(Simon Martel/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Norma D'Ermo died this past October, leaving a devastated family behind.
But the environment in which she lived her final days — a Montreal palliative care home — and the end-of-life care she received were nothing less than a godsend, said her husband, Joseph Racz.
"As soon as we walked in there, we felt this loving peace," he said. "It felt so good to be there. I told one of the directors, when you walk in there, you feel the angels."
Maison Saint-Raphaël in Montreal is the last stop on life's journey for some senior couples. For most, little is more important than being with those they care about in those final days.
"When we ask patients what's important to them, what's precious to them, they always say that it's love, it's relationships, it's sharing a meal with someone you love," said Olivia Lévêque, executive director of the palliative care and day centre.
They often take those last moments together to say what's in their hearts, sometimes sharing things that they never had the courage or the chance to say before, she said.
Raising money for a good cause
Saint-Raphaël opened in the borough of Outremont about 16 months ago and is the only facility of its kind on the island, offering palliative care and a day centre all in one location.
The multidisciplinary care and services are free to people living with incurable disease. Those services range from massage therapy to psychological support.
But to run this kind of operation — welcoming people from all walks of life — comes at a cost. So the centre came up with a fundraiser for Valentine's Day. It has raked in about $50,000 for the facility.
Lévêque helped orchestrate the campaign by teaming up with her parents' restaurant, Chez Léveque, which is based nearby. With the help of volunteers, the centre took orders for Valentine's Day meals to be delivered or picked up on Sunday.
The theme of the fundraiser: "Remembering what's essential."
Word got out, and the centre soon sold all its meals. It is now getting ready to dole them all out on Sunday.
Saying goodbye is never easy
Racz said that in the last week of his wife's life, D'Ermo was largely quiet and unresponsive. But he still felt that lasting connection they shared for so many years.
At Saint-Raphaël, staff took care of his wife's physical needs while he and his daughters were able to just be there with D'Ermo in her final days.
"It was a blessing," Racz said. "It took the stress off us of worrying about caring for her."
Anything they needed, help was there, he said.
"It allowed us to be completely with her as much as we could," Racz said.
On Sunday, he said, he will be looking back on the 36 years he spent with a woman he fell in love with instantly.
He asked her to marry him eight days after they first met, and they tied the knot two months after that.
"Memories are there," he said. "It's still very recent. Even though we say we can accept a lot of things, it's not easy."