Smelling the Roses

A few days ago, my forty-five-year-old sister-in-law died at 3:52 am, with cancer ravaging her body. She and my brother-in-law were best friends, boon companions and soul mates. My sister-in-law leaves behind a bewildered husband and three children. Twelve weeks ago, she was a happy woman with no cares, a great family and a wonderful husband. Today she is dead.

This is not an uncommon story, as one in three of us in Canada will be affected by cancer in some form or another in our lives. What is uncommon is that by and large we do not seem, as human beings, to learn anything from this type of tragedy.

What I mean by that is we will pause, we will be sad, we will be supportive of those that have suffered a loss, and then very shortly afterwards, we will be back living our lives the way we lived them prior to the tragedy.

I have had acquaintances, relatives and others pass away, or have a traumatic incident in their lives, and I have said on more than one occasion “this is a wake-up call, I need to step back, I need to smell the roses!”

Time and time again when I’ve said that, I have tried to smell the roses, but within a month I am back to the crazy schedule, focused on work and I keep forgetting what I should have learned.

My sister-in-law was a bubbly, friendly, warm person who loved life and when she was faced with this inevitable result, she was angry, her husband was angry, I must say I was angry. Angry because how could this be happening to such a wonderful person, how could things be so unfair, how could this be happening to such a wonderful person?

I am hoping that my anger can be turned into something positive. A positive would be to embrace not being defined by my work, not saying “well I can’t do this because I need to be in the office on the weekend”, not being in a city for business and saying “well I should take a couple of hours to see an old friend but oh no, I am too busy”, not keeping in touch with people that I like and enjoy sharing time with, and the list goes on and on.

I am sharing this because I think it is a common story and a common dilemma.

Once again I am making a New Year’s-type resolution and saying that I am going to smell the roses. What if I was told that it is likely that in 12 weeks from now I would be dead. It would be impossible in 12 weeks to do the things that I thought I should have done, see the people I should have seen, share the love I should have shared and of course, I would be angry and there would be huge regrets.

So I’m going to spend more time with my daughters, more time with my grandchildren, more time with my wife, it won’t be easy for me and it will not be easy for you, because we live our lives at a thousand miles an hour but in the end, what else do we have that is really important? It’s our spouses, our children, those that we love and cherish, those that are good friends and all those that we care about. That is what is important and that is what I must learn to make important and so do we all!

John Hoyles, CEO Canadian Bar Association


  1. My condolences to you and your family, John.

    It is a harsh wake-up call and yet it is so easy to slip back to how we have always done things. It is something I think about a lot, having lost (and almost lost) friends and family members. I don’t have a magic answer, but I think part of this is making our personal lives a priority. What is the point of working non-stop if we cannot enjoy life? What is the point of working and living if we cannot enjoy some of the good parts of life? Whether you make family and friends part of that of course is up to you.

    I do find connecting with people via social networks has helped stay in touch (or get back in touch), especially with those at a distance who I rarely get to see. Even if it is not “quality time”, it allows us to keep in touch in a nominal way so that we can at least jump back in building those relationships when we do see each other in person or have a longer phone conversation. It is not for everybody, but I do think it works.

    Part of it is also building the routine–a yearly “big” goal, a weekly date with a family member, lunch once a week or once a month with someone you haven’t talked with in a while, a house party or get together in a pub with a few friends. My monthly book club–originally made up of friends from university–has been running close to 20 years and was created as an excuse to get together with some favourite people regularly. It has become an important “support group” to all of us over the years.

    I applaud your efforts to work on this, and believe it will help to slow down time just a wee bit.

    Take care.

  2. My condolences also, John. Having lost my mother and several other relatives to this horrible disease, it all seems unbelievably unfair. It is timely then to be using the new year to restart, recharge and move forward looking for that better balance, that more fulfilling and yet more under control approach to living in the fast paced chaotic world in which we live. All the best for the new year and I hope that you do have more time to smell the roses.


  3. Anne Giardini, Q.C.

    What a sad and terrible loss. Thank you for sharing the reminder to take time for the important. I was reminded of the Mary Oliver quote –
    “Tell me, what else should I have done?
    Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
    Tell me, what is it you plan to do
    With your one wild and precious life?”


  4. Well said John – thank you for taking the time to write for our collective benefit. This is a commendable and inspirational resolution. My deepest condolences to you and your family.


  5. Jonathan Westphal

    My condolences on your loss. Too often we fall into the trap of imagining we have all the time in the world to get around to all those things we’ve been putting off, when in reality, as such tragedies forcefully remind us, life is all too short. It is good to remind ourselves on a regular basis that nobody lies on their deathbed wishing they’d spent more time at the office.

  6. My condolences John. Good luck with meeting your goal. I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Westphal, when our time comes we will not be wishing we had spent more time at the office or working, there are so many better ways to spend our time.