- Death & Loss of Life
The Hospice Experience
Dr. Bob Kemp Hospice
The Start Of Our Journey
Back in May of 2010 my husband Craig and I got the worst possible news when he was diagnosed with cancer. Our world caved in as we tried desperately to take in this news and comprehend what exactly it meant. It was not only cancer - it was terminal, and basically nothing could be done for him with the exception of some radiation treatments to try to help ease the pain in his right hip. Melanoma cancer had spread to the bone. In our doctor's own words "Go home Craig and spend as much time as you can with your family - our goal now is to try to help you as best we can with pain management."
In the next weeks and months we tried, without success, to get Craig in as comfortable a position as we could, but never quite accomplished this. He could not sit for long and ended up mostly in bed - the only place where he could get some relief. I kept hoping that radiation treatments to the hip would not only help him but would prolong his life for another couple of years. Of course I was being horribly naieve! And then the handwriting was on the wall the day he turned to me and said "Lynnie I won't be here by Christmas". My heart broke at that moment and I knew that I could not begin to imagine how he felt.
The Next Step
The day came when I knew I had to ask Craig what his wishes were with regards to his last days. I didn't know how I was going to approach this without breaking down, but one day I sat down beside him on the bed and broached the subject. I said "Craig, remember when Barb's father passed away, she had him at home with her right up to the end -------" he interrupted me right at this moment and said "No Lynnie, I want to go to Hospice". He didn't even let me finish my sentence, and I tried again - "did he want to die here at home". Again, he insisted "no" and reminded me of what we had agreed on a few years ago.
Two years prior to this, his sister Magaret had died from Cancer and she had chosen a Hospice in her home town. In fact she had made all the arrangements, in the true fashion of someone who has been in absolute control of things all of her life. We visited her every day for the four or five days that she was there and were so impressed with the care and compassion shown not only to her, but to all of us, that we were left with the definite knowlege that this is what we would want to do if either one of us were in the same position. So here we now were, and he was making his decision.
Within days as things started to escalate and we needed VON at home, a CCAC (Community Care Access Centre) representative also visited us. She asked Craig the same question and he reponded once again that he wanted to go to Hospice. And so his name was put on the list for the Dr. Bob Kemp Hospice not far from us.
I knew that these places only had eight or ten rooms, so my next worry was that when the time came he might not be able to get in because of unavailability. One weekend in early August I had to call 911 and Craig had to be taken to emergency at the Juravinski Hospital where he spent 3 days, after which they sent him home with a hospital bed and visiting nurses for this interim period.
The very day he was coming home I got a call from Terry Crockford at the Bob Kemp Hospice saying she knew he had been in hospital, and that they had a bed for him. I told her that I just did not want to send him right out again; she totally understood and suggested we take a few days to see how we would manage. She then said she would still have a bed for him by end of week, and even into the next week. We managed for two days and then Craig turned to me on the second night and said " Tomorrow you call Hospice, it's time for me to go".
The day the transport team took Craig out our front door to go to the Dr Bob Kemp Hospice was one of the hardest days because I knew we were starting our "final steps" together. He would not be coming back in through these doors again.
But when we entered through the doors of the Hospice I was so surprised to see not only nurses and personal support workers, but also kitchen staff standing aside in the entry way to welcome us to their "home". As they wheeled Craig down to his room I noticed once again how comfortable and inviting everything in this place was. By the end of our stay, myself and others would be saying "it was the best place to be, if you had to be here".
Craig's private room was second last down the hall on the right. It was a good size, bright and airy with a big window and a private bathroom. A loveseat stood on the wall facing the bed, a lazy boy chair, a nighttable and a Television in a lovely cabinet. It even had a little mini fridge in the corner.
One by one the nurses came in and introduced themselves, to get a handle on Craig's medication and anything else that needed attending to, suggesting that I go down to the kitchen and have a snack. As I arrived my senses came alive with the delicious aromas of soup in crock pots and so sat down to have a little bite. The kitchen beside me was alive with the hubbub of volunteers preparing lunches and planning the meals for that night's dinners. And every single person had a warm greeting and welcome to share. I immediately felt relief and one of the first thoughts that came to my head was "I wish everyone who is facing the final days in their life, could be treated to a facility like this". How lucky we were!
That night I spent in Craig's room, albeit on a type of chair bed that was not too comfortable, but I was with him as they suggested I do for at least the first night.
My beloved Craig's stay in Hospice lasted for nineteen days. During this time all of our family and friends were welcome to visit any time of day, and to stay for as long as they wanted, according to the family's wishes of course. For Craig, everyone understood that short visits were good with breaks in between where all were welcome to have a bite to eat, sit in the lounge reading, or wander the grounds taking in the gardens and the pond with waterfalls.
Craig was of course treated with the utmost of dignity at all times, his own private room with nursing around the clock and visiting doctor once a week to assess and assist. There was a musician, named Sarah who was always available to sing and play her guitar in a patient's room, if they so desired. Craig did not wish for this, but it was available.
There was also grief counselling for both patient and family if so desired, always available throughout the day. And staff were always more than willing to wheel a patient's bed to the outdoors on a lovely day to take in the sunshine or just sit by the pond and listen to the waterfalls. Craig and I did this twice in his last week and it was beautiful.
In the end it is all about care and dignity and it was so welcomed in a time when, not just the patient needs care, but also the family members too. On hand were Reike masters, massage therapists, people to do a manicure if you so wished - all free of charge for both the patient and family member. One day I did take advantage of a manicure - after they talked me into it. Their caring was so very obvious and so very much appreciated.
Craig passed away in the early morning hours of September 4th. It had been nineteen days, and in those nineteen days we had been treated as though we were family. I had met new people, people who are friends to this day. My journey alone was now beginning, but what I was going to find out was that my journey with the Hospice was not over. They were still there to comfort me and to help me in any way possible that they could. In the coming months and indeed throughout these two years since Craig passed away I have had an ongoing relationship not only with some of the other family members, but also with Hospice itself. Here are some of things I have been able to take part in:
- An 8 week intensive music therapy group headed up by Sara, the musical director and Maureen, the Bereavement Counselor. This was a wonderful group where we were able to express our emotions through the use of musical instruments, none of which any of us could play, but nonetheless we banged around on - softly for good days, and loudly for bad days
- An ongoing "Healing Steps" group where we meet once a week to walk for an hour or so and then go back to Hospice to have tea, coffee, and treats. This group is very casual and we share anything and everything.
- Potluck dinners at Hospice once a month, where we can gather in the great room sharing what each of us has brought, sometimes even with a glass of wine.
- Individual grief counselling if so needed.
- Cooking for one - a class in the Hospice Kitchen where you can learn new recipes and how to adjust cooking skils to your new life.
- Remembrance and Celebration of Life Service - I have taken part in two of these
And the good news here is that you do not have to have lost a loved one in the Dr. Bob Kemp Hospice to take advantage of the Grief Counselling services. It is open to all and is free of charge.
Funds and Fundraising
Now here is the most amazing news of all. Craig was taken care of for those nineteen days there in every way possible - down to medical needs, counselling if so wished, and entertained if desired; family and friends were welcomed and fed, and I have been attending ongoing counselling there. In fact after two years , even thoughI am of course in a better space, I still take part in the Healing Steps group. And all of this was at no cost to us or my family. Where do the funds come from?
41% of funding for Dr Bob Kemp Hospice comes from the Government. This leaves $130,000 needed each month to run this amazing facility and it is done through different events throughout the year:
- Paint The Town Red - fundraiser - dinner and silent auction - I have attended two
- Annual Pond Tour
- Golf Tournament
- Annual Halloween Party -I have attended one
- Tinsel, Tuxedo & Tapas - 3 course meal and fashion show - silent auction - I am attending my first one next month
- Donations from family of deceased loved ones.
And one of the neat things that is happening this year, coinciding with Canada eliminating pennies from our currency, Hospice has asked for people to donate their pennies towards a gas powered generator. Hoping to raise $50,000 - so far they have raised $25,000 - solely from pennies!
I have been spreading the Hospice word. Five years ago, I knew nothing of it and now, having had to go through the loss of a loved one I am very happy and grateful to say that our time was made easier through the caring of the wonderful folks at the Dr. Bob Kemp Hospice.