Above: Former Deer Lodge Centre resident Dorothy Kirkwood helped foundation board member Belinda Bigold discover the power of Making Lives Better.
By Belinda Bigold
I grew up on nearby Linwood Street, a nd continue to live on the same street today, so Deer Lodge Centre has been ever-present in my life. My siblings and my daughter (who all attended Linwood Elementary School) would sing at Remembrance Day services and per-form for the residents during holidays. My neighbours worked in the Centre, as did their children. And at High Tea Bakery, it became our tradition to make extra cookies every Christmas, which a neighbour would then deliver to the residents, room by room—especially to those who had no families of their own.
That’s how I was introduced to Deer Lodge, but it’s not the reason I remain involved today. I can sum that up in one word: Dorothy.
Dorothy Kirkwood was a Deer Lodge resident for the past 6 years. She was also one of my most beloved customers. Dorothy was everyone’s favourite feisty Scottish grandma. During our lengthy renovation, she loved to heckle my builders. If you can picture an elderly wheelchair-bound woman facing down an imposing construction worker with neck tattoos, that was Dorothy! (Side note: he was actually a super kind man.)
“Belinda doesn’t have all month you know. You’d better hurry up!”
Having poured a new wheelchair ramp one day, my builder told me Dorothy insisted on driving up and down the ramp, then in and out the door—just to make sure they’d done it correctly. She knew all my staff, and they loved her. When it came time to celebrate her 92nd birthday, my staff took it upon themselves to buy decorations and create a Happy Birthday table for her. To this day, she remains my only customer to have her own reserved sign. She was like family.
When her daughter Una wrote to tell me of Dorothy’s passing this past November, I was heartbroken. I sat at her funeral with another member of my staff, and the eulogy reduced me to tears. Written into Dorothy’s goodbyes were words of gratitude and love for both the bakery, and the incredible staff of Deer Lodge Centre. I was speechless.
Now, I realize that doesn’t sound like a lot—a simple thank-you in a eulogy. But stop and think about it for a moment. In my experience, genuine displays of thanks are pretty rare. When was the last time a customer dropped by your office with a letter of gratitude? Or bought you a thank-you gift? Even just a simple handwritten note is a thing of the past.
Now imagine the kind of impact you would need to have had on an individual, for their dying wish to be for you to be thanked in front of family and friends as they are laid to rest. Not because you were buddies for 20 years, but because the work you did every day had such a profound impact on their life.
As a bakery owner, I was both humbled and honoured. Dorothy’s thanks moved me so deeply that, even today, I have trouble putting my feelings into words. Then I thought about her caregivers. Dorothy’s words may have been a rare occurrence to me, a once in a lifetime honour. Yet this is what the staff of Deer Lodge Centre—the nurses, the doctors, the support staff and the managers—do in their jobs every day. I wondered if they understood how special they are, how rare this effect on people is.
Deer Lodge has a motto, Making Lives Better, and now I’m confident the words are true. We don’t all get the opportunity to make a difference through our jobs, so it brings me great pride to know that I can support those who do. I know how much care and compassion Dorothy received in her time at Deer Lodge Centre, and I know that the staff here will have the same lasting impact on your Dorothy, too.
So to all the staff of Deer Lodge Centre, thank you. You probably take for granted the impact you have on people, but you should know: you’re pretty darn special!
Belinda Bigold is a long-time resident of St. James and owner of High Tea Bakery. She sits on the board of the Deer Lodge Centre Foundation, as well as the organizing committee for Bella Notte, our annual fundraising dinner.