The Merritt and District Hospice Society is reminding Merrittonians that hospice services are as diverse as wildflowers, with the Wildflowers Bloom campaign bringing awareness to the cause from April 4 to 29.
Initially forming in 1986, the society has been providing support to terminally ill patients and their families for over 36 years. Their programs and services are offered by a team made up of entirely volunteers, barring one paid administrative position. Currently the hospice society has twenty active volunteers. It is the firm belief of the society that no one should die alone, and their philosophy of care focuses on helping people live until they die. Hospice services are non-discriminatory, and always free-of-charge.
While the term “hospice” generally refers to either a service that aims to improve the quality of life of terminally ill patients, as well as support those who are affected by their death, or an actual building for caring for those who are dying, the definition of “hospice” is changing, according to Merritt and District Hospice Society Chair Jill Sanford.
“The concept has actually expanded a bit to include anyone who has a serious illness, which is one that there is no cure for, but they may not be actively dying. They may have breathing issues such as COPD, or kidney issues, or any life-limiting illness,” said Sanford.
The services and resources offered to those with such life-limiting or terminal illnesses are expansive and wide in variety. From casual conversation, companionship through letter-writing, and bedside sitting, to respite for caregivers and a library of resources for those struggling with grief, care is focused on the emotional rather than physical needs of the client.
“We don’t actually do the physical care. We’re just there. And that’s an amazing thing. They’re surrounded by all sorts of doctors and healthcare workers, but there’s nobody there to just sit and talk with them about anything that they want. That’s a big part of what we do. We support them through companionship. Home health nurses are excellent, and so are the support workers under their direction. But they can’t be there all the time.”
A plethora of physical resources are available in the society’s lending library, including books and pamphlets on bereavement and advanced care planning. The society offers resources geared towards both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Along with these physical supports, the society also focuses on community education and awareness through public talks on hospice issues, and community tables at community events. Sanford stressed that these issues are important to those of all ages.
“Even a 20 year old, who’s healthy as a horse, may want to start thinking about that. They might need to have somebody make decisions for them along the way. If you were in a car accident and you couldn’t speak, but decisions needed to be made about your care, your family or your representative can speak on your behalf. And you’ll know they’re doing what you want. We call that advanced care planning.”
Sanford added that the goal of hospice is often misunderstood.
“Some people think that we are pushing medical assistance in dying. We are not. Some of our clients may choose that option, and no matter if we approve or don’t, that’s their choice and we support any choice they make.”
Volunteer Coordinator and Community Liaison Carol Fulcher is the society’s one paid employee, with various tasks including organising community events and 3-day volunteer training sessions, criminal record checks, and providing access to resources for clients. Fulcher and the society’s volunteers are diligent and humble in their delivery of services and interactions with clients.
“Volunteers have told me it’s like having a good neighbour. Someone to just be there. It’s not about us, it’s about how we can support you during this difficult time,” said Fulcher. “We can’t change the outcome, but we can try to soften the landing.”
Society volunteers receive 20-25 hours of training, sign a client confidentiality agreement, and pass a criminal record check. Volunteers are double vaccinated, and maintain COVID safety protocols. Volunteers are among the many community stakeholders that work together with the society, including regular donations of quilts from the Nicola Valley Quilters Guild. Fulcher says small gestures like these go a long way.
“We had an elderly gentleman in a facility, and they had taken his blanket away. Our volunteer brought a quilt and he cried. He couldn’t believe someone would do this for him. He loved that quilt. It was really touching. Especially in a world of always taking and not giving.”
The society’s impact to make these kinds of impacts has been severely hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, with restrictions limiting access to hospital and hospice buildings alike ultimately causing a decrease in volunteer numbers and cancelling many in-person hospice events.
With the Wildflower Bloom campaign, the Merritt and District Hospice Society is selling wildflower seed packets to raise awareness of the diversity of support available for individuals and families in Merritt. The packets are available for a minimum $5.00 donation at Purity Feed, Carrie Ware and Company, and Nicola Valley Chiropractic. Relying on community and healthcare grants to operate, donations are greatly appreciated.
With training sessions coming up, those interested in getting involved with the society or receiving support from it,should contact 250-280-1701, or online at merritthospice.org. Resources are available in person at 12-2025 Granite Avenue, Thursday from 9am-12pm.