by Rhonda Massad
This was my second visit to the West Island Palliative Care Residence. Well my third, I could not get over the fear the first time I went to visit a colleague who was spending his last days there, so it does not count. I was heart broken and wanted to say goodbye to Brian but froze in fear at the door. As in most times when serious things are happening to people they are strong and elegant – this was no exception. Brian’s wife was kind and came to the door to see me and reassured me it was fine. That he would understand. Maybe he would understand but I couldn’t.
According to the Jessica Newey, events coordinator at WIPCR, this is not uncommon. I felt so ashamed. So sorry not to be stronger, especially with all I had to be thankful for. When the team at WIPCR found out I had an issue, they do what they always do – they opened up their hearts and tackled the problem head on. They invited me for a visit. I graciously accepted all the while thinking “how the heck am I going to do this?.” I made the appointment for as soon as I could otherwise I knew I was going to have way too many sleepless nights.
On the day of my visit Albena Petkova, Communications and Fundraising Coordinator, was waiting when I pulled up. Short of holding my hand she ushered me in and made me feel welcome. Jessica was not far behind her and we started our tour. I had a sick stomach. I was scared. Scared to see someone dying. Scared I would hear pain and suffering. Smell medicine. I hate that smell. Quite the contrary. It was quiet but not eery. People spoke in regular tones not hushed as I expected. There was a great dane puppy visiting as it turned out. I was thrilled. Everyone paid attention to him and not the petrified visitor who was feeling ill.
Teresa Dellar, founder of WIPCR and community pillar was there in the lobby. She later told me she thought I looked a little green!! She made no noticed of it when she kissed and hugged me hello. It is her way. She has it all together and seems to have the needs of others all figured out. She never ceases to amaze me. Her energy and gift of giving have no limits.
We toured the halls. I saw one room with a lady who was clearly the patient talking in an animated fashion, arms flailing and voice excited. So much still left to say to her family as they all listened intently to what she had to tell them. Was it her last story? I hoped she would get a few more in.
Another door held the scene I was expecting. A sick lady in a bed with an IV, eyes closed white skin and frail looking. I wanted to cry for her. I felt sick inside that death could be so close.
I think for me it is knowing the end is near that bothers me. I mean, we all know it, but knowing it is any day or any minute really scares me. Normally I can hide from it or pretend it is far off.
On this first inside visit to the residence it was BBQ Wednesday. After the tour my caregivers took me outside into the fresh air where I secretly gulped in the cool, sunny spring day. I was happy to be outside and a little more relaxed. I was not ready to eat but I gave it my best shot. It was at this point where I decided to interview the nurses. I could not even imagine what questions I was going to ask because who in their right mind would want to work where people die all the time. I bit back my fear, not for the first time that day, and asked the tough questions.
The nurses were unanimous that having the privilege of caring for someone in their final days was a gift. An honour. They all felt better off for the work they do. They smiled and laughed. Dying was ok. It was natural and part of life. It was special. They spoke of the lessons they had learned from patients.
They truly do God’s work when God is ready to take you home again. Needless to say I was moved deeply.
When I was invited back for the Volunteer Thank You BBQ a few weeks later, I felt comfortable. Let’s not go crazy, I went in by the side entrance and made my way to the back court yard where they served lunch and cake just like my mom makes. The sun was shining the smiles were real. I looked to where I knew the patients were lying in wait but was not afraid this time, but something else. I still felt very sorry for them but I was a little more accepting. A little more at peace that the journey to what is next is waiting for us all. As the nurses said to me “at WIPCR it is all about living.”
To see the what the nurses had to say you can read It Is All About Life At WIPCR