Meghan Hillyard and Matthew Taylor's laughter, in sync, is contagious. A wedding and baby on the way, their love for one another is evident. What is even more special, though, is they share this joy, this laughter, this love, with people who are living their final days.
The couple volunteers every other Sunday, making a special dinner for residents of Jocelyn House Hospice.
A year before Hillyard and Taylor's serendipitous meeting, Taylor's father, Gord, died of cancer.
"My dad passed away peacefully at home with all of us around," says Taylor. "I always thought that was really important to him -- to have everyone around him, to hold his hand, to be there for him, to talk when he could talk, and listen."
So a year ago, when the couple began discussing volunteering somewhere together, Taylor mentioned he always wanted, after the experience with his father, to be in that role for someone else going through the end stages of their life.
Hillyard felt this was something special the two of them could do together in honour of Taylor's father, whom she was never fortunate enough to meet. So they began volunteering together as a couple at the hospice.
Jocelyn House Hospice was established in 1985 by Bill and Miriam Hutton, parents of the late Jocelyn Hutton, who died in her house at the age of 17 from cancer. The Huttons' desire was to turn their family home into a hospice for other people living the end stages of their lives. Jocelyn House provides individuals (it can accommodate up to four residents) who are unable to stay at home but choose not to be in a hospital, preferring the comfort of living in a house while still receiving important palliative care.
For Hillyard and Taylor (who are fondly referred to as "M&M" by the residents at Jocelyn House) it's all about adding life to the final days. They admit that at the beginning, they would do trial runs of the meal the night before, because they were so frightened they would burn something. Now they are chefs extraordinaire, taking requests from the residents, buying special foods such as lamb they know might not be in the hospice's budget, and Hillyard makes desserts from scratch for every meal.
But most of all, they bring about a sense of normalcy and family for the residents. "We come in with our bags of food, we clatter around the kitchen," laughs Taylor.
"And residents come up, ask what's on the menu. I pour them a cup of coffee and the conversation and laughter continues on from there throughout the entire evening."
Hillyard smiles and says the residents like to ask about her belly and about the baby.
Yet, sometimes the laughter and joy pauses for the challenges of loss. Recently, a resident they knew quite well over the last eight months passed away.
"I feel so blessed and so honoured that I was part of his life and he was part of ours," says Taylor.
"I truly believe in our heart of hearts that we did make a difference in his last days, we had some good laughs and some more serious moments," recalls Hillyard.
Kyla Wiebe, development manager for Jocelyn Hutton Foundation, said the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority covers the cost of health care staffing but the rest is raised through fundraising. Volunteers help with duties including shopping, cooking, cleaning the house and fundraising.
"I say to Matthew all the time, other than making a baby and getting married, volunteering at Jocelyn House is to me one of the most important things I've ever done in my life," says Hillyard. The two are already planning on involving Jack in their volunteering when he is born, as they believe giving back should be something learned from an early age.
Jocelyn House Hospice will hold its fourth annual Sunday Supper fundraiser on March 17 at the Inn at The Forks. To learn more about the fundraiser, how to donate or become a volunteer, visit them online (www.jocelynhouse.ca).
If you know a special volunteer who strives to make his or her community a better place to live, please contact Carolyn Shimmin-Bazak (firstname.lastname@example.org).