Dave Wilford of the Bulkley Valley Hospice Society shows a special mattress that gives dying people more comfort.

Dave Wilford of the Bulkley Valley Hospice Society shows a special mattress that gives dying people more comfort.

Supported to the end

Our Town feature on the Bulkley Valley Hospice Society.

Hospices everywhere give comfort to dying people, and support to their families and friends. It’s an evolving tradition, say members of the Bulkley Valley Hospice Society, but the core principles remain unchanged.

“We feel that no person needs to die alone,” said Denise Kalina, the society director.

Half of the hospice society’s 44 members volunteer to sit with dying people when their family or friends can’t be there. They have enough willing volunteers to sit with people around the clock if need be.

“We’ll sit with them, maybe hold their hand, read to them, sing if they want,” Kalina said. A few provide therapeutic touch, even bedside music.

They go to the hospital or to the lodge, where the society has respite rooms.

Increasingly, the hospice members help people pass their final days outside the hospital.

“More people are choosing to die at home,” said Kalina.

As well as sitting with the dying, members help families their families to do everyday tasks so they can focus on their loved ones.

“We’re extra bodies there to provide the little details,” Kalina said, helping with everything from groceries to making sure families don’t miss utilities bills.

“There is a spectrum of hospice,” said Dave Wilford, who has been on the society’s board of directors since it formed in 1991.

The spectrum ranges, he said, from hospital units staffed with palliative physicians, nurses and psychologists to small community groups like the Bulkley Valley society.

Hospice members do not provide drugs, he said, although the “backbone” of their membership happens to come from retired nurses.

Even so, the availability of better palliative drugs that dull pain but leave patients lucid has allowed hospices to provide more home care.

Attitudes may also be part of that change. Doctors used to avoid prescribing addictive drugs, Wilford said, even to patients nearing the end of their lives.

Mechanical aids—from poles to help people sit up in bed to special “bubble wrap” mattresses that avoid bedsores—have also come a long way.

“We’re one of the few hospice societies that has equipment,” Wilford said.

The society lends out four hospital beds equipped with special mattresses, and has a crew to deliver them as far as Moricetown, Smithers, Telkwa and Quick.

Another part of the society’s palliative program is to advise friends and family who want to form a support circle for a loved one.And someone has passed away, the hospice society gives peer support to people in grief.

Although they have some training, hospice members are not professional counsellors—they will refer people to those services if need be.

Instead, said Joanne Boot, the society provides a simple peer support program.

“It’s somewhere to come and talk if people need to tell their story,” she said. Boot recently helped her first client—they went for walks or met for coffee to talk.

“I think every time you tell your story, you heal a little bit.”

Although everyone is different, experiencing loss herself gave Boot insight into what to expect.

“We’re part of a club—people who’ve lost. You don’t want those people in your club really, but once you’re in there, you’re connected because you’ve felt the same grief and pain.”

Everyone at the society is a volunteer, and all their services are free of charge.

Wilford said they could not run their Broadway office without the generous support of landowners Mark and Terry Weme.

A full quarter of the hospice’s funding used to come from Northern Health, but the health agency had to stop that funding in 2010 and 2011.

Thankfully, he said, the society continues to receive funding from groups such as the Provincial Employees Community Fund and the Wetzinkwa Community Forest.

At “Give a Hoot for Hospice” fundraiser on Oct. 28, donated goods and services will be auctioned off in the Glacier Toyota showroom.