospice is a lovely place," he said. "And we wanted the New Year to be extra special."

Just before dinner was served, the banquet table was rolled in and easily fashioned around Mary’s bed. "It was a big surprise," said Mary. "And the kids just sat down and were very comfortable – it was wonderful."

It’s this type of compassionate care that made St. Joseph’s Hospice a natural fit for Mary and Roger. The couple’s life was dealt a serious blow about a year and a half ago, when Mary was diagnosed with a terminal illness. As Mary’s illness progressed and she continued to seek treatment, the couple turned to their priest for guidance. He suggested they consider St. Joseph’s Hospice.

"We always had this place in mind, but never took it seriously because we always had the hope that her condition would improve," said Roger.

Derek Harrison and Mary Miller Mary came to live at Hospice this past Christmas Eve, after spending some time at Victoria Hospital. Roger said Mary received excellent care at the hospital, but hospice was the next step.

“It was the reputation of Hospice that drew us here,” said Roger. “We’re very pleased to be here now. The environment is warm and welcoming, and the people are genuine.”

And the hospice’s environment is just as important to Roger as it is to Mary. As her caretaker and life partner, he’s at her bedside at Hospice every day.

The two have been inseparable ever since they bumped into each other on Valentine’s Day nearly sixty years ago.

"It was a blind date," recalls Mary. "I was training to be a nurse, and my roommate said she was going out tobogganing, and did I want to go? So I went."

"And then she steered into me," said Roger with a chuckle. "We bumped into each other at the bottom of the hill."

After that day, Mary would steal away from her nursing residence to visit Roger, after working long shifts at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton."We weren’t allowed to leave," said Mary. "But I used to sneak out after I’d work a shift. I never got caught."

Mary and Roger lived in Hamilton before coming to spend most of their married life in London. Upon retiring, they travelled the world together, living in Thailand, China, Chile, New Zealand, and throughout Europe. They have four children and nine grandchildren, who check in with Mary regularly through video chat.

"Our grandson FaceTimed with us just a few minutes ago," said Roger. "He just got a job in Washington, and wanted to celebrate by telling us."

With countless video chats, phone calls, and visitors coming through the doors at St. Joseph’s Hospice to visit Mary, it’s abundantly clear she is deeply loved by many.
"Nothing’s more important to her than her family," said Roger. "That’s been the focus of her life."

Roger said aside from Mary’s compassion and adventurous nature, she’s also a "darn good athlete," having played golf and tennis regularly until her illness prevented her from doing so.

"She’s just an all-around good catch," said Roger.

Thanks to more than 300 volunteers and many generous donors, couples like Mary and Roger are able to spend their final days with one another in a caring hospice environment at no cost to them.

 "The people at Hospice are just lovely people," said Roger. "And if it becomes available for people and families, we would say ‘give it a shot.’"

Thank you to Roger and Mary Miller for sharing their story and photos with St. Joseph’s Hospice.

Written January 2015