You honoured Mom by your presence. You were with her because you wanted to be with her. You knew that she could feel you close to her. She rested so much easier because you were by her side. You were her loving angels, wishing her peace, wishing her ease. Giving to her and to me the ultimate gifts from the depths of you to the depths of us: selflessness, caring, compassion, understanding, kindness, respect, comfort, goodness, beauty and the gift of your time.
Most of you know well what it is to lose someone you have loved. You have chosen to move from your own losses and griefs to a larger embrace of all life and all death. You do not shy away from any part of the journey. You are all at peace with stillness or struggle and are willing to be entirely present and giving to any moment.
You know, it's funny, too, that when you were there and I had some time to be at home, I never did anything particularly special. But I could keep up with the laundry, had time to buy groceries and cook a real meal for myself, feed and snuggle the cats, phone the family, and sleep deep and easy for the first time in many months. I was no longer ragged, haggard, no longer pacing the floor… you gave to me a gift of ease, of home… a time to reflect, to feel gratitude and to fully care for my mom when I was there with her. And more than anything else, a time to be quiet in myself, to feel the losing and to grieve.
I do not know how to thank you. But how I thank you from every part of my being and every part of Mom's heart… for the gifts beyond all measure.” Excerpted from Cheryl Church’s email, sent to the AV Hospice Society to be distributed to the team of volunteers who work on behalf of the Alberni Valley Hospice Society out in the community.
Two of those community volunteer Hospice “angels” are Rowena Chase and Carla Scheffers, who have each been with the AV Hospice Society for at least twenty years.
Rowena: “Sally Hodgson and Jean Bishop trained us in the palliative care course. There was no Ty Watson House, then, so all the Hospice work was done through Jean’s office at the WCGH. We worked with palliative care patients in the hospital or in a client’s home.”
Carla: “The most important part of our work was and is to just be with people who are dying, being present. That is still very much part of our service today for anyone who is dying at home, in the hospital, in a community care facility or Ty Watson House.”
Rowena: “However, I have been with some folks up to three years. We would become friends and I would get very comfortable with the whole family. Our service is for the family, not just the client.”
Carla: “Often we are with the clients only for the final few weeks of their journey. Then, what we mostly do is respite, allowing the family member who is caring for the patient to have personal time for a few hours. I have taken a client to the hospital for blood tests or we’d go down to Harbour Quay for an ice cream cone and sit, taking in the sights. Sometimes, we are part of a respite team, where each of us spend a couple of hours per shift with the client throughout each day.”
Rowena: “Another service we gave then and now, is Healing Touch. We are both trained in that and it is a service we give to anyone in palliative care no matter where they are in the Alberni Valley. This service, too, is available for the family members and to patients who are receiving long-term treatment.”
Carla: “Some of us were trained by Sally Hodgson and Doris Young to do Healing Touch, while other volunteers got training in Reiki, another community service we still offer today. The main purpose of Healing Touch and Reiki is to give the client a chance to fully relax. For me, Healing Touch has become a passion.”
Indeed, Carla and Rowena are two volunteers who have done it all: respite, vigil-sitting, Healing Touch, kitchen service at Ty Watson and being part of a Walk and Talk Bereavement Group. There was even a time when they each helped out in the AV Hospice Society office, which was eventually housed in the basement of Ty Watson House, long before Ty Watson House became the hospice it is today. Both Rowena and Carla spent time working in the Hospice library, also housed in the basement. Today, those latter two services are done by paid staff.
What brought these two dedicated volunteers to Hospice work? For Rowena, facing retirement, it answered the need to be of real service to people. “Studying a list of opportunities through the Volunteer Bureau of the day, I realized that Hospice work would be a good fit for me.”
Carla, a long-time care aide in Extended Care in Ladner, B.C., needed something significant to do when she moved to Port Alberni. “It really bothered me that, while I worked in the Extended Care facility, we never had time to sit with the dying… there were just too many duties to be fulfilled. When I came here almost twenty-two years ago, there was a conference at Echo Center about dying and palliative care. That day, I knew this was what I wanted to do.”
What keeps them in Hospice work? Carla: “This work stems from a feeling of love for the person… I see their beauty… I feel privileged and humbled to be able to be with them at this stage in their life’s journey. I think it is almost a selfishness… the work is so rewarding… I feel such a sense of satisfaction.”
Rowena nods in agreement, “We become their ‘angels’… so many call us that… it’s truly an honour. I don’t need any reward beyond knowing that I have been of service.”
For more information about the community services offered by the AV Hospice Society, please call 250-723-4478.