Physiotherapist, wife, supportive friend. Born May 23, 1955, in Waterville, N.B., died Feb. 21, 2012, in Prospect, N.S., of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aged 56.
Country musician Johnny Reid did not know he recorded two songs for Joyce and me.
Just like in his song Missing an Angel, Joyce fell into my life, and when she didn’t leave me I knew the Lord was missing an angel.
She was here to catch me when I fell and she made me a better man.
Joyce was the daughter of a potato farmer, of Scottish descent, in Waterville, N.B. She graduated as a physiotherapist from McGill University in 1977 and spent the next 35 years helping, mentoring – and teasing – both patients and co-workers in nursing homes and clinics in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
We met in October, 2007, through an online dating site. We married in May, 2008. Joyce was diagnosed with ALS in January, 2009.
Her neurologist, Dr. Bhon, made time that afternoon to see Joyce, her close friend Vanita and me before his flight to Toronto to spend the evening with his son. He told us that his review of all tests concluded that Joyce had ALS, with a three- to five-year life expectancy.
Joyce immediately thanked Dr. Bhon for taking the time to see her, then wished him a pleasant visit with his son. It was a typical Joyce reaction that she would wish the doctor a pleasant family visit just after being told her life was limited to less than five years.
Joyce did not have children, but she welcomed my two sons into her life with open arms without interfering with the relationship they had with their mother.
When my eldest son graduated from Dalhousie Law School and went to work on the oil rigs because he couldn’t find an articling position, I was upset. Joyce just said quietly that he would find a position. It’s funny that he was told of his acceptance in a law firm on the same day that Joyce died.
The second song Johnny Reid unknowingly recorded for us was I Promise You.
Joyce was aware of the progressive impact of ALS, so she planned and managed her own care as she had done for so many patients. She knew what would happen next, and arranged for the required support in advance. From an MRI to grab bars to bath seats to stair lifts to wheelchairs to overhead sling lifts, everything was in place in time for the next stage of the disease.
Joyce’s wide circle of friends in the medical profession came to her side with their special skills. Throughout the illness’s steady progression, Joyce never complained or felt sorry for herself. I promised her that no matter what we ran into I would be at her side and hold her hand.
Joyce displayed eternal optimism, endless patience and extraordinary strength and courage. One of her favourite phrases was “pay it forward.” She wouldn’t accept compensation for helping someone, but she would tell that person to pay it forward by doing the same for others.
Don Hagen is Joyce’s husband.
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