On March 2, 2015, the Roy family of Peel, New Brunswick, was torn apart. Wife, mother, grandmother, sister, and friend, Phyllis Roy, died in the family home. Her son, Ryan, was charged, and later found guilty, with stabbing his mother to death before setting the family home on fire.
On January 8, 2016, Ryan Roy was sentenced to 16 years in prison. The judge’s decision meant the family could finally begin the long process of finding closure. As a journalist who has covered the courtroom, I am painfully aware of the impact these tragedies can have on a family. With that in mind, I offered space for the Roy family to pay tribute to Phyllis. They agreed, and hope that by sharing the beautiful stories of her life they will start to heal, but also ensure Phyllis is remembered for the fullness of her life and not just the tragic circumstances of her death.
Her daughter, Sara, and Phyllis’ husband, Joe, have asked agelessNB to publish the story online. They want family, friends, and readers to share Phyllis’ story as much as possible. Their ultimate goal: when someone Googles the name Phyllis Roy, the first item that appears on the search engine is the story of her life, and not the horrifying news stories outlining the painful details of her death.
Please share Sara Roy’s touching tribute to her mother, and help a grieving family achieve a final and important gift for a woman they loved so deeply.
Our Broken Family Chain
By Sara Roy
No one teaches us about loss: what it means, or how it feels. It affects each of us differently. Unless you have experienced it yourself, it’s impossible to share with others a realistic picture of what it looks like. Even then, some will never truly understand.
All circumstances are so different. In extreme cases, death leaves you with so many unanswered questions. My mother, I feel, is an exceptional example of someone so full of love and life and with so much more left to offer the world. She was taken too soon. We lost her with absolutely no warning. It’s almost impossible to talk about. With such a tragic loss, how do you focus on the true meaning behind it? How do you illustrate your broken family chain?
In the beginning, the overwhelming shock of losing my mom was grueling and all consuming. The loss was unavoidably centred on the visions I had, in my head, of what my mom may have endured in her last moments. That fear almost ate me alive. For the longest time, trying to be strong for others was how I channeled my grief. In private moments, trying to accept losing her sometimes felt like an excruciating tidal wave that relentlessly washed me over the edge. It took everything to pull myself back from that place and, even when I did, that horror was always present, never far away, seemingly determined to drown me.
The most painful moments though, are the ones people forget to mention. Those instances where time has passed and for a while you feel like she’s out there, somewhere, on vacation maybe. But she no longer exists in this realm. I know my mom will always exist in my heart; however, selfishly, sometimes that’s just not good enough. It isn’t fair. When I remember that I can’t pick up the phone to talk to her or drive to her house for a visit anymore, those are the moments when I feel as if I am suffocating and I can physically feel my heart break, over and over.
Sometimes my heart breaks over the many ingrained memories I know I have, but can’t seem to remember. In those instances, I start to panic, and begin to wonder if I spent enough time with her. I start to count, like I’m taking inventory, as I try to remember how many times I told her I loved her. I ask myself, when was the last time? I wonder if it’s too late to say it aloud now? If I said it, would she hear me? I like to believe that when I do say I love her and I miss her, so selfishly, that she does hear me.
My mom was one of those extraordinary moms that only some are privileged to have. I mean that sincerely and whole-heartedly. My mom was someone you could call anytime and she would answer. When you needed her, if she had to move heaven and earth, she was there. My mom and I went through the typical mother and daughter relationship stages. When I was younger, I was like every other teenager, and my mom wasn’t anything more than my mom. She was the one who was easier on us as we were growing up. She gave in when we pouted. Although estranged for a short time when I was younger, my mom and I always had that unbreakable bond. She called me an ‘old soul.’ It wasn’t until I became a mother, myself, that we truly connected. Our relationship was more like sisters or best friends than mother and daughter.
We spent every weekend together, not because it was practical, but because we truly enjoyed each other’s company. We shared so much mutual love and respect. Of course, we still had our differences of opinion. My dad and I nicknamed her ‘Mrs. Daisy’ because she was so spoiled—but deservedly so.
Always asking for the most ‘annoying’ favours, her morning emails would start with, “Good morning, my daughter,” to which I would often reply, “Hello Mrs. Daisy—what can I do for you today?” She would call me at least five times a day. Sometimes for favours, sometimes just to chat.
Today, I would give anything to receive one of those morning emails or a text message or a phone call. I would perform all of her silly favours, just to have her back. You don’t realize how much those small requests actually mean to you until someone you love isn’t there to ask for them.
We borrowed each other’s clothes all the time, despite the fact I almost never gave hers back. My mom was the definition of a shopaholic. We would spend hours in Marden’s, across the border. I think she would have lived at the store if she could have. Whenever I went with her, I’d give her a time limit, teasing that we would be there for a week if I didn’t. I will faithfully say that despite having a ‘shopping problem,’ she always found the best deals. “Look Joe, only a dollar for this, only a dollar!” she’d say to my dad, after cutting the $17.99 price tag off.
The laughter is part of many of the best memories. Oh, my, did we ever laugh when we were together. My mom was oblivious to her ability to make us laugh. Whether it was just her way of saying things or seeing the world, laughter was always present. Sometimes it was present the morning after, because you were sore from laughing all evening.
More than making me laugh, my mom was my rock. When I was feeling unworthy, or beaten down from life’s everyday struggles, she reminded me just who I am, and who I am meant to be. She taught me to use the strength I have within and to face my challenges head on. She encouraged me to never give up, and taught me to be fearless even when I was at my weakest. I am so grateful for those lessons, especially now. I would not be the woman I am today without her.
My mom was an amazing grandmother to all her grandchildren. If there were a competition for the World’s Best Nanny, she would have been in the running for top spot. She was such a gift to my son. She adored him and he adored her. He was always so excited when I told him he was going to be spending the weekend with Nanny.
“It is my goal to learn from my mistakes and become a better grandmother than I was a mother,” I remember her telling me. I never doubted her for a moment, but remember quietly telling myself that I couldn’t imagine how that was possible, as I really felt she was a remarkable mother. Even in the short amount of time she had as a grandmother, I want my mom to know she achieved her goal.
My mom was just beginning to live the life she had always dreamed of. She had a beautiful property, which she loved to share with friends and family. We would often gather at her home in the summertime for pool parties, washer-toss and music. During the winter, we enjoyed sledding on the nearby trails.
She and my father had started to travel the world. With trips to Mexico, New York and Cuba, my parents had finally started reaping the rewards of working so hard their entire lives. My mother was so proud of what they had accomplished, and we were happy to see them live life to the fullest.
Even now, after the fire, the place still holds memories that can’t be touched. I still have a picture from when they first bought it. My parents are sitting on rocks, gazing out toward the horizon on their new land. It was so peaceful, so divine. That beautiful image of the place she loved so much is the one I will keep in my heart.
I never, ever, imagined our lives playing out this way. Sometimes, the void left by my mother’s death, and the space now between us, is deafening. We were supposed to grow old together, mother and daughter. There will forever be a missing piece, because a piece of me will always remain with my mom. I will never forget all the sacrifices she made for us. I will always remember the love she expressed for us. She always wanted such great things for us, and I will honour her memory in working to fulfill all her hopes and dreams for us. I will make her proud. I will also carry on the legacy of love, kindness, forgiveness and grace.
Many people often wonder where I found the strength to forgive my brother. It took me a long time to understand what forgiveness truly meant, how it would impact me, and how it would affect my life going forward. I searched my heart, and the only honest answer I have is this: I found forgiveness for my brother in my mom.
Every time I look in the mirror, I see her eyes staring back at me. I see her face, and I know she would want me to forgive him. I know with all my heart she has forgiven him, as well. My mom would wish that my heart be free. She would want me to be free from hatred, anger, and sadness. My mom would have wanted me to live my life with love. She would have wanted me to remember her for who she was, and not for how she died. I think my mom would also want me to know that she found peace, and that her soul is now liberated.
With that comfort, I can continue to live my life with the same love, kindness, and grace that she did. I believe this is the true meaning of life, and the only thing that can mend our broken family chain.
“We little knew that day, God was going to call your name. In life, we loved you dearly; in death, we do the same. It broke our hearts to lose you. You did not go alone. For part of us went with you, the day God called you home. You left us beautiful memories; your love is still our guide, and though we cannot see you, you are always at our side. Our family chain is broken, and nothing seems the same. But as God calls us, one by one, the chain will link again.”
– Author Ron Tranmer
Half of a Whole
By Theresa Blackburn
Joe Roy never imagined his life without Phyllis. When Sara agreed to meet to chat about her mother’s life, her father came with her.
“I’m just here to protect Sara Sue. That’s what she called her. I want to make sure that you get the good stuff, and that you understand what an amazing woman she was,” Joe explained.
There was a lot of good stuff in Phyllis’ life. Introduced by their mutual friend, Marie Mcgouey, she and Joe had been inseparable since 1988. Joe and Phyllis created a beautiful life together, and welcomed children and grandchildren. The couple moved from Saint John in 2010, buying their 31-acre dream property in Peel to be closer to Joe’s work. Phyllis loved her children, tried to help her son when he got involved with drugs, loved to travel, cherished her relationship with her daughter, thought the sun rose and set on her grandchildren’s heads, would do anything for anyone in need, and loved her husband. She accepted Joe’s first son, Mathieu, as her own child, and he leaned on her when he needed someone. She had great friends, because she was a great friend. She had wonderful relationships with her own siblings, she loved to shop, and she really enjoyed the outdoors, either on a snowmobile or motorcycle
“We were avid travelers, and avid motorcyclists. We owned a Gold Wing, but she never wanted to ride on her own. When we went places together, I always knew when she fell asleep because her body would relax and she’d bump my helmet,” remembers Joe.
“Sometimes, when we were traveling, I’d get worried we might not make our plane because she would pack so… much… luggage!” Joe chuckled. “Our friends, Keith and Brenda Boucher, would have to bring a weigh scale so we could move things around in suitcases so she wouldn’t be over (the limit).”
“Oh, how she could make me laugh,” Joe smiled. “She had this way with language. Growing up, she never learned how to pronounce some words right, or sometimes she didn’t hear them the same way we did. Her friends, Lynn and Donnie Tobias, got a kick out of her sayings. Like survival of the fittest, she thought, for the longest time, it was survival of the fetus.”
Sara and Joe burst into laughter at the memory.
“I think her best friends, Julie Allen and Chantal Dufour-Logan, nicknamed them Phyllis-isms,” explains Joe. “Some of her favourites were shared at the funeral.”
“This is not how I imagined it would be, looking at my retirement years without her,” Joe confesses. “I can’t go back to our place. I’ll never rebuild there. You know, she never gave up on her son, because that wasn’t who she was. She loved all her kids, and would never give up on any of them, no matter what. You know, they say love can save anybody, but it couldn’t save anybody in this case. She spent her whole life doing things for others, and she doesn’t deserve to be remembered by the news stories that came out after. That’s not fair to her. She needs to be remembered for all the good stuff.”
By Mary Mackenzie
Our sister, Phyllis, was the fourth of eight kids. With a family that large, five girls and three boys, there was always a lot of the fun, laughter, chaos and tears that only eight kids can create. Back in those days, kids were sent out to play in the morning, back in for meals, and back out again until we were called in for bedtime.
It was freedom at its finest because we lived in the country. We always had adventures to plan, and sometimes trouble to get into! Some of our adventures meant picking wild strawberries for homemade strawberry shortcake, or the relentless weeding of the garden, or harvesting in the fall, or piling firewood for the winter.
Phyllis was the best at making up games for us to play. Her absolute favourite was pretending she had long flowing hair. She would put a towel on her head, and have it fall down her back, swinging and swaying. We would be dancing, and thinking we were pretty fancy.
As a sister, she was always encouraging us, and making us believe that you could achieve all of your dreams. She was the best keeper of secrets, and fiercely loyal to all of her brothers and sisters. She was a best friend, confidant, and always ready to love, comfort and defend.
There is not a day we do not think about our sister. We smile at our memories, and sometimes there are tears at our loss. But this we know as true: we are committed to honouring her life by living everyday with love, peace and compassion.