Jillian Nathalie Lynn Sears was born on April 19, 1978, in Yarmouth, N.S., the youngest of three daughters, to Shawn, a fisherman, and Sherry, a stay-at-home mom. Growing up in Woods Harbour, N.S., Jillian was a happy-go-lucky child, often displaying her perfect cartwheels to her sisters, Jennifer and Jacqueline. She was outgoing, and in Grade Primary, as kindergarten is called in Nova Scotia, her classmates voted her “Queen of Hearts” for Valentine’s Day.
Jillian particularly enjoyed learning to write in cursive. Once when she was in elementary school, she went to her mother to show off a piece of paper on which she had written Sherry’s full name. Jillian asked her mom if the writing looked like hers. Her mom agreed and said she was impressed. A few days later, however, Sherry was surprised to receive a phone call from a teacher about her signature on one of Jillian’s tests.
When Jillian was about nine, Sherry took her girls on a boat trip to Portland, Maine, for back-to-school shopping. While her sisters were excited about the excursion, Jillian had no interest in trying on clothes. She put up a bit of a fuss, but then her mom told her she could pick out one doll from Toys “R” Us. Jillian chose a lifelike baby doll. For the rest of the trip, she never made a peep, but rather played with her doll inside every store Sherry wanted to visit. Cradling her new toy close on the boat ride back to Nova Scotia, “Everybody thought she had a real baby,” her mother says. “She was totally content holding this baby.” Dolls became her passion as a child, and the family rarely got a photo of her without one in her hands. “I always knew which Barbie or doll to ask for at Christmas, because she was asking for it, too,” Jacqueline remembers.
After graduating from high school, Jillian went to the Scotia Career Academy in Sackville to become a personal care worker, helping the elderly and mentally challenged. But she didn’t stay in that career for long. “She wanted to be around babies and kids,” Jennifer says.
Jillian started working odd jobs in the service industry, but her new passion was babysitting. She would drive half an hour to someone’s home if they needed her, even if the pay wasn’t worth the time on the road. The luxuries of life weren’t important to her, says Jennifer. “She could have survived back in the ’20s.” Every car Jillian bought was used, and if someone else needed to borrow a vehicle, she was quick to lend it.
Jillian wed in 2004, but the marriage lasted only a few years. It was during that time that Jillian met Afton Ross at a campground on Horseshoe Lake, near Shelburne, N.S. “She came out squirting me with a squirt gun,” Afton says with a laugh. “I thought, ‘Oh my dear, who is this crazy lady?’ ” The two women quickly became close friends, and Jillian would eventually babysit both of Afton’s kids.
Jillian’s home was filled with toys for youngsters, from an inflatable swimming pool to a sandbox table. She wanted to have children of her own, but with the medication she was taking, she thought she likely couldn’t conceive.
She fell in love again a few years later and moved in with Kenneth Crowell, a local fisherman, and the two often went camping at Bear Point. To her surprise, Jillian became pregnant with twins in 2011. At her 18-week ultrasound, she was told she lost one. Two weeks later, she miscarried the second child. “We went from there, thinking her body wasn’t going to ever let her have a baby,” Jennifer says.
Jillian kept babysitting, and was always up for going out to events, such as an exhibition or a parade. During the summer, if she wasn’t at the beach with friends, she’d often be out camping. “She liked her water balloons,” says her friend Lee Ann Malone. And, for every holiday—from Valentine’s Day to Christmas—Jillian would be the first to text her friends in the morning. “Like little kids got excited, Jillian got excited,” Lee Ann adds.
The night of Saturday, July 5, Jillian went to bed early with a headache. She woke up throughout the night, but at 2 a.m., she started screaming. An ambulance brought her to the Yarmouth hospital, where Jillian lost consciousness. Soon after, doctors found out that she was, in fact, several months pregnant. They airlifted her to Halifax, where Jillian died of an aneurysm. She was 36.
Jillian donated her kidneys, lungs, liver and pancreas. The baby Jillian never knew she was carrying died with her.