Up until three years ago, I had never stepped foot within the Prince George Hospice House doors, a sure sign that in my adult life I had not been touched by death, grief or even loss. Like many others, I had had no reason to go inside the big white buildings though I had passed by them many times on my drives home in the Ferry Avenue traffic.
This all changed, however, when my good friend, Mearl, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. At the age of forty-three, with a great husband and three wonderful young children, such an unforeseen diagnosis seemed so premature and so unfair. It was so unbelievable that Mearl was destined to die at this stage in her life.
Like most Hospice House guests, Mearl was very much in the final steps of her journey in life when the ambulance came to her home and brought her to Hospice House to spend her final days. The point of accepting that hospice is the right choice can be bitter sweet. Being admitted to Hospice House represents another step closer to death, to the end of life as one has come to know it, and to not returning home to one's loved ones. It is therefore a difficult reality for many to face, even though hospice is such a great end of life care option.
After witnessing the care extended to my dear friend while she lived her final days at Hospice House, my initial apprehension over her doing so, was transformed to pure love for the place that had brought my Mearl to where she truly needed to be for the last precious week of her life. What I personally experienced during Mearl's stay there, was joy in a place where I least expected it. Statistics reveal that only 10% of people choose to spend their final days at the Prince George Hospice House. This may be due to a lack of awareness of this very valuable end of life care choice, and it may also be a result of families waiting too long to inquire about Hospice House for their loved one.
It was early in my introduction to hospice that I found the heart of this wonderful home to reside in its kitchen, where everyone is fed, including guests and their families and the Hospice House staff. Food is love, and in this tradition, supper is cooked with love every night. Families often help with meal preparation, too, which is healing in itself.
During my visits with Mearl, I witnessed hospice taking on two other vital roles during the week that she was a guest there. Hospice took care of Mearl so that her husband, Jason, could just enjoy his wife in her last days of life. This was a beautiful thing to watch and an amazing gift for Jason and their three children. I also saw fantastic secondary support offered for extended family and friends such as myself who spent most of the week there. It was truly wonderful that anyone wishing to spend time with Mearl was welcome to come to Hospice House… yet another invaluable gift. What also made this difficult time less so, was the presence of the in-house family suite, the always open kitchen, the kids' playroom, the grief support, and the doctors, nurses, care aides and hospice team members who answered so many questions and gave the greatest hugs.
Imminent death is thought to cast dark shadows on hope, but what I actually experienced at Hospice House instead was much hope for humanity, and much love and human connection at a time of incredible vulnerability.
Following Mearl's passing, we sat on the couches in the hospice lobby and shed a few tears. As family and friends of the dearly departed, we were very much encouraged by staff to grieve and to make ourselves at home for as long as we needed to. Even in these early moments following the inevitable, I knew that this experience with Hospice House had been so very special, and that if my Mearl was destined to pass away at such a young age, I was so grateful that it had been at Hospice House. I felt much comfort and gratitude at being able to experience such warmth and peace in those final days. I also knew that my appreciation for Hospice House was so profound that I would need to give back in some way in return.
This brings us to the present, as here I am three years following the loss of my treasured friend, offering grief support at Hospice House for others. Challenge, Dream, Believe and ("Yes, Mearl!") Conquer! You are forever in my heart!
Lovingly submitted by Andrea Reeves on the third anniversary of Mearl's passing February 23.