The middle child, she always had the strongest instinct among five siblings, to nurse a dying kitten, a sick puppy, the tiny bird orphaned in our yard.
I can’t remember when she wasn’t encouraging others, smiling sweetly, offering a gentle hand, saying just the right thing to lift up anyone — especially the most vulnerable, the disenfranchised, the lonely, the forgotten.
Sandra cannot walk a single block without helping a stranger. Truly. I just spent several weeks in Vancouver with her, and we talked to more strangers, and helped more elders than I recall anyone ever doing spontaneously. (I mean, who does that? Right, our mom, “Person of the Year …)
Sandra was a nurse’s aide at 16. She combined her final two years of high school into one — making trigonometry even more of a mystery to me — and got straight As — before leaving home for nursing school.
She was so dedicated to being a nurse that it seems she went to college by herself. Wait … she did. She financed college on her own; studied and lived solo; and persevered despite, well, despite a lot.
I’ve been looking at a family photo at her graduation, and remembering how incredulous we all were that she had become a nurse. How did that happen?
Sandra chose, as her first salaried job, nursing at a psychiatric institution. The family joked, half-seriously, that we gave her lots of research material.
I returned to live in Toronto for awhile, after working in Montreal, and this is my fondest memory: Sandra and I would share a bottle of Chardonnay, sit on the living room floor for hours, and discuss the ethics of nursing and health care and more. Often, we reviewed her day — scarcity in the hospital, the dying patient, the recovering patient, the doctors too stoned to chart … and the nurses who always saved them because they lived their healing oaths.
Sandra was usually the youngest nurse wherever she worked, and it seemed she always achieved more than others. She led the IV team at one of Toronto’s largest hospitals way ahead of her time (we heard all the gruesome stories about collapsed veins, “lost” veins …).
She has saved lives with CPR and other emergency skills at traffic accidents and with people collapsing on the street. And in palliative care, she has helped many die “a good death.” Sandra has touched more lives than most of us ever could hope, yet none of this good work brought her fame or fortune.
Sandra worked in hospitals, then schools, group homes, elders’ homes and more in British Columbia, wherever the need was greatest. She was a pioneer in helping youths with severe spinal cord injuries live independently.
I can’t begin to share my admiration for that selfless work. Sandra lived it; loved it; embraced this work before it became “popular.” It says a lot about Sandra that she has remained lifelong friends with all those young men, long past the call of duty.
Sandra has been such a great mom to two beautiful and bright girls, that I nicknamed her “Earth Mother” when they were little. She always seemed so laid-back as a mom, always so encouraging of her daughters’ independence and curiosity about the world.
I had the pleasure this month of seeing Sandra laughing with her daughters. (One is — big surprise! — an ER nurse; one’s a grad student intent on getting a PhD in ancient history. She loves Latin!).
Seeing the three of them together, I know Sandra is still an Earth Mother, and always will be.
Fifth in a series of real thank you notes. Thanks for reading!