All donations made on this page will directly support the Monica Dunbar Palliative Care Education Fund for Nurses at the QEII Foundation. The Dunbar family will be notified of your donation in memory of Monica. Thank you for your thoughtful gesture.
Monica Ann Dunbar (MacKenzie)
Duncans Cove, Nova Scotia
April 16, 1970 – April 27, 2023
How does one go about writing an obituary for someone like Monica who paradoxically was so kind, humble and understated, yet made such a meaningful and lasting impact on so many lives? Someone who was taken from us at their prime in such a random and seemingly meaningless way. Someone who was so gentle. The difficulty of this task is compounded by the raw emotion of writing of one’s friend and partner of near thirty years but is eased in the knowledge that she told me she trusted me to do so. Monica read the obituaries every day and most appreciated those that gave one a sense of the true nature and character of those who have left us. It is my hope that my efforts leave you with a better appreciation of the Monica that I knew well and loved so much.
Monica was born in Belle Cote, Cape Breton to her mother Dorothy (Leblanc) and late father, John-Archie MacKenzie. She was the youngest of five children, Gerard, Colleen, Charlotte (McNeil), and Glenn being her siblings. She loved her home by the sea and the natural beauty. Active in sports, Monica was recruited to play volleyball by Acadia University. She chose instead to heed her calling to help the sick and headed off to nursing school at the Victoria General Hospital in Halifax. She was proud to be a VG graduate and a bedside nurse. She worked in medical and surgical nursing, where we met during my surgical training. We were married 24 years ago this June, and we had Jon and Leif, the new focus of her life. Monica took time off to raise her family but remained active around them by volunteering in the school kitchen and coaching volleyball. She filled the house with dogs and cats as she felt their presence and energy important for us, which was an accurate assessment. Pets not only brought joy but also offered a vehicle for her to quietly teach us by example empathy and compassion for the vulnerable. Peak pets maxed out at three dogs and three cats who all cohabitated peacefully under Monica’s watch. We lovingly called her Saint Francis for her way with animals, as animals can spot the kind and gentle souls in the room. It was not rare in our house to come across a shoebox with some rescued animal convalescing within – we learned caution in opening boxes. After getting the children and house on solid footing, she recertified as a nurse then soon studied and obtained her specialist certification in palliative care nursing, allowing her to tend to the dying, something she proudly shared with her late father. She excelled at her job and was loved by staff, patients, and family. She was known for her comprehensive, compassionate, and holistic care and had the ability to bring comfort with her genuine smile, warm caring heart, and gentle hand. Monica was a natural empath and intrinsically knew how small, simple gestures could help a patient feel whole, loved, valued, and respected. Her experience as a palliative care nurse prepared her well for what was to come, and she used that knowledge to teach and prepare us. Through her illness she maintained her focus on her family and the well-being of others, selfless until the end.
Monica died from lung cancer, having been diagnosed only five months ago in December. We were both of the opinion that there is often too much mystery surrounding death and that there was utility and comfort with transparency around the battles we collectively confront. For example, how does a healthy, active, non-smoker get such an aggressive cancer? Should we not be talking about such things? The nature of her diagnosis added a sting of insult in addition to the burden of the magnitude of what she was facing. Despite this, Monica said to me she needed a day to be angry and then she would be ok. That is precisely what she did. “It is what it is” she would say and from there on she told me she wanted to go through the process with grace and dignity, that she felt lucky to have such a fulfilled life and that there were many worse off than her. She remained true to this mantra to the end, and in doing so she inspired us and gave us strength to get through the storm. The cancer was cruel and ended up being resistant to treatment, despite modern medicine’s best. We joked to each other that I thought someone on the other side must really want her as nothing worked. With each setback she became more determined not to be defeated and to maintain agency over the cancer. She lost her hair and became more beautiful. She lost her balance and became more graceful and considered as she moved. Her pain increased, and she became more focused. Through the process she became more determined yet more peaceful, and more enlightened. It was inspiring and humbling to watch. I took time off work and helped nurse her at home. I helped her control her pain, made her meals, and heled her into bed at night. In the end, I helped her bathe and helped her dress, and we shared the most tender moments. The disease process acted like a crucible in a furnace burning off all the extraneous layers and what was left was pureness of spirit. Monica showed me that even in the most extreme adversity, imminent death, there was still room for dignity and love. Of all the time we spent together, I shall cherish most those final acts of grace and humility and love we shared. It was the privilege of my life to be at her side for those most impactful and tender moments.
Monica had strong faith and felt that her time was done here and that she was being called home to help her father John-Archie guide others from above in the caring of the sick and the dying. She confided in me that if nothing happens when you die and it is just the end that she would also be ok, so there was really no sense worrying – sound logic. However, the vision she painted is so beautiful, and the pain of her loss so intense, that it is unbearable to consider anything other than the very best for her. If Monica was not an Angel, then the definition needs to be reconsidered.
As the end neared, her empathy guided her to tell us all individually what we needed to hear to let her go. She spent extra efforts on helping Jon and Leif of whom she was so proud of for their strong sense of empathy and kind, warm hearts of their own. She told us what the end stages might look like and not to be afraid as she was not afraid to die. So, well informed, we knew when the end was near and gathered around her as close family. I held her hand and felt her pulse fade and extinguish – at that moment the dogs started barking. It was peaceful and beautiful with the joyous undertones of a release from suffering and a reunion to come. That night we toasted Monica with champagne and fireworks.
Monica patiently taught me many lessons that have become crystalized now with her death that I think speak to the core of who she was and so have utility to share. They would include the following: Accept people for who they are, and don’t try to change them, especially your children. Instead, celebrate their idiosyncrasies and learn from their perspective, being sensitive to how others may see the world. Be humble and understated – listen more than talk. Love your friends and family unconditionally. Commune with nature and be mindful to the beauty within. Look out for others, especially the sick and vulnerable.
Monica taught us how to live and how to die with grace and dignity and dominion over our adversities. Monica died from lung cancer, but it never beat her, and she never ceded control. She left too soon, but “it is what it is”, and we must press on and honour her in our own ways. The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long and Monica’s heart did burn so bright.
I loved you Monica from the day I met you and our love transcends death. Thanks for having shared this part of the journey with me. See you on the other side, kiddo.
A big thank you to our Supporters
The real heroes who are kindly helping us achieve our goal
Laura & Mike Forsythe
MY THOUGHTS ARE WITH MIKE AND HIS CHILDREN
Kim Batershill, Debbie Beck, Brianna Dunn, Krista Gauthier, Leslie Ronahan, Adrienne Smith,
Sending our love and condolences
Division Of Cardiac Surgery
With our sympathy
My deepest condolences to all the family .
Belle Cote neighbour during childhood.
What and awesome way to always remember how special Monica was. Her memory will always be there.
She touched so many lives and lives on in all of them. ❤️
Mila & David Surrette
Mary Jessie Maclellan
Sincere sympathy to the Dunbar and MacKenzie family.
Mary (ella) White
Terri And Cyril Lefort
What a wonderful way for to honour Monica.
Vivian Mancini And Family
With deepest condolences.
Camille And Will Allanach
Mike, so sorry to hear of Monica's passing. Sincere condolences to you and your family.
I am so very sorry to hear about your better half, my condolences, of course. Kathy and I were happy to read your story about Monica, truly thoughtful in this time of mourning. I wish you and yours all of the best for the future. So sorry for your loss. Take care.
Michael Hillis And Barbara Ross
Deeply sad about your loss of such a wonderful and kind person
Dearest Mike, We were so touched by your words as you told as all of Monica's amazing spirit. We hope this donation will help keep her spirit alive in the training of Palliative Care nurses who embody her kindness and compassion for the sick and dying. We are here for you and we love you Mike:) Your classmates, Dalhousie Medicine '92
Carmen And John Clark
We were so sorry to hear of Monica's passing. Our condolences to Mike, children and family.
So sorry for such a deep loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and the boys.
With our sincere condolences.
Carol And Michael Grunsky
In loving memory of a truly beautiful soul.
To honour Monica's legacy.
Sincere condolences to you, Mike, your kids and to all of Monica's friends and families.
Physiotherapists (retired) In-patient Orthopaedics
Mike and family, We would all like to extend our sincere condolences to you and your family for the unimaginable loss of Monica. Your tribute to Monica was poignant and your words so thoughtfully described her far too brief but incredibly impactful life. To know Monica was to like her, to work with her was to respect her ability to touch the lives of her patients for the better. We four are of an age that we all worked with both you and Monica before you two even met. It was always a pleasure working with both of you through the years. It is our honour to contribute to the Palliative Care Educational Fund in her memory. Pat Redmond Jane Smith Van Horne Wendy Grant Jan Gerrow Sent from my iPad
Carol & Bruce Law
Dear Mike, my sincerest condolences for your loss. Thank you for the powerful, dignified thoughts you put down in Monica's memory. Wishing you and your sons comfort from knowing she'll continue to change lives through her legacy.
Beautiful Monica - Our Angel
To the entire family and loved ones, Please accept my, and my husband's, most sincere and deepest sympathy. I am so happy to contribute to the Palliative Care nursing Education Fund. God bless each and all.
Ann & Ross Mackay
We hope that all recipients of this fund will understand the lasting impact Monica had on her patients and in this world….no doubt she’ll guide them well……xo
Mike & Family, A beautiful tribute to a beautiful life well lived. May the happy memories bring you comfort at this difficult time. Deepest condolences to you and your family. Jeremy Wood & Lynn O'Callaghan
Monica was such an incredibly kind, caring and generous soul. This is a wonderful way to remember her and help others continue her legacy of compassionate care. With sincere condolences Mike to you and the boys.
Chad And Jodi Coles
Barbara Royce Payne
I had the privilege, of working beside this beautiful human, and amazingly compassionate, caring nurse for almost 4yrs. This is a tremendously perfect way to honor and remember Monica, Love and condolences to Mike and the boys, and families.
So very, very sad to learn of Monica’s death. Such a beautiful loving tribute …to your beloved Monica.. With sincere sympathy, Eileen and family
Sending our deepest condolences, Lesley, Kate, Matthew and Jillian Murphy
Keith & Marilyn Baker
In Sympathy and Prayer
Yvonne Thyssen-post & Regina Thyssen
Our sincere condolences to Michael, your sons and extended family on your loss. Although we didn't know Monica - your beautifully written obituary articulated how very special she was. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.
With deepest sympathy
Gerard & Joan Mackenzie
My deepest sympathy
With deepest condolences
Sincerest condolences Mike and family. Krista and Scott Lloy
Lillian Breckenridge And Family
On behalf of myself and my family we offer you our most sincerest of condolences during this very difficult time.
Michael And Victoria Mitchell
With our heartfelt sympathy
My thoughts are with you Mike and family.
Department Of Surgery
With our Sympathy, The Department of Surgery
Division Of Neurosurgery
With our Sympathy, The Division of Neurosurgery
Division Of Vascular Surgery
With our Sympathy, The Division of Vascular Surgery
With our sympathy, The Research Committee Department of Surgery
Dear Mike and families; I am completely gutted at the loss of your wife Monica. Though I had never met Monica before, tears filled my eyes as I read your beautifully written tribute to her. I felt that I had lost MY best friend TOO...a person so caring, loving, strong, filled with compassion and common sense... I didn't think such a wonderful person even existed! Your love for Monica shone through in your moving tribute to her. It was the most beautiful one I have ever read, and I am so sorry for your heartbreaking loss. Please take good care of you...keep safe, stay well. and move forward one step at a time...I'm sure it's the way Monica would have wanted it. Mike, huge hugs and condolences to you, your families, and friends.
Very sorry for the loss of Monica- such a legacy she will leave through not only her family but this thoughtful means of supporting other nurses working in palliative care- a true role model
Dr. Caroline Hamm
So sorry for your loss.
Cheryl Bowman ( Jonesy )
Mike , sincere condolences to you and your family. I didn’t know Monica but after reading the beautiful tribute I wish I had . I know her spirit and wonderful memories will help you get through this difficult time . Sending love and hugs to you and your family . Cheryl - retired Ortho O.R. nurse
Carolyn (gallagher) Barter
Mike, I am very sorry to hear of the passing of your wife. Thinking of you and your family at this time xo
Locke Davenport Huyer
Such a beautiful and moving tribute. So sorry for your loss Mike, thinking of you and your family in this time.
Georgie & Peter Gillis
With heartfelt sympathy!
A wonderful remembrance and legacy in Monica’s honour. My heartfelt condolences to your family.
Elizabeth Ann Wigglesworth
The most touching and beautiful tribute…ever . ….saying goodbye to your wonderful partner in life. Each time I read it I feel as if I know Monica somehow, even though we never met. Being in nursing and working in that area are things we had in common yet we never crossed paths. My heart breaks for you all and yet these final words were so perfect as you said your goodbyes and allowed us to share such a personal journey with you both. Always in my thoughts…your sons and families as they deal with the days ahead.
Willena And Robert Gregor
Our sincere condolences
Beautiful soul gone way to soon. My sincere condolences to you and your family Mike.
In memory of a dear friend, whom I was fortunate to know. Monica you were the most compassionate, kind hearted person. I will miss you dearly. I aspire to be like you someday. Sending love to your family and friends. ❤️
Patrick & Bryan Morrison-bell
In memory of a beautiful lady. This tribute beautifully articulates how very special Monica was, even if they never met her. I’m so glad we had the experience of connecting with such a gentle, good and pure soul. We will miss her always. So many thoughts to the Dunbar, Mackenzie and extended family and friends. Xo
Monica was my cousin, whom I have not seen in a very long time. This elegant obituary helps me to know of the woman she became, I thank you for that. My sincerest thoughts and condolences to you all.
Division Of Plastic Surgery
We are pleased to support this cause that will ensure Monica’s brilliant skills in palliative nursing are remembered and passed on to the next generation.
Chris And Marion
Wendy And Richard Baxter
Such beautiful words for a beautiful person. Thinking of you and your family.
In some way, however small, I hope this helps to remember Monica and how she gave of herself.
My beautiful friend, may your legacy live on. I aspire to be more like you everyday. Sending all my love to your family♡
Phillip And Nancy Newton
We offer our condolences to the Dunbar family. Several years ago Dr Dunbar cared for our mother as her life ended and so today we remember Ruth Newton and Monica Dunbar.
What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful person whose impact reached far beyond the linchpin role she played in her family. Thank you for sharing her magnificence, I am speechless and teary as I read it and I understand wholly your wish to honour her. You have done this.
David & Mary Maloney
To the Dunbar Family, Heartfelt condolences in this time of great sadness and loss. Peace be with you.
Sara And Norman
Condolences to the Dunbar and MacKenzie family.
A wonderful tribute to a very special person . My condolences to her family & friends
Was honored to provide the music for the Celebration of Life for this incredible woman.
My sister works with and is a good friend of Colleen, Monica's sister. We are so sad to hear of Monica's passing. I didn't know her personally, but, she certainly sounded like an amazing, special woman. I am honored to contribute to the Education Fund in Palliative Care Nursing that was set up in her name.
We are profoundly sorry for your loss and touched by your words. Our thoughts and Prayers are with you.
James And Karen
Mike and family, Please accept our deepest condolences for your incredible loss.
Sincere sympathies on the loss of Monica She had such a bright spirit and an amazing soul . Fond memories of our volleyball years in high school and of the Margaree’s
What a lovely celebration of Monica’s life. Heartfelt sympathy