In memory of Monica Dunbar

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.

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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.

-Michael Dunbar

A big thank you to our Supporters

The real heroes who are kindly helping us achieve our goal

Glenn Mackenzie

$260

Kelly Macdonald

$52

Dianne Paquet & Albert Gamblin

Dr. Dunbar and family: So sorry for your loss.

$100

Sharon Samland

What a wonderful written tribute for your Monica and this fund is one good way to remember her . Sending heartfelt condolences to you and your family.

$500

Georgina Voltis

$25

Deborah Macinnis

Dr. Dunbar, I can not express how floored I was to hear about your wifes passing. I found out by accident. I was singing your praises to my foot care lady. She told me she heard of an orthopedic surgeon from Halifax, whose wife had passed away. I then called Carrie and asked her if this was true, and she confirmed it. I immediately looked up her obituary as you know Cape Bretoners read obituaries. I read the obituary you wrote with tears in my eyes it was so elegantly written. It certainly gave one a sense of the true nature and character of Monica. If Monia was not an angel sent fron heaven, I don't know whoever could be. I kind of chucked when I read her montra, "It is what it is." This is my montra as well. When my mother read it, she had a chuckle as well she said that this is you, Debbie. As I read on, I began to feel that Monica was someone I knew my whole life. I was surprised to learn that I am only 3 years older than Monica. I would only hope I could leave a small piece of the leagacy Monica has left behind. It sounded to me that Monica was always teaching you to love and live healthy in all the ways, possibly in life. You and your boys were so blessed to have such a beautiful soul guide through life. I would bet that so much of her has rubbed off on you and your boys over the years. I know from personal experience how lucky I am to have a surgeon who shows such empathy. I wish I was as good with words as you are. All I can do is my best as I want to show you empathy as my heart hurts for you and your boys. You know we lost my dad in 2020, and not a day goes by that I am not thinking of him. My dad had a very good heart and soul as well. You will think of Monica daily. It sounds to me as you have many good memories to look back on. We are fortunate to have had loved ones in our lives that we can honor every day. My mother and I would like to honor Monica with a donation. We only wish that there was more we could do to ease the pain. Your # 1 Patient Debbie MacInnis

$104

Susan Dempsey

$52

Erica Christie Tu

to the Dunbar family - you were one of the lucky ones to have had a beautiful soul like Monica be such a big part of your lives. I am sure she is missed and thought of everyday. Deepest condolences. Erica

$208

Constance Sugiyama

$200

Toronto Orthopaedics Hip & Knee Course

We are pleased to make this donation in your name, Dr. Dunbar, to thank you for your contributions towards the course. Many thanks, Amir Khoshbin, Jesse Wolfstadt & Michael Zywiel

$515

Wendy Drake

Beautiful heartfelt words Mike. Belated sincere condolences to you and your family.

$52

Carole Regan

This gift is out of the admiration and respect we have for both Monica and Michael for their personal commitment to positively impacting health care in NS through the QE2, and In gratitude for the care, love and professionalism they shared with our family.

$2k

Carrie Mcguire

$100

Drew Langille

$208

Bianca Lang

$104

Anonymous

$21

Lisa Cameron

$156

Christopher J Devlin

Mike and Monica you two prove love conquers everything. We are looking forward to our meeting again!! Xxoo

$515

Faron Whynott

Dear Dr. Dunbar, Your eloquent words enable those of us who didn’t know your beautiful Monica to feel as if we did. Thinking of you and your family- Jackie and Faron Whynott

$104

John And Heidi Sapp

$100

Piney & Nicole Horechuk

$31

Jesse Wolfstadt

$162

David Parker

So sorry for your loss Mike. A beautiful and touching obituary. It has been more than 20 years since we were together on fellowship, but Monica's generosity and spirit remain fresh in my mind. She has obviously had such a deep and lasting impact on so many people.

$208

John Mcpherson

$5.02k

Linda Demone

My heartfelt sympathy... Heaven has gained an angel.

$50

Theresa Burt

Forever and always. Auntie Theresa

$500

Ena And Dan Cousins

Mike and Family, Your beautiful Obituary has helped make us all aware of conversations we need to have about our dying time. Her Dad was my godfather and my Mom was Monica's godmother. Visits from John Archie and Dot were part of my family life growing up. Monica's short life was meaningful and will continue to have an impact on people through this foundation. Hugs to all of you in this very difficult time.

$104

John & Jen Tompkins

Monica had a positive impact on so many people. We know this will live on in the people closest to her and through this foundation.

$52

Karine Renton

Dear Dunbars - I am deeply saddened for your family and the loss of my beloved friend and neighbour. Monica was so fun to be with and very kind to me over the years. With love and condolences - Karine

$208

Bea And Rachel Renton

Dear Dunbar Family - Chebucto Head has been another home for us over the years with the warm greeting and fascinating conversation whenever we saw Monica. We always loved to hear what the fur/family was up to and the pride and happiness of her life there with you all. We are blessed to have such incredibly kind and caring friends and neighbours. Our sympathies to you - Bea and Rachel Renton😢

$104

Anonymous

$25

The Higgins Family

With so much love from all of us.

$104

Betty Barron

$21

Peter Khoury

Although we had only been neighbors for a brief period, it was an honor and joy to meet Monica. May this contribution further the educational effort for such a critical time in life.

$5.02k

Laura & Mike Forsythe

What a lovely celebration of Monica’s life. Heartfelt sympathy

$312

Dan Macdonald

MY THOUGHTS ARE WITH MIKE AND HIS CHILDREN

$104

Kim Batershill, Debbie Beck, Brianna Dunn, Krista Gauthier, Leslie Ronahan, Adrienne Smith,

Sending our love and condolences

$150

Jennifer Leighton

$515

Division Of Cardiac Surgery

With our sympathy

$2.52k

Barbara Taylor

My deepest condolences to all the family .

$100

Eileen Aucoin

Belle Cote neighbour during childhood.

$52

Colleen

What and awesome way to always remember how special Monica was. Her memory will always be there.

$52

Sylvia Gautreau

$104

Sharleen Coady-nielsen

She touched so many lives and lives on in all of them. ❤️

$20

Mila & David Surrette

$104

Diane Mackinnon

$150

Mary Jessie Maclellan

Sincere sympathy to the Dunbar and MacKenzie family.

$26

Mary (ella) White

$104

Terri And Cyril Lefort

What a wonderful way for to honour Monica.

$100

Charline Mackay

$21

Vivian Mancini And Family

With deepest condolences.

$52

Camille And Will Allanach

Mike, so sorry to hear of Monica's passing. Sincere condolences to you and your family.

$104

Ron El-hawary

$50

Maurice Sigouin

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.

$104

Anonymous

$52

Michael Hillis And Barbara Ross

Deeply sad about your loss of such a wonderful and kind person

$104

Martha Arab

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

$2.8k

Carmen And John Clark

We were so sorry to hear of Monica's passing. Our condolences to Mike, children and family.

$100

Harry Thompson

So sorry for such a deep loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and the boys.

$500

Johanne Gallant

$26

Valley Orthopedics

With our sincere condolences.

$3.02k

Carol And Michael Grunsky

$104

Lindsay Flinn

In loving memory of a truly beautiful soul.

$50

Lynn Johnston

To honour Monica's legacy.

$100

Susan Mullin

Sincere condolences to you, Mike, your kids and to all of Monica's friends and families.

$50

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

$415

Carol & Bruce Law

$208

Michelle Farrell

$52

Matthias Scheffler

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.

$52

Charlene Murphy

Beautiful Monica - Our Angel

$104

Esther Kirby

$200

Sue Moore

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.

$52

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

$100

Jeremy Wood

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

$52

Bruce Towler

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.

$1.02k

Chad And Jodi Coles

$1,000

Barbara Royce Payne

$208

Anonymous

$50

Tasha Trainor

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.

$52

Eileen Petrie

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

$104

Lesley Gray

Sending our deepest condolences, Lesley, Kate, Matthew and Jillian Murphy

$52

Keith & Marilyn Baker

In Sympathy and Prayer

$26

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.

$104

Bryce Schnare

With deepest sympathy

$104

Gerard & Joan Mackenzie

$208

Grace Taylor

My deepest sympathy

$21

Gordon Smith

$250

Mary Chipman

With deepest condolences

$100

Krista Lloy

Sincerest condolences Mike and family. Krista and Scott Lloy

$26

Lillian Breckenridge And Family

On behalf of myself and my family we offer you our most sincerest of condolences during this very difficult time.

$52

Michael And Victoria Mitchell

With our heartfelt sympathy

$260

Anne Halliday

$104

Johanna Graham

My thoughts are with you Mike and family.

$50

Department Of Surgery

With our Sympathy, The Department of Surgery

$5.02k

Division Of Neurosurgery

With our Sympathy, The Division of Neurosurgery

$1.02k

Division Of Vascular Surgery

With our Sympathy, The Division of Vascular Surgery

$1.02k

Research Committee

With our sympathy, The Research Committee Department of Surgery

$1,000

Sue Seaborn

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.

$21

Alissa Decker

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

$52

Dr. Caroline Hamm

So sorry for your loss.

$104