A key figure at a landmark Winnipeg hospice says it’s time to break through the taboos surrounding terminal illness and the end of life.
"We’re very comfortable talking about the beginning of life and family and love and the neo-natal aspect, but not so good talking about the end of life," said Bob Girard, board chair of Jocelyn House, whose mother-in-law, Jennie, died at home "peacefully, relatively pain-free and surrounded by loved ones" last year.
"I’ve seen lots of people squirming in their chairs when this becomes the topic of conversation."
Girard, a Whyte Ridge resident, said the whole idea of hospice is about accepting the end of life as an inevitability, and making life as comfortable as possible until that time comes.
"The discussion shouldn’t be about dying, but about living the final days of your life with dignity. Hospice is a philosophy of care. The hospice viewpoint accepts death as the final stage of life. The goal of hospice is to help us live our last days as alert and as pain-free as possible," Girard said.
He noted the term ‘hospice’ was coined Cicely Saunders, a nurse and physician, in England in 1967 to describe specialized patient care.
Jocelyn House Hospice was founded by Bill and Miriam Hutton in 1985, in memory of their daughter, Jocelyn, a former Kelvin High School student who died of cancer at just 17.
Their daughter’s courage and spirit in battling the disease inspired them to found Western Canada’s first free-standing hospice at their wooded, riverside family home on Egerton Road in St. Vital.
Girard was speaking in conjunction with National Hospice Palliative Care Week in Canada, which runs until May 11 under the theme, ‘Canadians are aging. We’ve done the math. Have you?’
This year, the week is designed to raise awareness and promote dialogue among health care professionals and caregivers to advocate for better hospice palliative care — especially in light of the aging rate of the Canadian population.
Kyla Wiebe, development manager for the Jocelyn Hutton Foundation, said the baby boomer generation — and advances in medicine — have increased the need to maintain the hospice.
Wiebe, who lives in Riverview, also noted that more people need to have a clearer idea of what a "hospice is and does."
"It’s about dignity and our residents making as many decisions as possible," Wiebe said, noting the hospice receives around half of its funding from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, while the shortfall is covered by donations.
Jocelyn House also recently adopted a new care model, which now includes licensed practical nurses and health care aides supervised by a registered nurse to provide even more specialized care.
"The impetus was the care residents were needing was becoming more complex and the treatments more complex," said Tuxedo resident and Jocelyn House’s executive director Tanya Benoit.
For more information about National Hospice Palliative Care Week, visit the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association at www.chpca.net
To learn more about Jocelyn House, or to donate to the hospice, visit www.jocelynhouse.ca