Terry Mactaggart: A Life of Gathering Stories

On August 9th, members of the community gathered in the oasis at Mori Gardens to celebrate the retirement of Terry Mactaggart. With 30 years of dedicated service, Terry has helped local residents as the Visiting Volunteer Coordinator for the Niagara-on-the-Lake Community Palliative Care service.

“Palliative care makes Niagara-on-the-Lake a very good place to live, and to die, and Terry’s had a lot to do with that,” says Joyce Loewen, long-time board member with NOTL CPC, and Terry’s mentor.

The Community Palliative Care service is a tremendous resource for the seriously ill and their caregivers and families, though it can be a challenge for people to take advantage of what the service has to offer. Why are people so reluctant to even have the conversation about end-of-life care?

“Because our society doesn’t want to talk about death. We are a death-denying society,” says Loewen.

The NOTL CPC has grown over the last thirty years, thanks to Terry Mactaggart, who moved from a career in teaching to palliative care after the death of a close friend in 1983. Terry made the trip to Connecticut to say goodbye and met two hospice workers assigned to her friend’s care. Moved by their gentle compassion, Terry was curious about whether there was a similar service in the Niagara Region.

She started her work in hospice care in Niagara Falls in 1985 as part of the hospital’s visiting volunteer program. In 1986 she began to serve her own community. After about a year, she was asked to take over the program half time, and she made the transition to working for the organization, while still spending the balance donating her time for twenty two years.

The experience of palliative and hospice care is a stark contrast from the clinical, antiseptic hospital environment many people fear when they hear these terms. It is warm, and human and this is what Terry will miss the most.

She tells her hospice team, “Show your emotions. People want to know that you’re feeling, and that you care. “

Volunteers are the backbone of the CPC service. They not only offer comfort and companionship to clients, but they also offer support to caregivers and families by lending an ear, or offering a much-needed break.

“It takes a calm, compassionate person,” says volunteer Nellie Visser. “But if this is something that appeals to you, you’ll be okay if you bring your own unique skills to each visit.”

Terry Mactaggart and her team are unanimous about what makes their experience most rewarding; collecting stories, learning personal histories, charting the map of a life lived with love, and heartbreak, and triumph.

It’s not about dying. Palliative care is about living out the rest of one’s days to the fullest.

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