On Saturday, ARCH Hospice held their annual Dragonfly Day event at the Sault Ste. Marie Locks and several people whose lives have been touched by the end-of-life care facility were present.
One of those people was Sally Toivonen, whose husband Allan Toivonen spent his last days at ARCH last year before passing away on July 3, 2016.
At Dragonfly Day, Sally shared her story with SooToday along with an intimate video of Allan’s former group, the Northland Barbershop Chorus, performing for him during his final days.
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Allan was diagnosed with a terrible cancer, Mesothelioma. We were very hopeful that things would do a turnaround but unfortunately at the end of June we found out that he only had a couple of days left. They worked frantically to get him into ARCH. ARCH is only a ten-bed unit and space is definitely a commodity and we were so blessed that they were able to fit Allan in.
I remember being with Allan in the ambulance as we went over. It was a beautiful sunny day. It was really bittersweet because as we were driving down Great Northern Road and I’m looking and thinking this is the last time my husband is going to see all of this. He was sitting upright in the ambulance so he could see everything and then we pulled down onto the ARCH road and into the driveway. It was like a breath of fresh air. There was all this greenery, the flowers were out. It was just so peaceful and so relaxing.
It was totally different from the sterile environment of the hustle and bustle of a very noisy busy hospital. I love the Sault Area Hospital — we are fortunate to have this new place — but when you are with a person who is on the last leg of life, you want peace, you want serenity, and you want privacy. You don’t get that in a sterile hospital environment. Also, you don’t get the care that you do when you walk into ARCH.
Yes, Allan was the patient but he wasn’t the only one that ARCH focused on. The staff immediately embraced all our family. All of Allan’s brothers flew in from different parts of Canada and the first thing they did was feed us all.
For me, who was the caregiver for Allan for three months, I remember having my very first breakfast and it was prepared by Eric the chef. He said ‘Sally, I’m here to cook for you and look after you because you need to be strong to look after your husband.’ You don’t get that at a hospital.
Allan was barbershopper — he sang with the Northland Barbershop Chorus for twenty years. He’s the guy that dressed them all in their suits and white tuxedos. My basement was always full with all the barbershop stuff.
I asked Allan if it would be okay if the barbershoppers came and sang to him. That was his wish. Three days before he passed away the barbershoppers came and did a concert in the backyard of ARCH. The staff wheeled Allan out, and he got to see all his buddies. It was the hardest concert those men had ever done in their life but it was so welcoming and so cherished by my husband. That’s the other thing ARCH does, they try to grant every dream a person has. They try to make their final days as a reality and as peaceful and as full of all those things that people want. They actually do grant wishes and Allan’s wish was to grant the gift of music.
It was kind of neat because not only did they sing to my husband but all the other residents in the hospice got to take part and listen to the music as well. There is not enough in my lifetime to repay this beautiful hospice and staff for all of what they gave us. They let my husband die in dignity and peace and he was surrounded by the love of all the people that he knew. I can never, ever, pay that back. You can’t put a price on that.
I want everyone else going through that terrible time to have that serenity. If I can come out and support events like this and get that message out to the community about how wonderful our hospice is then I am in part carrying on Allan’s legacy. That’s what I have to do.
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Here is a video for Northland Barbershop Chorus performing Sally and Allan's wedding song, 'It's a Wonderful World' at ARCH Hospice last summer.
ARCH’s Dragonfly Day event coincided with the Lock’s Big Picnic and the Queen Street Cruise and at the event were children’s activities, charity karaoke, and the RBC Hike For Hospice charity walk.
Overall around $30,000 dollars was raised said fund development manager Lee Rendell.
(Toivonen’s words edited for length and clarity.)