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For the Love of Jan

While grieving the loss of a wonderful wife, mother and grandmother, the Paris family thanks Hospice Peterborough for helping them cope and initiates fundraiser in honour of Jan Paris, pledging to match donations

Bill Paris has more than 50 years of wonderful memories that he made with his late wife Jan.

He recalls meeting her when they both attended Crestwood Secondary School, marrying a few years later and, as a younger man, coming home from an excruciatingly long day at work at Paris Marine and finding Jan sitting on the couch with their newborn twins Julie and Deborah – one in each of her arms nursing a bottle – while she rocked their two-year-old Tracey with her foot.

Jan and Bill Paris

“She was a great mom and a wonderful person – very giving, very kind,” Bill says. “We had a wonderful life together.”

With their three children, Bill and Jan built many memories together boating on Clear and Stoney lakes, winter skiing in British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec and enjoying time together as a family, even if it was only playing a game of cards.

Later in life, Jan was a healthy and vibrant woman at age 73 who enjoyed volunteering, painting, taking trips with her husband to their second home in Florida and spending as much time as she could with her beloved grandchildren Avery, Ethan and Kensington. After getting an all-clear from a physical in July 2019, Jan began feeling tired more often by November and had to start putting on a jacket even when it was hot outside. She also started feeling tired in the afternoons and wanted to go to bed earlier in the evenings.

By mid-December, a bone-marrow biopsy at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto confirmed she had Acute Myeloid Leukemia and Bill explains that the chances of having this disease at her age is less than 17 in 100,000.

In typical fashion, Jan didn’t complain. She remained tough, positive and loving until her final days, which she spent at home surrounded by family.

Through their journey, the Paris family has come to realize the importance of Hospice Peterborough and the many services it offers from when a loved one is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness to when it’s time to grieve.

“I don’t know how we would’ve gotten through this without Hospice Peterborough,” Bill says. “It’s the kind of organization that you don’t know much about until the time comes that you need them.”

In memory of his wife, he is initiating the ‘For the Love of Jan’ fundraiser for Hospice Peterborough – asking others to join the monthly giving program and pledging to match all donations up to $10,000.

The fundraiser will direct all donations to programs that support children and teens – an area for which Hospice Peterborough receives no government funding.

The groups support youth in our community who have experienced the death of someone close to them and – often through arts-based activities – help them manage their feelings and behaviours. Even through the pandemic, Hospice continues to offer these services virtually either one-on-one or in small groups.

Hospice Peterborough executive director Hajni Hős thanks the Paris family for sharing their deeply personal story and for giving back to the community in memory of a loved one.

“It is fitting to direct these funds to children and teen groups in honour of a cherished mother and grandmother who devoted herself to her family,” Hős says. “When children in our community can better manage their grief, we all win.”

The Paris family is well-known in Peterborough as they own Paris Marine, a family-owned third-generation boating centre in Lakefield that was started by Bill’s father Jack in 1947.

Bill grew up in this area and recalls meeting Jan when they were both 18; she was his first serious girlfriend.

After high school, Jan became a registered nurse, eventually working in the surgical unit at the former St. Joseph’s Hospital, and Bill went to work for his father. They married in 1970 and welcomed Tracey in 1974.

Afterward, their doctor told them they likely wouldn’t be able to conceive again; they welcomed their twins in 1976.

Jan Paris and daughter Kensington

Life was good for the young family who lived in Young’s Point as Bill worked at the busy and growing boating centre and Jan joined him in 1980 by working in bookkeeping.

They were also busy supporting the community as Jan and Bill were volunteers with Festival of Trees and both involved with local Rotary and Kinsmen clubs. They both also volunteered at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Peterborough, each being a mentor for a local child in need.

But, as always, their first priority was family.

When their daughters went off to university, it was bittersweet.

“We had always devoted so much time together as a family but now it was a chance to do more things together,” Bill says. “We were very much in love.”

They travelled to different countries including honeymooning in Barbados and visiting Japan, the Caribbean, the Virgin Islands, England and the United States, eventually buying a second home in Florida.

“We just loved being together,” Bill says. “We were inseparable.”

The couple was in Florida when Jan started feeling unwell and after flying back to Canada and getting the diagnosis, doctors told Jan she may have only a few months to live.

“They asked Jan what she wanted to do and she said: ‘I want to go home,’” Bill explains.

At home on her beloved Stoney Lake, Jan spent time with her family and, although she was weak, never lost her quick mind and was still able to socialize and play cards with her daughters who came to be by her side.

“Jan never mentioned the disease and didn’t cry and didn’t talk about it,” Bill says. “She was focused on her family.”

During this time, Hospice Peterborough was invaluable, he says, as staff helped connect Bill and Jan with supports and healthcare workers including nurses who could provide care at home. Bill adds it was reassuring to know that, if needed, Jan could’ve opted to stay in the homey and comforting Hospice end-of-life residence instead of in a hospital.

“But we were lucky that she was able to come home,” he says.

When the family was reeling from grief, Bill recalls getting a letter from Hospice Peterborough offering grief recovery groups but felt so raw at the time that he threw the letter in the garbage.

The Paris Family

He says he’s glad he eventually did call and was connected to support groups, which were offered over Zoom because of the pandemic.

Over the course of 10 sessions, Bill says he found it cathartic to hear other people’s stories and to learn more about how the brain behaves during grief and how certain things, such as a song or photograph, can be an emotional trigger.

“I couldn’t listen to music for a very long time,” he says. “But I’ve learned how to counteract those emotions.”

The groups also offered suggestions of how to say goodbye to a loved one, even sometimes writing a letter. “Thanks to these sessions, I’m in a much better place now,” Bill says.

He encourages everyone to donate to this fundraiser and is looking forward to matching donations, knowing the money will help others who, right now, may not know they too may eventually need these kinds of life-changing services.

It simply makes sense, he says, for Jan’s memory to inspire a fundraiser for an organization that helps so many people in our community learn how to cope through loss.

“Jan was always smiling, always laughing, always helpful,” Bill says. “She was the most positive person I knew.”

If you would like to donate to Hospice Peterborough through the ‘For the Love of Jan’ fundraising drive, please click here to find out more information. The Paris family will match all donations made before Feb. 28 up to $10,000.