Years ago, I worked at a local retirement home. One of our residents was a very ill gentleman who needed the extra care that our residence provided. I started to bring him little comforts from home - Red River cereal, crossword puzzles, or old maps to match up with some of his lively stories. We became friends.
After a few months, his health took a turn for the worse and he was moved to Hospice House over a weekend, in very serious condition. His family members lived in Victoria and were not expected to arrive in Prince George until much later on this particular day. I had been away for the weekend so had not been aware of his situation until Monday morning. After work, I made the decision to visit Hospice House although I was terrified at the idea. My own Father had died suddenly when I was fairly young and the experience traumatized me, shaping 'death and dying' as something I would never choose to 'embrace'.
But, my compassion for this man - and the thought of him being all alone - was stronger than my fear, so I drove to Hospice House.
On entering, I was greeted by a calm and friendly woman, she chatted with me and showed me around the building, explaining where everything was located. I couldn't tell you if she was a volunteer, or a nurse, nor her name - I was too scared to pay attention to much else besides my pounding heart.
When my ill friend whispered that he needed water, I was terrified. Having no clue what to do and feeling totally overwhelmed at his simple request, I searched out the nearby 'helper'. I'm sure I was wide-eyed and sounding panicked, but she was calming and responded in a manner that was full of respect and caring, as if she understood my own unspoken needs, not just a request for water. She patiently showed me how to share ice chips and reassured me that if we needed anything at all, that she was there for us. Having been given that peace of mind, that I wouldn't be alone during such an intense time, was a gift. It allowed me to be more emotionally present with my friend (the best I could), without my fears taking over every thought.
Those few hours (before my friend's family arrived) were life-changing for me. At one point, my friend - who had only spoken once, to request water - whispered my name and said 'thank you'. I can't begin to put into words all the emotions that our private moment held, then and now.
When I was getting ready to leave (feeling emotionally drained), the Hospice woman put her hand on my shoulder and kindly asked how I was doing. I started crying but let the tears flow because there is no need to wear a mask at Hospice House. You can be who you are, and they'll meet you right where you're at, in the most gentle of ways.
Death and dying may have brought me to its doorstep, but Hospice House gave me strength to honour a life; I'm very grateful.