Lynn McNamara is well remembered.
As she came to terms with her own demise it was one of her primary concerns.
“She had no fear of dying. She was sad of course, but her concern was she didn’t want to be forgotten,” says her husband Paul McNamara. For him, a self-described visual person, Lynn is forever that 20-something woman he met as a young man. As an artist, he created two portraits of his late wife, Lynn in her 20s and her 60s.
Daughter Erin recently rescued a dog because she wanted “to be a dog person like mom,” she told her dad.
Lynn battled two cancers over 20 years “which is unusual and unlucky,” Paul said. She had no family history and lived a healthy lifestyle. When doctors gave her – after much pressuring from Lynn – a two-year prognosis at the outside, she held out for that two years nearly to the day.
“In those last two years our relationship with the exception of the early days, was perhaps the most intimate time of our lives,” Paul said. “The little things stop mattering. We truly had a lot of fun.”
Lynn died Sept. 14, 2012.
“We cared for her here at home before she passed away,” Paul said.
Daughter Erin, who is in cancer research, and occupational therapist Kate took leave from work and the family lived at home in Oak Bay – caring for Lynn.
Victoria Hospice was a key component of their ability to care for her. It wasn’t the first time Paul encountered the non-profit that aids with end-of-life care.
Over his career, Paul found himself back at school many times, but after retiring from hospital administration, Lynn made him go back to work. He found a use for his original social work degree at Royal Jubilee Hospital working with patients and families in the ER and ICU. There he came across Victoria Hospice with regularity – and was amazed at the skills.
“That was before I realized I would be using hospice,” he said.
In general terms, Victoria Hospice would provide assessments and order necessities then Red Cross would send it. “Anything we needed would just show up,” Paul said.
Hospice nurses were amazing, ensuring the “gazillion” medications were administered correctly, but Victoria Hospice offered more than the practical.
“They also had counsellors that would come in,” Paul said adding they were professional and non-intrusive.
Lynn was conscious she was slipping away and told a counsellor she wanted to say goodbye. The counsellor organized a family meeting. It was such a rare formality for the McNamara clan that the gathering started awkwardly. Lynn wasn’t sure what to say, but Paul came armed with a plan – a family totem pole drawing project Kate did in Grade 2.
Lynn was atop, the lion, a protector.
Paul came second, a generally friendly elephant.
Erin came next, the friendly but fierce baboon; followed by Kate, the baby chimpanzee – no less important than her sister, but in her place at the base.
“Erin is a force and Kate is reserved,” Paul said.
It pegged the family to a T and kicked off a boisterous conversation.
“(The counsellor) was so good at taking that and making it something all of us will remember,” Paul said. “We talked and laughed about our relationships in the family.”
Over the years Lynn tasked Paul with creating portraits of each of her beloved dogs. “I was always kind of good at art, but I never saw myself as an artist. Lynn was my biggest cheerleader.”
The pups were so precious, that after death their ashes would remain in an urn at home. Paul wasn’t a fan. “I thought it was weird,” he admitted. So when he created the portraits, Paul incorporated their ashes in the paint in order to do away with the urns.
So it’s no surprise the portraits of their mother, created for Erin and Kate, include Lynn’s ashes.
“I put her ashes in the pictures. I know she would like the idea,” he said.
He’s also created a work of art for the coming HeART for Hospice, an elegant evening of art, music and mingling to support end-of-life care.
While he’s donated works to the MS Grape Escape fundraiser in Cowichan Valley, this year is his first as a featured artist at HeART for Hospice, donating a work that features tulips bursting like fireworks from a vase. “I have a thing about tulips … the first flower of spring,” he says.
The gala and art auction is Tuesday, Nov. 17 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Union Club, 805 Gordon St., Victoria. Visit victoriahospice.org to learn more about the organization or hospiceartauction.bpt.me for tickets ($45) to the event.