It's not easy carrying on the legacy of Ed Spence, a man who spent much of his life giving to others. And on Dec. 11, the one-year anniversary of his death, it's difficult for his widow and daughter to talk about the loss of a man who helped so many people - in his community and beyond.
A year later, Ed's wife and daughter are still learning how to cope with his loss. They stay busy, but it's been tough. Joanne wears Ed's cross around her neck every day, and the two are trying to carry on his legacy of giving. That's what he would have wanted.
But filling Ed's shoes is no easy task.
"Christmas was his season. We call it his season because of his giving and wanting to provide," says his widow Joanne.
Ed's annual giving ritual started about 16 or 17 years ago. He began collecting cans from his workplace at the Liquor Distribution Branch headquarters, and he used the money from the refunds to help charities and families in need at Christmas. The first year he raised roughly $40, but when word spread to friends and coworkers and his community, more people started bringing him refundable cans to help with the cause.
"People would just drive by and throw their cans on the lawn," says Joanne, seated with her 20-year-old daughter Angela at a Lougheed Starbucks.
Ed could fundraise anywhere from $7,000 to $10,000 a year, and he would feed up to 57 families.
"He wasn't happy unless he was giving or doing something for someone," Joanne says.
One day, after Ed just returned some bottles to the depot, he saw a woman pushing a baby stroller bringing a bag of returnables back. Ed stopped her and gave her $100 in exchange for her bag of bottles.
"She said she didn't know where she was going to find money to buy diapers," Joanne says. "He did that twice for her, then he delivered groceries for her that year. She called him her angel."
Ed was active in his church community, and if there was an event there for youth, he would help out with food. If there were people in line at the grocery store who had to put things back because they couldn't afford to pay for them, Ed would tell the cashier to put them on his bill without thinking twice. He was that kind of man.
"His pastor said if there were a modern day Jesus walking this land, it would be Ed," Joanne says.
Ed used to buy turkeys for the annual Christmas meal for the pregnancy outreach program at Burnaby Family Life, filling the bellies of new mothers and moms-to-be.
"It was more than just turkeys, it was stuffing, potatoes and yams, the whole works," said Lisa Lothian, coordinator of the program. "He was extremely generous. . He always remembered us."
Ed also helped the Vancouver and Lower Mainland Multicultural Family Support Services, a group that supports refugee and immigrant women and chil-dren who have experienced domestic violence.
Shashi Assanand, executive director of the Burnaby-based group, said Ed's help was wonderful, and his wife continued to help last year.
"It was the day of his funeral, and she brought what he was going to bring to us," says Assanand. "He contributed to every Christmas party for our clients. He contributed toys and food, and then what touched me most is he had put everything out, and his wife, in such dire circumstances, thought it was important to deliver it here."
Mercy Ministries was another favourite of Ed's. The non-profit group runs a residential home for young women struggling with drugs, alcohol, sexual abuse, eating disorders or self-harming behaviour. Ed donated regularly to Mercy Ministries and spread the word about the work they were doing.
For the first decade, Ed mostly helped others at Christmas, but he began giving all year round. He was friendly, people opened up to him, and he had a special skill for spotting need in others. He ran into people he knew wherever he went, and if he didn't, he would strike up a conversation and make friends. Ed seemed to have a soft spot for families - women and children in particular.
"He just thought there was a great need for women. He was always protective of his girls," Joanne says.
"He wanted to ease the pain of other families and other kids because he knew what it was about," Angela says.
When Ed was four, his father abandoned the family, leaving him alone with his mother and twin sisters, and Ed became the "man" of the house.
"Even at a really young age, he had to protect his sisters, and he had to protect his mom. He's always been the protector," Angela says.
Dec. 11, 2011, was a Saturday. Ed was preparing for his Christmas delivery to Burnaby Family Life. He had already bought the groceries, and the van was loaded and ready to go. Joanne had left for a hair appointment, and Angela was getting ready for work as a lifeguard. Ed went upstairs around 1 p.m. to have a shower, but he never took longer than five minutes, so when 20 had gone by, Angela knocked on the door, but there was no answer. She also noticed the shower didn't sound normal.
"It was just dripping from the faucet, the shower wasn't on," she says. "So I open the door, and I see my dad has collapsed in the tub."
He was too heavy to move, so Angela called 911, saying her dad was unconscious - she couldn't get him out of the shower and she couldn't find a regular pulse. The 911 operator sent someone immediately but told her to get him out of the shower and start CPR. She ran next door to get a neighbour to help, and they pulled her father out of the bathtub, but by then, Ed was in full cardiac arrest. Angela started CPR and got a pulse back, and the paramedics arrived and took over.
It was 1: 09 p.m., and Joanne was at the hairdresser, when she felt an overwhelming pain in her chest and a surge of blood at the back of her eyes. She was completely disoriented.
"My hairdresser said to me, 'Are you OK?'" she recalls. "It was really strange. I've never had feelings like that before."
Her cell phone was blinking; it was Angela, trying frantically to get a hold of her.
When Joanne arrived at the hospital emergency room, she was convinced Ed heard their voices.
"He tried to open his eyes, so he knew we were there," Joanne says. "All I could say is 'Honey, you've had a fall.'"
But it was more than that. Ed had suffered a heart attack brought on by an undetected condition, possibly passed on through the patrilineal side of his family. Even if he had known, there was nothing much he could have done about it apart from having a heart transplant. He had been in full cardiac arrest for too long and the inner wall of his heart had collapsed. The chances of him surviving were just too slim.
In the hospital, the first thing Joanne noticed was Ed's thin gold cross strung around his neck, a cross she had given him for Christmas. The chain had come unclasped, and when Joanne went to do it up, a nurse interrupted and said she would take care of it and make sure Joanne received the cross.
"To me, that was just a sign that he was going, he was unchained," Joanne says.
Ed passed away Sunday morning. He was 64.
"One day, you are having lunch, and an hour later you are gone," Joanne says.
A year later, Ed's wife and daughter are still learning how to cope with the loss. They stay busy, but it's been tough. Joanne wears Ed's cross every day, and the two are trying to carry on his legacy of giving.
That's what he would have want-ed. But filling Ed's shoes is no easy task. Many of the people he helped he knew through personal connections, which Angela and Joanne just don't have. But some of those people are now comforting Ed's surviving family.
"The support of the people who knew him has so uplifted us, given us emotional support," Joanne says.
One of Ed's coworkers, has taken on the can collection, and the women use the money to donate at Christmas.
A family foundation in Ed's name donated money for an external counselling office at Mercy Ministries, and there's now a gazebo being built in his memory.
Joanne's not looking for donations, but if readers feel inspired to help, she suggests giving to the local food bank.
"The message is passing it on," she says.
If you know a family that needs help, reach out.
"We're so missing his touch, and he would never say it's about me, it was about passing it forward," Joanne says. "So really, this was a perfect day for this in remembrance of Ed."
Jennifer Moreau is a reporter with the Burnaby NOW. Follow her online at www.twitter.com/jennifermoreau and see www.burnabynow.com for her blog.