During his childhood, Graham faced several significant losses: a friend died in Cameron Lake when the car he was in plunged off the road, one was struck by a truck, and another died in a tragic accident.
Around the same time, his father was diagnosed with amyloidosis, a condition wherein amyloid proteins are abnormally deposited in the vital organs. In 2000, Graham and his sister were temporarily placed in foster care while his father underwent a heart transplant. His father lost his 10-year battle with the condition in 2004. Two years later, Graham’s mother passed away as a result of prolonged substance abuse. A month after that, Graham sustained a spinal cord injury.
While he had little understanding of grieving process theory in those formative years, Graham credits the security provided by his faith, his grandparents, and his foster family, for giving him hope and promise during the difficult times. He also believes these losses were what helped him find purpose.
While doing a social work practicum in 2005, Graham began facilitating for Rainbows for Children, a grief and loss peer support program for youth ages 4-13, offered by the Port Alberni Family Guidance Association. “This was when I first became aware that you can help people through the grieving process by just showing up as yourself and letting them express what they feel. I didn’t have to be ‘fixer’…I didn’t have to have all the answers.” Graham recently became coordinator of the program.
In the spring of 2011, Graham took the Palliative Care training course. He currently holds two weekly shifts in Ty Watson House, and is the newest member of the AVHS Board of Directors.
“What draws me to Ty Watson House is the unique level of commitment and dedication that I see in the staff and volunteers. Some volunteers have been with the Hospice Society for over twenty years. Every person that I have met in the society is caring and committed to making not only the community, but the world, a better place. Many of our volunteers belong to other organizations, allowing us to build bridges across the Valley and beyond. The Hospice Society is filled with people who continually inspired me. I am honored to be part of something so big.”
Philosophically, Graham closes: “I have had my own experiences with serious illness. It changes how you look at life; you don’t put things off as much. You realize that you need to do the good you can in the time that you’re given, and only God knows how much time we’ll be given, so if there is something you can do to make the world a kinder, safer, healthier place…do it now.”
Sharon Hillman, a retired educator, is a trained volunteer with the Alberni Valley Hospice Society. She harbours a life-long interest in people and their individual stories. She can be reached through Ty Watson House at 723-4478 or firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of all Sharon’s columns can be found at www.albernihospice.ca