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Lives Lived

Sarah Catherine (Sadie) Gillis Add to ...

On a stormy January day in 1921, a telegram was sent to a young man in Sydney Mines, Cape Breton: "Come immediately; Bring doctor." Neil R. MacNeil's wife, Sarah Catherine MacNeil, was visiting her parents and went into premature labour - she wasn't due until April.

Neil R. travelled with the doctor by train and sled through the storm to a grim situation - an ill wife and a two-pound baby. The doctor said there was no hope of survival for the baby, but he should have asked Sadie MacNeil.

Mom and baby survived and Sadie thrived, growing to be a bright and beautiful child and later a compassionate, intelligent young woman with a wicked sense of humour, an immense capacity to love and the ability to find the good in everything and everyone.

Sadie's disposition naturally led her to nursing and she graduated from St. Joseph's School of Nursing in Glace Bay, N.S., in 1944 as one of the top students in the province. Her relationships with her classmates were filled with laughter, camaraderie and sharing - to the very end.

In 1950, Sadie married Lawrence Gillis. She loved being a mother to their six children, Michael, Cathy, Gerard, Sharon, Neil and Christopher. She provided countless creative opportunities, making homemade play dough and finger paints, constructing animals out of bread dough, encouraging their studies and always ensuring they had good books despite limited resources. She also modelled the responsibility of caring for others. Regardless of the reason, if someone arrived at the door and Sadie thought they looked hungry, she brought them in and made sure they had a meal.

Sadie was always a nurse and everyone benefited from her talents - patients, family, friends, relatives of friends, neighbours, neighbourhood children and even the occasional pet. Whenever possible she responded to requests to care for the dying, helping them "move on" and the living "go on." A friend described being welcomed with tea and fresh-baked biscuits (Sadie was renowned for their quality) at 5 a.m. after his mother had died. When Sadie left them a few hours earlier to their final goodbyes, she told him to come, regardless of the time, and she was ready - that was her humanity.

Sadie was extremely proud of her Scottish heritage and her first language, Gaelic. Perhaps that was why she was so insistent about being born on Robbie Burns day. She loved to use her Gaelic, and was still quoting Gaelic poetry on her 89th birthday.

In February, when heaven exclaimed, " Ciad mile failte" (a hundred thousand welcomes) to Sadie, we on Earth sent, " Ae fareweel."

Cathy MacDonald is Sadie's daughter.

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