Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Providing empathy when life is ending

Whatever the season, she's there to comfort

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As the holiday season wraps its warmth around Winnipeg (just like one of those nice sweaters your grandma gives you every year), it's worth remembering that this time of year can be difficult for those with memories of celebrations past and the deep sense of loss over a loved one. Pam Bolton, a volunteer for Hospice and Palliative Care Manitoba, knows these feelings all too well.

"There's media presentation of what a holiday looks like, and it's wonderful," says Bolton. "Everyone is happy. Somehow all the background stuff is done, the house is clean, the baking is done, the lovely food is made and everyone comes home for Christmas. And here's a family who may have just lost the most important person, maybe a mother, a spouse. You don't want to get out of bed and brush your hair, let alone do festivities. It can be a tough time. And yet families are really resilient."

Bolton volunteers every year at the Hospice and Palliative Care Manitoba memory tree at St. Vital Centre. The memory tree is a special place of remembrance created to help ease the pain and grief associated with the loss of a loved one. Winnipeggers can come to the tree and hang a card in memory of a loved one who has died, providing a meaningful and symbolic way to remember a loved one over the holiday season.

The service to the community is free of charge, and specially trained volunteers such as Bolton are on hand to offer support and information about bereavement services available through Hospice and Palliative Care Manitoba.

For Bolton, her journey as a volunteer for Hospice and Palliative Care Manitoba sprang from the loss of her mother from terminal cancer in 1989. At the time, her mother wanted to die at home, surrounded by her family and friends, and Bolton and her sister turned to the palliative-care program for support. Her experience with this service was so positive that when Bolton retired in 2003, she knew exactly where she wanted to give of her time.

She decided to use her career abilities as a school counsellor to help those at the other end of the life spectrum. She took Hospice and Palliative Care Manitoba's compassionate-care course and began to volunteer as a compassionate-care volunteer, providing support and care to individuals living with a terminal illness as well as their families. As a compassionate-care volunteer, she visits clients during the daytime, perhaps while a family member is at work, takes individuals on outings or sometimes just provides a much-needed listening ear.

Since she began volunteering, Bolton has helped in many different roles for Hospice and Palliative Care Manitoba over the years. She co-chairs the steering committee for the organization's annual palliative-care conference in the spring, which attracts experts in the field from across the province. She helps deliver poinsettias, a fundraising effort put on every holiday season, as well as speaking at seminars about the importance of being a compassionate-care volunteer.

"Volunteers like Pam are priceless," says Joan Lawless, a development co-ordinator with Hospice and Palliative Care Manitoba. "They're the lifeblood of the organization. Without them, we would not be able to have the programs and services we have now."

Bolton said volunteering is an opportunity to give back, following her father's advice.

"I know I've had opportunities that others have not gotten, and my father always said, 'If you have, you need to give back.' It's just the way he lived," she said.

The Hospice and Palliative Care memory tree is at St. Vital Centre in front of the Bay until Christmas Eve.

The organization also provides year-round bereavement support by telephone by trained volunteers across the province at 1-800-539-0295. For more information about how to become involved or to make a donation, visit


If you know a special volunteer who strives to make his or her community a better place to live, please contact Carolyn Shimmin at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 17, 2012 B2


Updated on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 12:16 PM CST: fixed cutline

12:17 PM: fix cutline

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