Touching Lives

My Hospice Experience - First Wave of Relief - Sharon P.

How did I meet you?
My husband Glenn and I attended an Advance Care Planning Workshop put on by Hospice volunteers. The knowledge and skills we learned helped both of us to prepare for his death from an incurable cancer.

Why do we meet like this?
When we were assigned a new oncologist, we were told that my loving husband had come to the end of the chemo options and that there was no hope. It was the absolutely worst time in our cancer journey that spanned 9 years. In our bewildered and depressed state we sought help from our Support Group. They recommended that we seek counselling from the Comox Valley Hospice Society . After our first session with our counsellor we felt our first wave of relief. We talked and wept and she listened. We were able to navigate the next year with regular check ins and encouragement from her.

Were we touched?
Our Support Group folks often mentioned therapeutic touch as a way to relieve the stresses of diagnosis and treatment. My husband and I were able to sign up for weekly sessions of this therapy at the Self-Care clinic that Hospice volunteers offer. We went together to these sessions and we filled up with strength and left our worries behind for a short time.

Where can I lay down my head?
As my husband neared death we had decisions to make between ourselves and with our doctor. So it was, that on Thursday my husband went to Hospice and on Friday he died. . I held my husband in my arms as he gently left this plane. The Hospice is a house of love and caring. The arms of the workers enclosed us in a serene and respectful attitude. I stayed with his body all day and my family and friends were able to come to the Hospice and to say their goodbyes.

Why do we keep meeting like this?
After my husband died I was able to continue regular appointments with the same counsellor. More than anything this continuity of service has helped me to grieve in a healthy way. These counsellors are professional and have deep wells of strength. They are familiar with the every day struggles of loss and death. They are the real meal deal.

Am I blue?
My husband died just a few months before Christmas. This joyous season was a contrast to how I felt. I attended a Blue Christmas arranged by Hospice. Yes, I cried through most of the service, as did most of the others in the overflow crowd. Hospice seems to know a lot about death and this occasion enabled me to deal with my first Christmas without the Love of My Life.
Is there an art to grief?
During the counselling sessions the Hospice counsellor offered me the opportunity to join a small group, all of whom were grieving the loss of a loved one. The focus would be using art and group sharing to travel through our grief. These sessions were led again, by a professional counsellor. And she had heard it all! No matter how horrid, how heart breaking, how depressing our situations were, they were accepted. Some members of this group are still in touch with me. We completed our group sessions just prior to the pandemic shutdowns.

What do I think?
During these times when we are socially isolated Hospice counselling has kept me afloat. I am remembered at the regular weekly meditation sessions that Hospice organizes in a cyber way and that supports my healthy grief. I would rather that my husband and I spend our old age together as a couple. When that is not possible, and it will not be possible for most of us, I remember the loving arms of every single person I have met through Hospice. Without exception their knowledge, skills and attitudes have enabled me to absorb the mysteries of the cycle of life. I am emboldened to follow their guidance and contribute love to the world.

Lovingly submitted by Sharon

My Hospice Experience - A New and Unfamiliar Life - Caroline E.

My connection with Comox Valley Hospice Society came about very unexpectedly, just as everything else did in the late summer of 2018. My husband Ole and I had been together for a little over 50 years, married for 49 years. Raising children, running a business, volunteering, building homes including the lovely residence here in Courtenay – we had traced the path of many couples. Challenges and triumphs, successes and failures, events both happy and sad – and now here was our time. With children and grandchildren secure in their lives we made the most of every day. Gardening, cycling, hiking; woodworking, music and cooking, simple little getaways, offering ourselves to the community – and relishing in each other’s company. In our mid-70’s this was just about as close to perfect as could be imagined.

A brilliant summer day of fruit gathering at a local farm was the epitome of this time of retirement and golden days together. Then out of the blue a crisis, an ambulance, a few weeks of recovery, rehabilitation, hope and optimism only to be shattered by a sudden death. This was something we as a family just could not comprehend. All our expectations gone and the ghastly realisation that Ole had gone – for ever. The “for ever” part was the hardest to get our minds around. We were all thrown into a scenario that was completely unfamiliar and something that could not be happening, not now, not in this family.

Without going into all the details the following weeks were filled with activity of all kinds – cremation, family and friends visiting, Celebration of Life, documents, forms, meetings, and every day adjustments, all immersed in tears. But at this point I will move forward to explain when CVHS first became a part of my life – this new and unfamiliar life.

I have a kind and generous doctor who had been Ole’s doctor too. In those first few weeks he allowed me to pour out my grief, listening, doing his best to reassure me that in time my situation will ease and become less harsh, less raw. It was not until a small medical matter a few weeks later took me back to the doctor’s office when he was unavailable and a female doctor was there. As she scanned my records quietly on the computer, she quickly became aware of my situation and it was she who looked for resources and pointed me towards Comox Valley Hospice Society.

It was approximately 2 ½ months after Ole’s death that I first made contact with CVHS by way of a brief email outlining my situation. An appointment was set up with Brenda which has led to a warm, kind and helpful partnership. I remember the first insight that struck me was how Brenda put the timeline into perspective. It had been only 2 ½ months since Ole’s death following a 50-year bond – meaning we were a couple for almost three-quarters of my life. So it was hardly surprisingly that the impact of this loss was so profound and the grief so raw.

In addition to spending time with Brenda I was fortunate enough to attend a weekly discussion and support group. This was led in a very sensitive and thoughtful way, my only criticism of it being that the group was too large, making some elements of the interactions more challenging. Nonetheless it was a very useful sharing opportunity, one in which the extent of our losses could be freely expressed. I also took advantage of the self care clinics over a period of a few weeks. It was a great opportunity to just “let go” and be cared for and allow the manifestations of grief to be genuinely shown with no inhibitions.

A walking group was my other experience with CVHS; this was led by volunteers. It too was valuable and the discussion afterwards interesting and helpful.

In addition I borrowed books from the extensive library and CD’s of guided meditation which led me to subsequently attend a meditation course. I have tried to incorporate meditation into my routines as often as I can.

Brenda and I continued to meet every couple of weeks and then less frequently for at least a year, with the occasional contact since then. I was reassured by Brenda’s gentle spirit and impressed with her ability to recall everything we had talked about. She had seen photos, various mementoes and stories of my entire family, and she gathered a complete picture of us in a way that made it seem almost as if she had known us for years. Through her I also gained a greater understanding about my new role in the family and my relationships with my son and daughter, their spouses and our grandchildren. Brenda opened up concepts which I would not have considered, such as how my grandchildren are learning from me and the experiences I have gone through. Frequently I would feel how keenly I needed them and their companionship and compassion, but I have come to realise how much they need me in their lives and what an important place their grandfather held in their affections.

Besides periods of meditation I have created some of my own rituals and remembrances tied to Ole’s birthday, our wedding anniversary – or like so many aspects of our lives – for no particular occasion. The shawl I made from his shirts is a comforting embrace. Scraps from his favourite silk shirt and a sprinkling of ashes have been left in so many of our favourite locations – mountains, lakes and trails. Reading and re-reading kind messages from many people brings me a constant reminder of the important place he held in the lives of so many.

I have family overseas who have also gone through the loss of a spouse and who received little or no support of this type. I feel that they – and some others – tend to regard taking advantage of such support indicates one cannot cope. Nonetheless I consider these relationships with trained counsellors to be a vital part of the grieving journey. It is a long and arduous journey and ideally is travelled to a point of seeing forward more often than reflecting on the tragedy and on the past.

Compassion, support, kindness, understanding, empathy, education – these are all words that easily come to mind when thinking of CVHS. I am definitely a different person from who I was before this bereavement. I know that the loss I feel physically, emotionally and spiritually will linger although as I carve out my new life I hope that these feelings will just be part of who I am but will not define me. I know my strengths – I am resourceful, determined, capable – and as everyone else describes me “strong”. It occurs to me that I have more life to live, more to give and more to receive, and I must make the most of my remaining years.

Caroline E.  – Contributed on December 3, 2020

Donors Impact Community

RU the 1? - Garry Fizzell Matches Phantom Ball Donations

The following news story was printed in the Comox Valley Record on October 26, 2020.

A generous donation of $25,000 from Garry Fizzell, matching donations for the 2020 Phantom Ball.

Within hours of hitting ‘send’ on an email seeking donations for the Comox Valley Hospice Society, Jane Sterk received a surprising response.

Sterk is the executive director of the organization and says an email campaign was recently sent to those on an email list seeking donations to fill a fundraising shortage created by the pandemic. The email, she explains, was “cheeky and mysterious” and designed to emulate a personal ad.

“We thought it would be fun, and hoped that people would be curious and open it, but we were wondering if some might take offence. But we were rewarded.”

Shortly after the email was sent, Sterk received a call from Garry Fizzell, who offered a $25,000 donation to the CVHS.

“I was surprised,” says Sterk. “He told us the reason he was donating was due to one of his elders spent time in hospice in Victoria and he was very impressed by the service. His mother-in-law recently had a fall and they are moving her to the Valley, and in time, they anticipate they may need hospice.”

She adds the generous donation will be used to cover their fundraising gap; in the spring, their annual Ultimate 50/50 fundraiser was cancelled, and their Cycle of Life tour (a 200km bike ride to support hospice care) was downsized due to the pandemic and raised about half of the regular donations for the event.

Phantom Ball a go

CVHS is continuing with its plan of hosting its sixth annual Phantom Ball – a home-based New Year’s Eve celebration. Sterk explains the idea behind the event it “to celebrate how you would like at home, and people can donate what they would normally spend going to a gala on New Year’s Eve.”

Prizes are gathered from local businesses to form a package that includes sportfishing and whale-watching trips, chocolate and bubbly. Anyone who donates gets their name entered into a draw, with the winner chosen on New Year’s Eve and the package delivered later to their home. There will be additional weekly prizes throughout the month of December through the CVHS Facebook page.

The fundraising goal is $60,000, and Sterk says Fizzell’s contribution goes a long way in reaching that goal.

CVHS has transitioned to hosting a variety of services from virtual to in-person. Many services such as counselling have been done either over the phone or online, but with COVID-19 protocols in place, more volunteers and service providers have been able to re-engage in person.

Mamie Aitken Legacy - CVHS Finds New Ocean Front Home

The following news story was printed in the Comox Valley Record on March 18, 2019

Comox Valley Hospice Society (CVHS) recently announced plans to construct a new six-bed community hospice facility.

The facility will also provide a permanent home for hospice administrative and outpatient offices, and staff and volunteers who provide emotional, spiritual and practical care and support for more than 1,000 people every year who are dying and who are the loved ones and caregivers of those people who are dying.

A recent announcement by the Vancouver Island Health Authority and the Ministry of Health confirmed the location of 120 long-term care beds and the four existing plus two new community hospice beds, at Golden Life Management’s Ocean Front Village in Courtenay.

“A community-owned hospice facility is something that CVHS has been working towards for years,” said Paula Horky, president, Comox Valley Hospice Society. “We are grateful for this decision.

“It is an important step forward for us in providing the care that matters most to each person in the Comox Valley.”

Mamie Aitken’s legacy realized

The dream of this facility moved closer to a reality in 2015 when the late Mamie Aitken, daughter of one of the Valley’s founding families, provided $2 million in her will for a hospice facility as a lasting legacy for the people of the community she loved.

CVHS is now requesting release of these funds from the Comox Valley Community Foundation.

The hospice project includes a partnership with Golden Life Management, a family-owned business founded in B.C., that will allow CVHS to own the hospice facility in perpetuity on behalf of the people of the Comox Valley.

“Over the coming months CVHS will collaborate with the community and care partners to develop a state-of-the-art facility coupled with exceptional care programs,” said Horky. “We want to ensure the new facility is a reflection of the community and honours the individuals, businesses and organizations that have been supportive of making the Comox Valley a great place to live and a good place to die.”

As the project takes shape, CVHS will continue to collaborate with Island Health as well as Golden Life to provide compassionate hospice palliative care in the Comox Valley. Currently, CVHS serves people of all ages in their homes, in the community hospice, in long-term care facilities and at the Comox Valley Hospital.

Volunteers - The Heart of Hospice

Joan C.

As I approached retirement from Simon Fraser University just over ten years ago, one of my goals was to train as a hospice volunteer.  I, like probably many of you, have been asked:  “Why, why do you want to do that?”

For me it was a way of expressing gratitude for the care my mom, my dad, and my brother received as they reached the end of life.  Though only my brother died in hospice, my Mom and Dad both received the kind of care, in hospital settings, that is the foundation of the work we do … kind, caring, generous of spirit, and deeply respectful.  I wanted to be able to do for others what my family members and I benefitted from during those sad times.

My training began in 2012 when I and I can’t remember how many others came together to prepare for our hospice journey.  Lessons learned during those ten weeks are lessons that have stayed with me ever since …  and not just in hospice settings but in other circumstances as well when I realize, sometimes as an afterthought, that how I responded, how I felt, what I did or did not do stems from those ten weeks.  And the learning continues.  As does the encouragement to reflect on what we think, say, and do.

What opportunities to serve have the last eight years provided?  They have been rich and plentiful:  one-on-one visits in client homes; sitting vigil; being part of a research team that explored the experiences of those who had accompanied a friend or loved-one who had chosen MAiD; and now as a team leader for a group of volunteers by staying in touch through telephone calls and/or emails on a monthly basis.

I also serve on the Board of Directors of the Comox Valley Hospice Society.  I am now in year two of my second three-year term.  That has given me the opportunity to participate in the search for our new Executive Director and to chair the Board Recruitment Committee, to name just a few of the tasks assigned.

So, let me end as I began: “Why do I do this?”  To be of service and to give as my family members and I received.  But what I didn’t know when I set out on this path was how deeply moved I would be by the privilege of being present with those who are approaching death and those who care for them during that time.  I often hear hospice volunteers speak of this time as being “sacred”.  I share that thought … and I am so grateful to be in the company of such kind, caring individuals.

As I bring this to a close, I remember one more very important lesson received during training and throughout my time with Hospice … the importance of self-care.  At all times, and perhaps especially now, may we all take time to care for self as tenderly as we care for others.

Rhianna W.

In 2006 my partner had decided to take the volunteer training for Hospice. It sounded interesting, and I was looking for a volunteer opportunity so I signed up as well. Honestly, I didn’t really understand what it was all about. Little did I know how fascinating I would find it, or the ways it would continue to impact in my life. I feel deeply blessed and humbled for the opportunity to support others through the lens of Hospice. The sweet nature of this symbiotic relationship continues to be an invaluable source of learning, growth and healing.

A little about me:
I was born in the outback of Australia on a rural farm where drought was all I knew. On a deep generational/epigenetic level, rain for me translates into hope and prosperity. Fittingly when it has been raining nonstop for days here in the Comox Valley I feel like the richest most nourished person on the earth.

I have traveled and worked in Europe, Asia, Africa, NZ, and Central and South America and was part of a team from Concordia University that created a pilot program for NASA to help foster emotional intelligence. I am fascinated by our world and its people.

One big challenge is that I can’t ice skate…yet. I currently wear hockey pants, a helmet, elbow and knee pads whilst trying not to grip to the side while navigating my way around the rink. I am completely in awe of anyone who can skate (as well as mudders and tapers, but that’s another story to do with drywall and home renovations.) I became a Canadian last year and decided it was finally time to learn French and play ice hockey.

I love living here in the Valley, spending time with my family and friends, canoeing, climbing, surfing, hiking, skiing and creating an ever growing and developing residential perennial sugar forest.

During my time with Hospice I have had the honor of volunteering across multiple capacities within the organization; vigils,1:1, facilitating bereavement groups, volunteer support, office support, fundraising, and leading the creation team for the Self Care Clinic. I have taken a few breaks, one to live and work in Taiwan and another to start my family. My two daughters are now three and seven and I feel I have space in my life again to expand back out into my community. I look forward to getting to know some of you better, and to support your volunteer experience with CVHS.

Anna Belle E.

My name is Anna Belle, I’m 77 and I did my Hospice training towards the end of 2016, completing it in 2017. I was very impressed with the calibre of training; its thoroughness, inclusion, and its ability to enrich and elevate our outlook on life and death with its many phases and extremes. I felt then and still do that this training would enhance anyone’s outlook on life.

I sought out volunteering with Hospice for several reasons. I had volunteered at a Distress Line in Mississauga years before, visited seniors in Victoria, and more recently volunteered at a French Association in Nanaimo, entering all the books in their library onto an inter-city computer system. These tasks had their value to many, but they were not what I eventually realized I was seeking, to make a true difference in someone’s life or their experience of life. As well, my Mother’s last years far away, were made more comfortable and meaningful because of volunteers spending time reading to her, sharing memories, or simply being there and connecting by touch. The value of assuring someone who is ill or in distress that they are not alone cannot be overemphasized.

One’s time spent with Hospice can be varied. I worked with the volunteer who cares for the gardens at Hospice for a couple of years. For the last while I have been the ‘public representative’ taking part in the interviews for new people seeking to join the Hospice Board. Meeting these people and learning more about Hospice is always gratifying and inspiring.

Currently, partly due to Covid, I am staying in touch by phone with an elderly lady. Each 1 to 1 patient or Hospice client is so different. Interests vary widely, cherished life histories are invaluable to explore together, and it is often surprising the connections we find between us, or the life lessons, funny and sad that we can recapture together. One charming lady I spent months and months with had had a good life, had a good husband and an attentive son, but she got such joy, inspiration and a type of satisfaction out of following and enquiring about the progress of my interests or travels or education. I sought out books that let her travel or experience or explore life vicariously. She was ravenous for book adventures and kept reading until her sight impeded that. Then I read to her, from two wonderful books with short and uplifting stories with true-life examples of important life values.

At Hospice one can volunteer in numerous ways to accommodate the needs of the community. It is a private endeavour when with patients, as we honour their privacy. The returns of knowing you have given comfort, changed someone’s day, respected their individuality, and shared time with them to show your caring…the rewards and returns to us are profound. They are private too but how they can nourish the soul !

Robert M.

Hello there. My name is Robert, and I’ve been in the Valley since 2006. I retired here early, after a career in aerospace engineering and management in Toronto. My early volunteering in the Valley involved a lot of Elder College courses, both giving and taking, plus church and charity work.

I began to realize that a lot of people I was spending time with, had done Hospice work, and so I took the Basic training in the spring of 2017. With the new hospital opening in the Fall of 2017, there was also a lot of hospital-related training to do, but I’ve only had two one-on-one palliative clients in the hospital, with one relationship lasting 3 months.

Right after finishing the Basic training, I also got involved in helping to facilitate Bereavement walking groups, where a group of clients and facilitators would walk at the Airpark and then retire to a quiet coffee shop to “debrief” with coffee. I helped with at least four of these groups, over the next 3 years, including one group as the lead facilitator. With the pandemic restrictions, these groups have become much smaller, but I facilitated two more groups with only two or three clients, and optional outdoor coffee.

At some point along the way, I did the Bereavement training and participated in a couple of one-day workshop volunteer sessions with outside presenters, plus an Island Hospice one-day workshop in Parksville. I’ve also attended quite a few of the on-line FIKA volunteer sessions.

The walking groups tend to be three-season events, so I have helped out with Bereavement Drop-In groups, an Art Therapy Bereavement group and an on-line Bereavement group. The Blue Christmas services seem to strike a chord with clients as well, and I’ve been involved in those for the past three years.

Recently, a cousin sent me an old newspaper clipping, where I was reminded that my mother had done Hospice work for 15 years in her community in the 1980’s and 90’s. It was a bit of a shock to realize that history was repeating itself.

A client recently said to me that after a couple of Bereavement programs, they now could look at their partner’s picture, not just with sorrow and tears, but also remembering the good times. I mentioned how important it was that they had recognized how their grief was morphing into a balance of sorrow and joy. I think that is the main satisfaction I get from my Hospice Bereavement work, walking alongside people for a while on their journey, and witnessing those little “Ah-has”, when they realize that deep grief doesn’t last forever.