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Hospice House: Volunteers, staff make hospice a home

Hospice association employs about 40 full-time staffers and receives help from approximately 120 volunteers
Susan Ross Hospice House
Hospice volunteer cook Susan Ross is known for her salted-chocolate chunk cookies. She bakes them at the hospice home on Thursdays and has given out copies of the recipe.

“For such a short time we are here, gifted years by silent explosions in the deep nothing of space. We are the star-dusted blips on the timeline of all things, half of a half of a blink in the history of it all.”

Kamloops minister Dan Hines offered a poetic reminder about the fragility of life and a recommendation — be thankful.

The profound effects of loss can be felt in few words.

“Miss you, Mom. From Ron.”

“Emilia, this would have been your 15th. Love grandma and grandpa.”

“Agnes, missing you.”

“This one just says jumbo. Meant something to somebody.”

A dozen or so staff and volunteers read aloud hand-written memories before placing the notes into a bucket to burn at the Marjorie Willoughby Snowden Memorial Hospice Home. They gathered outside the palliative-care facility off Summit Drive in Sahali on a cold January day to pay respect for the dead.

“They bring us some warmth, as well,” said volunteer Gordon Davis, huddled around the fire.

Each December, the hospice sets up a memory tree and encourage people to jot down memories of the deceased. It’s a fundraiser, but also a moment to reflect when the memories are burned during a ceremony in the new year.

“Then we take the ashes and we put it back in our gardens,” hospice executive director Wendy Marlow said. “It’s just a real honouring of the people who are leaving the memory and the people who have passed.”

Death is the raison d’être for the hospice house. Staff and volunteers respect that and work every day to quell the facility’s intrinsic morbidity to make those who come to die feel at home. For patients and visitors, that might mean a bite to eat in the kitchen, a hug or a listening ear.

The smell of fresh baking welcomes people into the building, cooked daily by volunteers in the kitchen and snapped up by family members who can be found walking around in their socks.

Volunteer and board member Susan Ross is a former nurse and professor at Thompson Rivers University.

She started as a patient volunteer shortly after the facility opened and eventually brought students to the facility as part of an interdisciplinary course about death and dying and life and living. In her retired years, Ross wanted to give back to the organization and volunteers on Thursdays, baking her legendary salted chocolate chunk cookies. When there’s time, she tries to cook a meal, especially when care-aides and nurses aren’t seen around the kitchen.

“If I don’t see them coming, I know there’s lots going on,” Ross said.

About 40 paid staff members and 120 volunteers run the full gamut of care, programming and fundraising, including Flutter Buys Thrift Store in Brocklehurst.

Volunteer and board member Dorothy Woodward is one of the “Wednesday ladies” at the second-hand shop.

“Some people come just for a hug because they know us there,” she said.

While some tasks are reserved for paid professionals, registered nurses, care-aides and volunteers can be found doing a little bit of everything. The main objective is making the dying process comfortable. End-of-life wishes have been fulfilled by those paying attention.

It could be something as simple as wheeling a patient outside on a winter day to temper cabin fever to more elaborate plans involving a red Ferrari for a man who always wanted to hear the roar of the Italian sports car, wishes are granted.

“A couple of us started phoning some of the car dealerships and I think it was within two days we had a red Ferrari in our parking lot,” Marlow said. “We hadn’t told him. … The look on his face.”

Volunteer David Newman is a jack-of-all trades around the hospice. He’s given out his home phone number to staff if they need a hand during an odd hour and has sat with countless dying patients.

“If they trust you, they tell you everything,” Newman said. “I said everything. I mean that, the whole of their lives. All their secrets, all their sad things. Sometimes all their naughty little things. They will tell you everything. It’s a different relationship.”

Nurses who work at the hospice know facilitating death conflicts with the idea of saving lives, but they say they take pride in offering kindness, gentleness and knowledge about the dying process.

“The people that work here are passionate about making this part of people’s journey the best that they can,” said hospice clinical care supervisor and RN Kristin Pierobon.