British Columbia

Margaret Shea died from COVID-19. This is why her family wants you to know her story

Margaret Shea’s laugh was so boisterous and unique that you can almost hear it rising from the family photos sprawled across the kitchen table in her daughter’s home on Bowen Island.

Shea, 82, contracted the virus at Lynn Valley Care Centre, the site of one of the worst outbreaks in B.C.

Margaret Shea died on April 2 after contracting COVID-19 at Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, B.C. (Michael Shea)

Margaret Shea's laugh was so boisterous and unique that you can almost hear it rising from the family photos spread across the kitchen table in her daughter's home on Bowen Island just off Vancouver's North Shore.

It's the first thing Karen Shea mentions when she's asked to describe her mother.

"You'd always notice her laugh," she said. "You'd hear it in a room full of people and go, That's my mom."

Karen's brother Michael, also immediately brings up his mom's trademark laugh when he's asked about her.

"It sort of sounded like a waterfall," he said. "It just cascaded."

Margaret Shea's son Michael says his mother had a laugh that sounded 'like a waterfall.' (Michael Shea)

Margaret Shea, 82, had dementia, which led her family to move her into Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver where they say she received excellent care. The facility, however, became the site of one the biggest COVID-19 outbreaks in early March.

Shea died on April 2, shortly after contracting the virus. 

Her family hopes that sharing her story makes others think of real people — seniors who are isolated from their families during the pandemic — instead of numbers when statistics are released on COVID-19 cases and deaths.

It also gives them a chance to talk about all the things they loved about Margaret Shea, from her stylish glasses to how she'd wipe the floor with any man who dared to step on a golf course with her, at a time when physical distancing makes a celebration of life ceremony impossible.

Margaret Shea grew up in Edmonton, where she excelled in sports and won several awards in speed skating. (Michael Shea)

Last days

When Michael Shea got word in March that his mother was sick, he wasn't sure if he'd be allowed to visit her or if travel restrictions would prevent him from returning to Toronto, so he decided not to catch a flight to Vancouver.

With his other brother in Montreal and Karen getting over a cold, the family could only connect with Margaret Shea through video chats.

"There were people regularly visiting my mom before the outbreak," Michael said. "The sense of isolation was really felt by us and by her."

Karen Shea says her mother recognized her when she was finally allowed to visit in protective gear, two days before her death, but by then she was incredibly sick.

"That just makes me so sad to think about her last month and how she wondered where we were," she said. "In her state of mind, she didn't understand."

Margaret Shea's husband, Bill, introduced her to golf and, before long, she was beating most of his friends. (Michael Shea)

Love for the links

Margaret Shea grew up in Edmonton, where she excelled in sports and moved to Vancouver in her early twenties and met her husband, Bill.

They had three children, who often joke that their mother loved them almost as much as she loved golf.

"We were kind of golf orphans," Karen said, laughing.

"Every Thanksgiving weekend we wouldn't be having turkey, we'd be having pizza because my parents would be in a golf tournament." 

Michael says his mother won a medal in golf at the B.C. Summer Games and became the first woman to get a hole-in-one at Beach Grove Golf Club in Tsawwassen.

"She ended up being a much better golfer than my father and most of the men that she golfed with," he said.

"For men back then, that was a little hard for them."

After separating from her husband, Margaret Shea began a successful career at the Workers' Compensation Board. (Michael Shea)

New beginnings

When Margaret and Bill separated after the kids graduated high school, she built a successful career with the Workers Compensation Board, now WorkSafeBC, ultimately becoming an adjudicator.

"She had a great life there," Karen said.

"She's a great role model for me because I feel like I have a career ahead of me as my kids become more independent."

Margaret Shea retired in Sechelt, where she volunteered for several organizations and continued to be the life of the party at family gatherings.

There were all those unique things about her — the big smile, dry sense of humour and love of practical jokes — that her family wants to talk about.

They say it's what she had in common with many other seniors in long-term care, however, that should spark a larger discussion: Being isolated from loved ones in their time of greatest need.

"I hope that if anything good comes out of all this, we rethink how we care for our seniors and if a pandemic does happen again, that we're better prepared for it," said Michael Shea.

"That would be one way to honour, not only my mom's life, but everyone who has been impacted by this."

CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email impact@cbc.ca.

We want to know more about the British Columbians who have died of COVID-19.
If you've lost someone and want to share your memories of them please email Earlyed@cbc.ca.

About the Author

Jesse Johnston worked in private radio from 2004 to 2014 in Vancouver, Red Deer and Calgary. He spent the next five years based out of Surrey (his hometown) as CBC's South of the Fraser reporter until he joined the Impact Team in 2019. Jesse is a two-time recipient of the RTDNA Dave Rogers Award for Best Short Radio Feature. He loves radio, running and dogs. He also loves the Detroit Lions, but if you follow him on Twitter, you already knew that. @Jesse_Johnston

With files from Paisley Woodward

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