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Living Life at Hospice Peterborough

Don shares reflections of his family’s time using supports and services.

The Herald family.The Herald Family Don (L), Jordon (top center) and
Marnie (R) surround Jan.

I write this on December 9th, 2022. It would have been her 78th birthday. She died at Hospice Peterborough on December 21st, 2021, just two weeks after our family, close friends and staff celebrated her 77th.

We had two other celebrations. Our son’s 50th birthday and our 54th anniversary. And they were certainly parties – there’s no doubt about that! Cakes. Balloons. Banners. Music, Laughter. Sharing of stories. Hugs. Kisses. Photographs. I’m sure you get the idea. The parties were much like our family would have done if Jan had not been in her final weeks of hospice care.

In 2018, like so many others in our community, Jan and I donated a modest amount toward the construction of the ten-bed residence and offices for Hospice Peterborough. A residential option for palliative care in our community was a top priority and we were delighted to help make it happen.

Jan and I never talked about the possibility that in the future, one or both of us might need the program.

Then, one day, we did.

On October 13th, 2021, Jan became a resident at Hospice Peterborough. Me, son Jordan, daughter Marnie and Jan’s sister Joan – we all immediately became part of the daily life of the extended hospice family.

Looking back at those early days, I was definitely closed to considering many of the possibilities offered to us by the staff. I said a firm ‘no’ to a lot of the suggestions. I was only focused on Jan’s care and the inescapable fact she was dying.

The staff learned our anniversary was coming up in early November. ‘We can have a party, you know,’ they said. ‘No,’ I’d say without too much thought. You see, I always believed that hospice care was all about the dying, not the living and certainly not about celebrating anything. ‘How can we have a party, I said to my kids, ‘when on either side of us, someone is dying, their families grieving?’ In my mind, celebrating anything did not fit my picture of what hospice was all about.

‘If you change your mind, let us know,’ staff said. ‘We celebrate lots of stuff here. It’s just an important part of what we do. A fifty-fourth anniversary is a very big deal in your life with Jan. Just because she’s here doesn’t mean you have to deny what you would have celebrated anyway if she wasn’t in this building; if all of this wasn’t part of your lives right now.’

Marnie, who was staying with her mother twenty-four hours a day, told me it was important to celebrate, to have a party. She’d been talking to staff about other celebratory events at hospice. She was convinced staff would respectfully handle it with residents and families. ‘Besides, Dad, it your fifty-fourth. That’s a long time for a marriage these days. You guys really need to celebrate it.’

She convinced me. I checked with Jan. She gave me a thumbs up because spoken words had become difficult. ‘Ok,’ I said to staff. ‘Let’s make it happen.’

And they did.

In the early morning hours of November 4th, the night staff quietly came and went from Jan’s room. They decorated it beautifully. When Jan and Marnie awoke in the morning, our space had been transformed into a party room. Energy and anticipation were high for Jan, Marnie and the staff. Our neighbours on either side were curious about all the activity and the decorations. They gave us their congratulations.

We had that party. It was a lot fun for everyone who came or dropped in to say ‘hi’ and have some cake. There was music. There was excited chatter. There was a happy buzz in the air. At the end, Jan gave it a double thumbs up – the very best review we could have hoped for!

In the weeks that followed, we had two more celebrations. One for my son’s 50th birthday and the final one for Jan’s 77th. Each time, hospice staff helped us with each event. They celebrated with just as much enthusiasm as we did.

And so it is, fellow members of Hospice Peterborough’s extended family, that when I remember our many weeks in that room, in that building, among the loving, supportive and authentically caring community of staff, doctors and volunteers, I often think of those three wonderful celebrations of our life together and not so much about Jan dying and our grief.

‘Supporting you through life-threatening illness and grief.’ That’s the mission of Hospice Peterborough.

But now I know that those guiding words also include celebrating aspects of each resident’s life and the family experience together.

My family’s celebrations still bring joy and thankfulness into our lives now that our dear Jan is gone from us.

Written by Don Herald and published with his permission.

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