A Life of Abundance
When David Klassen reached the end of his life at age 91, he had lived a life of abundance. His family is grateful for the opportunity that David had to share a home with friends, a home managed by Communitas Supportive Care Society. He received such good care, that his siblings often joked that the wanted to join him.
“We wish we could move in,” said his brother Ted back in 2015 when we first did a story about David. “The staff here are so amazing.”
His sister Annie agrees. David came to Communitas in 1984 and in all those years, Annie says she never met a staff person she didn’t like.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better life for him,” she says. “We were so happy that he was here.”
Before David came to Communitas, he had lived in various institutions in BC. He was born into a large family – 10 siblings – and because he lived with autism, the family doctor had urged his parents to put him into an institution. David lived at Woodlands in New Westminster and Tranquille in Kamloops. At the time, it was considered the best care for anyone living with developmental disabilities. Annie remembers visiting him with her mother.
“It wasn’t great,” she says. “I mean, they were fed and dressed but it was warehouse living. There is no comparison to his life at Communitas.”
Communitas (then called MCC Supportive Care Society) was one of several organizations to take in people during the 1980s and 1990s when the provincial government began a multi-year process called “deinstitutionalization”. Several large institutions closed and people were returned to their home communities to live in smaller, more personal group homes. The process was a result of a change in philosophy of care for people with developmental disabilities; a shift from custodial care and confinement to personal care and a belief that people with disabilities deserve to be treated with love and dignity.
At Communitas, David blossomed. Although he didn’t speak much, he understood all that was going on around him. In the home he shared with 5 others, he had his own room and was able to explore his interests. He had a fascination with trains and his room was filled with photos and books about them. He loved music and particularly marching bands, which often moved him to conduct along, keeping perfect time with the music. Staff say he had a wonderful sense of humour and an infectious laugh. David appreciated a good meal and Shepherd’s Pie was a favourite. He loved going out for coffee with friends. Annie says the family was always invited to celebrate special occasions.
“I remember how much we loved the annual Christmas party and the summer BBQs,” she says.
Holly Mast recently became the manager at the home where David lived. She regrets that her time with David was so short. She came to appreciate that while he was a man of few words, he had his own mind and a big heart.
“When David wanted to go out, he would take your hand and bring you to the van. He was a man of few words, but his actions were loud and clear,” she says with a smile. “It was so obvious how much the team here loved Dave. They’ve given him so much joy and love over the years, providing him with a safe place where he could be himself.”
Towards the end of his life, David began to slow down. The pandemic made his world much smaller making it difficult to get out and travel or to receive visits from family. In this context, Annie says that his care became even better.
The staff were just so good to him. They just cared so much. – Annie, sister to David
At his last birthday, staff made it possible for David to visit with his brothers by creating space in the garage to allow for a socially-distanced visit. David’s brothers were able to bring him presents and a cake to share with everyone. Annie is sad that she was unable to visit with him then as his death was unexpected. Still, she is grateful that his final years were in the care of people who loved her brother.
The family is hoping to have a small memorial service at David’s home sometime in the summer. His ashes will be buried with his parents. The headstone will have a little image of a train and include the words “safe in his mother’s arms.”
“This was always mom’s wish,” Annie reflects, adding that if the family regrets anything it’s that their mother passed away before David came to Communitas. “She would have been ecstatic to know the care that David was getting.”
David passed away in March, 2021. He will be deeply missed.