This is the second in a three-part series on the Dr. Bob Kemp Centre for Hospice Palliative Care and hospice care in Ontario.
By Abigail Cukier
There’s laughter and chatter coming from the gourmet kitchen – along with the smell of bacon and eggs. A toddler is skipping down the hall past the soft, oversized easy chairs and colourful artwork, sun streaming through the windows.
Make no mistake – the Dr. Bob Kemp Centre for Hospice Palliative Care is brimming with life.
“It’s not about death here. It’s about living as fully as you can until the last moment. I hear more laughter here than I do anywhere else,” said Beth Ellis, executive director of the hospice.
Today is Wednesday, which means it’s the day hospice program, which is available for free to anyone living in Hamilton with a life-threatening illness.
The tables are set for lunch with fresh flowers. Some clients are sitting together on the couch discussing the finer points of banana bread, others are finishing their artwork. Frances Claro, who is here for her second time is getting ready for her Reiki session. Normally something she wouldn’t do, she found it helped her swollen ankles.
Doreen Stallard is here, as she has been for the past 18 years. Stallard starting volunteering with the hospice in 1994 when it was run out of the Church of the Redeemer basement in Stoney Creek.
“I cared for my husband until he died. That changes you in some way. Two years later, I met Bob Kemp and he talked to me about hospice. I said ‘that’s for me. It makes my life meaningful,” she said.
The day hospice also offers programs like counseling, music therapy, hair salon services and outings.
“It gives them a sense of control over something in their lives and allows them to feel less isolated,” said Trudy Cowan, coordinator of the day program and visiting volunteers. “It helps them understand they still have life left. Just because they have a diagnosis, they can still have joy.”
Ellis joined the hospice in 1996. She had been a buyer for the Stratford Festival. She went back to school full time to the palliative care program at Seneca College after both her parents died within a year of each other of cancer. Her mom died first and she spent a year looking after her dad.
“We are all going to die. It’s a fact of life. You’re not going to get out of that one. It’s about how we die and how we want our loved ones to die – with dignity and as pain free as possible.”
When someone enters the hospice, they create a spiritual care plan with Maureen Russell, the director of spiritual and bereavement care.
“What does your heart need to get you through? How can I help your family? Usually, the first thing they say is ‘make sure my family is OK,” Russell said.
So Russell works on legacy leaving – writing letters for loved ones or recording the person’s life story. One woman wrote 30 cards to be sent out to friends on the day she died.
Russell joined the hospice 11 years ago. She had studied palliative care at Mohawk College and when she heard about Bob Kemp hospice, she said she practically begged to work there.
“It was a calling, honestly, a calling from another place,” she said from her office, where on one shelf, sits a stack of colourful quilts.
Every person who stays at the hospice chooses a quilt. It comforts them throughout their stay. When they die, a loved one receives the quilt. This happens during the “leaving ceremony.”
While each family can decide exactly what they want to do, Russell says a typical ceremony involves as many people as the family wants – sometimes up to 30. Russell offers reflections and thanks the person for spending their last days at the hospice. A candle is lit at the front door of the hospice and in front of the person’s room to show something in the house has changed.
“The whole home stops and we walk out the door with that person,” Russell said.
“It’s what we used to do. Communities would come together to care for the sick and the dying, feed them, care for them. That’s what we do.”
See Abigail Cukier’s column on palliative care at http://www.hamiltonnews.com/news/we-need-to-pay-attention-to-palliative-care/