More than 120 guests took part in the second annual Plates and Glasses fundraiser at the Fort Langley Community Hall Saturday night. (Adrienne Thompson photo)

PHOTOS: Grieving Langley widower, with teen boy, shares a story of angels

Walnut Grove’s Rick Rozdeba’s hospice story evoked tears and brought the crowd to its feet.

There were few in the crowd – including Rick Rozdeba, himself – who weren’t choked up with tears by the time he finished sharing his story at Saturday night’s Langley Hospice Society fundraiser.

The Walnut Grove man is a grieving widower with a teenage son. He lost his partner, Lauren, to cancer in September 2015.

“I’ve struggled a lot in my life trying to hide my emotions – with little to no success I might add. I grew up in a time where ‘big boys don’t cry,’ and I’m definitely a big boy,” the six-foot-plus tall man said from the stage at the second annual Plates and Glasses evening.

“But I do cry,” he confessed.

“I can’t even imagine how to quantify how much I’ve cried through all of this… But I do know there are more tears to shed… The funny part is, I find myself with tears of gratitude more often… That might sound really strange but it is true. It isn’t all pain anymore. Langley hospice provided me with a safe place to let all my emotions out.”

It was his personal account of watching his partner slip away, and the grief that overcame himself and his 15-year-old son Kyro, that filled the room with muffled sniffles.

“In a time when it seemed like everything was upside down in my world, the Langley Hospice Society and their staff were there to help me,” Rozdeba elaborated.

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His “very personal” story was met with some tears from complete strangers. But he was also met with a standing ovation.

So it seemed, his story resonated with the room, explained hospice fundraiser Shannon Todd Booth.

It was his story, and a few other personal impact statements, that also helped drive home the necessity for all the end-of-life care and family outreach and support services offered by the local hospice, elaborated Todd Booth.

With diverse but limited funding sources, the Langley hospice has to fundraise annually to be able to continue to offer “this type of quality, client-centred programming and to ensure these offerings remain free of charge for the children, teens, adults and families who need them,” she added.

Todd Booth was elated to announce that this year’s Plates and Glasses helped significantly towards that goal, raising in excess of $25,000.

She expressed gratitude to Rozdeba for sharing his stories Saturday, but also extended appreciation to the other 120 or so guests in attendance at the fundraiser, the team of volunteers who pulled off the event, and all the staff and volunteers who not only keep the organization operating but walk alongside Langley residents as they journey through their grief.

In delivering his personal story of loss and pain, and explaining how he came out the other side as a single parent, Rozdeba shared a bit about what Langley hospice meant to him.

“It is kind of a blur from when we received the phone call. ‘You have cancer…’ I’ll never forget how calm and collected she was.… Like someone called to say they couldn’t make it for a coffee date. That call triggered what would turn out to be what seemed like the longest and shortest summer of my life. Time seemed to stand still yet it was flying by. We really believed that she would be a success story and beat this animal. Obviously, it didn’t go the way we had hoped.”

Up until this point in his life, the only thing Rozdeba knew about hospice was they ran a little thrift store in his neighbourhood – a shop, it just so happens, that Lauren loved to frequent.

“So here I am walking out of the hospital in the middle of the night, without my partner and I had absolutely no idea what to do. I couldn’t believe what was happening,” Rozdeba said.

“After we said our goodbyes to Lauren, I knew I needed to lean on everyone that I could… I was exhausted and really had a hard time caring about anything really. I not only needed to take care of myself, but Kyro as well, he had just gone through the same nightmare as I had. And he was only 15. I needed to be there for him.”

Although Dad wishes he’d reached out earlier, he did connect with hospice soon after Lauren’s death, and both he and Kyro participated in age-appropriate bereavement program that gave them some of the tools needed to mourn and start moving on.

“Because of that, I now believe in angels,” Rozdeba said, encouraging others in the historic hall to recognize the good work of Langley hospice and to keep giving.

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