A Perspective on Death at The Mustard Seed

By Bill Nixon

A guest of The Mustard Seed passed away last week.

This happens enough, but we will literally never get used to it, nor should we. However, death at TMS is a part of what we do each and every day. People we care about, and care for will die.

I was standing outside the building as the ambulance and coroner showed up, and listened to the speculation as to what had taken place. One police officer I spoke with said someone likely died of an overdose. Even I who have spent a fair portion of my life countering this kind of stereotypical statement remember thinking that it was a possibility anyway.

But that’s not what happened. The young man who passed away had been seriously ill, had been for some time, and the illness finally ended his life.

A tragedy.

He died in a home rather than the street

But death at The Mustard Seed is always more complicated than that. While I have little or no history as to this individual’s life, in fact until the day this took place, I didn’t know his name. However, I do know this… the person who died lived in a building with a program where everyone knew his name. That he died inside, off the street, and in that sense he did not die alone, but amongst friends and adopted family.

The fishing trip: the last time in nature

Later in the day, I spoke to a staff member who had organized a fishing trip a few months before. The idea was to take people fishing who had never gone fishing, fishing. Cabela’s generously brought fishing gear down and off they went. This person who died was one of the people who participated.

He was already so ill that the staff described him as being unable to sit on a picnic table bench, so the staff allowed him to use a lawn chair. In speaking to the staff, they described it this way:

It’s like the guest knew that he had little time left, and he just kind of took in the outdoors with an awareness, like he knew that is would be the last time he would get to do something like this.”

When truth brings comfort

I’m always amazed how much comfort that these kinds of truths bring to the family when they are contacted.

I remember the death of another guest some 12 years ago. She had been in our housing program, left the building one night and was found murdered in a park nearby.

Everyone was so devastated.

I can recall contacting the family in Edmonton, who were even more grieved as they had been unaware their daughter was alive, thinking she had been killed at the Pickton farms, only to find out she had been in Calgary for the last five years.

I remember the Memorial Service attended by the family, TMS staff and a large group of people right off the street. I remember how much comfort it was to this grieving family when person after person described how much they cared for their daughter.

Comfort in knowing they died loved and cared for

I remember seeing the burden of lost years lifted off the family as they came to realize that their daughter died, loved and cared for.

Death is our enemy at The Mustard Seed; it cuts short our opportunity as staff to help people move forward in their lives to pursue hope. But even in death, I am reminded of the awesome work we get to do, ensuring that no one’s life is a file number or an incident report.

Every person that comes here is important… even in death at The Mustard Seed.