A heart for hospice
by Marion Van Driel
In November 2016, a plaque was unveiled at the Irene Thomas Hospice Residence (Ladner) to honour the woman who envisioned and was the driving force for the modern 10-bed facility and the additional Support Care Centre. “I’ve never asked for this at all; it’s not about me,” Nancy Macey says in her typically humble manner.
At the age of 10, Macey lost her six-year-old brother in a drowning accident, and at 20, lost her father to cancer when he was just 56. For years Macey didn’t understand why she had such passion for hospice work. “What I did not realize, was that maybe God was using these defining moments in my life of my pain and suffering to impact the direction my life would take,” she muses. It’s only in hindsight that she notices God’s direction throughout her purpose-driven journey. “The Bible clearly teaches us that God loves those who are His children and He ‘works all things together for good’ for us (Romans 8:28). Therefore, all trials and tribulations must have a Divine purpose.”
A long and winding road to faith
Macey was raised in a Christian home. In high school, she attended three years at an Anglican all-girls’ boarding school, with chapel twice a day and church on Sunday. Her husband Alan, came from a Catholic background. Still, years later, Macey didn’t really know what she believed. It wasn’t until their kids went to a Christian summer camp that she began attending church again and met friends whom she credits as instrumental to her faith journey. “It was not what they would say – it was what they didn’t say about their faith, knowing us as well as they did – but rather, it was how they lived their lives as Christians that created a curiosity for me,” she explains.
“My faith was not like turning on a switch… it has been a journey of questioning, learning, of introspection, of questioning the meaning of life, and learning to trust in God, to taking tiny steps in letting go and having faith that things will happen as they should, often not in my way, or my time.”
A UBC graduate with experience in rehab medicine, Macey made the decision to be a stay-at-home mom when their children were younger – raising her children was her ultimate calling and passion. As their children became more independent, she struggled with where she belonged, feeling like “an empty shell”. Then at the age of 46, she started the Delta Hospice Society, working out of a small office space as a volunteer. How God led her from those humble beginnings, she calls her ‘God Story’.
A ‘God Story’
Because of the losses she’d faced at a young age, Macey became interested in taking a hospice course, which helped her deal with her anxiety. “If you can face death and dying, there is no other anxiety,” she reasons. “It helped me face the worst there is.”
She set up the Delta Hospice Society, finding a few interested people who together began organizing other volunteers to support those who were dealing with end-of-life issues. When the Society’s board was ready to hire an executive director, Macey’s strength of purpose won her the role.
For years Macey lobbied the government – the Premier, health ministers, CEO’s of the Fraser Health Authority and anyone who would listen. With a dogged faith and persistence, she continued until in 2007 an agreement between the Delta Hospice Society and Fraser Health was signed. The agreement would allow the Society to build a 10-bed residence and support center, with impossible stipulations. The Society was responsible for the capital costs of the construction, which needed to be completed within 18 months. Macey wonders now if the agreement was a ploy “to get me off their back”. But she adds, “I was so awed by this opportunity that God blinded me to the impossibility of this happening. Through God’s grace, He did not give me a reality check.”
Macey’s questions revolved around tight timelines and finances: architectural drawings, whether both buildings should be constructed at once, equipping and furnishing the residence, staffing (in a nursing shortage), licensing requirements to run a medical facility, and of course how to come up with the $8.5 million price tag. Far from being dispirited, Macey was convinced that this impossible task was an opportunity provided by God’s hand.
Made strong in weakness
In addition to project challenges and during its development, Macey became very ill with pneumonia and infections, the result of a type of chronic Leukemia. She spent time in hospital undergoing surgeries and nine months of chemotherapy. The 18-month deadline only made her more determined to get up every day and accomplish the tasks at hand. “Persevering and not giving up for something that is right or good proves our faith. ‘I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me’ (Philippians 4:13). This was my mantra,” she recalls.
Macey calls this “the true miracle – that the project was built on time and under budget. The impossible was made possible. I believe it was God’s canvas and He was there the whole time – as doors closed, a window would open. It is so clear to me now that God is able to make extraordinary things happen – in His time and His way – not necessarily our time and our way.”
Macey continues to recognize God’s hand every day in the doors that open
Having personally struggled with lifelong anxiety, Macey concludes that gratitude is fundamental. “We live in a world where we’re so, so blessed. It’s easy to get down with all the challenges we face, but just to have a new day, good food to eat, a job…”
Gratitude is written all over her face.