Jazz dancer, music lover, daughter. Born Aug. 7, 1959, in Toronto, died Dec. 25, 2012, in Newmarket, Ont., of pneumonia, aged 53.
‘If at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do,” Roger Ebert wrote in Life Itself.
Debbie’s life met this modest criterion well. In 2008, her compassionate nature bubbled up while watching a World Vision TV program asking for sponsors for children in Africa. She called the number and was told she’d be sponsoring a young girl in Mauritania.
Debbie was happy with the exchange of letters, which told her she was not only making a difference, but bringing some happiness as well. However, in 2009 she sadly had to accept the fact that sponsoring Haby Fall Baldana while living on a disability pension in a group home herself was not sustainable.
Debbie found some happiness with friends and her great love of music.
She was a shy, beautiful teenager who had difficulty accepting a compliment without giggling nervously.
After six years studying jazz and ballet with the Audrey Meredith School of Dance, she won first prize for a character jazz routine in the Mississauga Talent Show. Onstage, she was in her own happy world performing for numerous charities and benefit programs.
The chance of studying dance at university lost out to the lure of paid work. Was this a wrong turn in the road taken? Some thought so, given her impressive potential in dance.
When Debbie was 23, the frightening and deeply disturbing thoughts of paranoid schizophrenia engulfed her, presaging what was to be a tortured life. She was certain that poison gas was seeping through the vents into the room she was renting. Covering them was, in her mind, an attempt at gaining a semblance of control.
Her first hospital stays were short due to her strong resistance to taking medication. Later, she stayed longer – two to five months on average. In 2003, new medications yielded improvement with fewer debilitating side effects.
Osteoporosis also wreaked havoc with Debbie. She had two hip replacements and a fractured arm that healed disjointedly. In February, 2012, the poison from pneumonia travelled through her bloodstream to that elbow and amputation was narrowly averted. She also needed a rod inserted in a badly healed broken leg.
In her group home, Debbie listened to music constantly, drank coffee and smoked outside with other resident friends. In a concerted attempt to provide meaning, she left résumés at each place she went. Even though she was using a walker, she was determined to find a job.
Debbie was diagnosed with breast cancer in August, 2011. On Dec. 19, 2012, she was rushed to hospital with pneumonia and placed on a ventilator. She passed away on Dec. 25.
Through 30 years of mental and physical illnesses, Debbie successfully fought what could have been an easy slide into self-pity. Her Canadian Mental Health counsellor, Gwen Casey, said: “Debbie was very courageous. What stood out for me was that Debbie was determined to be her own person despite her illness.”
Peter Locke is Debbie’s father.