How one of this Island man's last days was one of his best

The racetrack had always been a special place to Craig Crockett. His cousin says the last day they spent there together will be one he'll never forget.

After spending months in the hospital, Craig Crockett wanted to spend one last day at the racetrack

Craig Crockett and his cousins, Kendra Mellish and Willard Day, get ready to board the ambulance for their day out of the hospital. (Submitted by Kendra Mellish)

The racetrack had always been a special place to Craig Crockett.

Now his cousin, Willard Day, says the last day they spent there together will be one he'll never forget.

Crockett was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour last September and spent the last few months in palliative care at the Prince County Hospital in Summerside. 

Day said his cousin's illness progressed quickly, which meant he had few opportunities to leave the hospital.

He said the family wanted to arrange a day out for Crockett. When he told his cousin the news, he said Crockett wanted to go home to see his dog and his mother, eat a donair and pay a visit to his friends and co-workers at the Red Shores harness racing track in Summerside, where he had worked as a security guard.

"He was determined to do it," Day said. "When he put his mind to something, boy he did it."

'I have done a lot in my life. But that day will stay in my memory, stay alive in my memory,' says Crockett's cousin, Willard Day. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Crockett's family worked with Hospice P.E.I., Island EMS and staff at the hospital to organize a day out on April 5, calling in a specialized ambulance to take him, Day and their other cousin, Kendra Mellish, to the track.

As the ambulance made its way toward the track, people lined the parking lot waving and greeting them as they waited for Crockett to arrive.

"All the staff that he worked with were there, I think there were about 20 staff," Day said. "He felt very special that all the staff were there, Kendra and I just stood there and watched this amazing group of people, who were actually saying farewell to their work colleague."

'Totally unexpected'

Track manager John Arsenault, one of the co-workers there to greet Crockett that day, said Crockett had a lasting impact on the people who worked there, winning many over with his sense of humour and dependable nature.

"We all took turns going into the back of the ambulance to chat with Craig and we laughed and said goodbye," Arsenault said. "It was a very emotional day. We were just so touched by the fact that he wanted to come down to have a few minutes with us and say his goodbyes."

Craig Crockett's family wanted to organize a day for him to do whatever he wanted. High on that list was a visit to see his dog. (Submitted by Willard Day)

As Crockett chatted with his co-workers, staff brought him a burger and the head of security walked up to him and asked him what he thought about taking a lap around the track in the ambulance, Arsenault said. 

"Craig thought that was a pretty neat idea. So we did that, a lap around the racetrack with Craig, so we thought that was a nice sendoff," he said.

Day said as they made their way around the track, Crockett looked out of the windows to see his colleagues lining the railings, cheering him as they passed. In that moment it became clear just how special he was to everyone there, he said.

Crockett's co-workers took turns going into the ambulance to chat with him, share a few laughs and say their goodbyes. (Submitted by Kendra Mellish)

"That was totally unexpected," Day said. "The staff were on each side of the track so that when we came out onto the track in this ambulance and went around to a guard of honour for Craig."

"For Craig, it was like going home. He loved working there. He had this smile that just stayed the whole time. He was almost like the king, you know, in his wheelchair. He actually was really touched when he saw all the staff on each side of the ambulance as we drove past."

'That day will stay in my memory'

Just over a week later, Crockett died in the hospital with his mother, Eleanor, by his side. 

His family held a celebration of life and Day said several people who were at the racetrack that day, along with volunteers from Hospice P.E.I., were there to share their memories of Crockett with his family.

Day said he and his entire family are grateful to all the nurses, hospice volunteers and paramedics who came together to make that special day at the racetrack possible.

Staff lined the track to create an honour guard. (Submitted by Kendra Mellish)

"I think our Island community is pretty special," Day said. "It's so great to see that sense of Islanders coming together. Island EMS, they went beyond the call of duty to help support Craig and his wish to get out for the day."

Rachel Little, a paramedic with Island EMS, drove the ambulance that day. She said beyond the excitement of doing laps around the racetrack, watching the happiness it brought Crockett and his cousins will make this day one she won't forget.

Crockett's friends cheered him on as the ambulance raced around the track. (Submitted by Kendra Mellish)

"Craig had gone through some really rough times leading up to this," Little said. "It felt really good to be a part of giving him a really special day a lot of really special memories to hold on to, for both him and his friends and family." 

Day said looking back on that day at the racetrack, he's inspired by his cousin's determination to live every moment to the fullest. 

"I have done a lot in my life," Day said. "But that day will stay in my memory, stay alive in my memory."

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