Even before Marion Rattray was born, her life was shaped by the terrible grief of parents who had lost a child. After delivering a stillborn daughter, Rattray’s mother was not able to see or hold her first child, or grieve the baby’s death. Seeing the lifelong effect that loss had on her mother led to Rattray becoming a pediatric nurse and one of Canada’s pioneering nurse specialists in pediatric palliative care.
Rattray was adopted in 1947 when she was three days old. She grew up knowing the story of Baby Joan, that first child. “My mother suffered the loss her entire life because it wasn’t managed properly,” says Rattray. “From watching her and living with her in her pain…I had empathy and compassion towards parents that were losing a child.”
She graduated from the Sherbrooke Hospital’s school of nursing in 1968. After five years at Sherbrooke Hospital, Rattray was hired as a general staff nurse at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) in Ottawa.
Rattray spent the first 19 of her 41 years at CHEO working on the adolescent ward. At the time, young people with life-limiting illnesses such as cystic fibrosis were treated on the same ward as other patients their age, whose conditions might range from broken legs to anorexia nervosa. There were no pediatric palliative care specialists; nurses were expected to take on a mix of patients.
Initially, Rattray was nervous about being assigned to dying children. “Parents watch every move you make when they are around a dying child’s bedside — so there’s a nervousness that comes with being watched and with their thousands of questions,” she says.
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