Even though I’d known my mother was dying for two years, when she actually passed away, I felt like I was in crisis. Returning to Vancouver from her Christmas Eve funeral in Winnipeg, I was finding it extremely difficult to cope with my grief. A friend who’d lost her father three years earlier had warned me that it would hit like a tidal wave and, alas, it did. I was stunned by the depth of it. It was surreal being at the airport on Christmas Day, having a shop clerk and flight staff wishing me the best of the season.
I very luckily had friends who sat with me while I sobbed, offering tissues and Ativan but not platitudes. And yet I still felt alone, overwhelmed by my reaction. I wasn’t eating properly or sleeping very much. Nothing felt real and I couldn’t stop thinking about my mother, now dead, now ashes in a niche on the outside wall of a funeral home.
I read voraciously others’ stories of grief on blogs and Internet forums, googling “I just lost my mom and I feel like I’m going crazy,” more than a few times.
There was no obvious place to turn. Then, a friend in Winnipeg told me that if I lived there, Hospice & Palliative Care Manitoba could offer me a lot of support. Thinking linearly in between crying jags, I found the contact information for Vancouver Hospice Society. I had long thought that hospice only helped people who were imminently dying but it turns out that it also helps those in bereavement. VHS has in-house groups for children, teens, families and adults who have suffered loss as well as one-on-one sessions with an in-house grief counsellor. The hospice also offers palliative support and 24-hour bedside vigil during the last 72 hours of life.
Services are free, (except for a per diem of $31.90/day per bed) paid for mainly by donations and sales at its two Vancouver thrift stores and its two major annual fundraisers. VHS has a new home at West 32nd and Granville and as of April 1 has been accepting patients. Incorporated as a non-charitable organization in 2003, VHS has a six-bed capacity.
I originally met with the hospice’s clinical counsellor to discuss the Bereavement Walking Program, a unique support group where trained volunteers and the bereaved walk and talk in Kitsilano once a week for eight weeks. (The next round begins at the end of April.) I tried the program but found it too soon for me to be around others who had also suffered loss. (As grief is unique for each person, so is their experience with the walking group. Many find it extremely helpful and return several times.) Instead, I had six sessions (the maximum) with the clinical counsellor and often times it was a relief to just cry without feeling nervous about overwhelming someone with my grief.
Meeting with her, particularly at first when my grief was at its rawest, I felt a bit of the weight lifting knowing that someone understood and could offer support. Grieving can feel like an incredibly isolating experience but the counselling helped to take some of that isolation away.
Her understanding of the process of grief as well as her calm presence was incredibly soothing.
I have found VHS to be such a valuable resource and yet it was one that I had never thought of and in speaking to others about it, have discovered that many in Vancouver hadn’t even heard of it at all. It is definitely a good starting point for anyone who is grieving and wanting support.
To access any of these services or for more information, call The Vancouver Hospice Society at 604-737-7305 or go to vancouverhospice.org. Information on the May fundraiser, Hike for Hospice, can be found there as well.
Karen Segal is a Vancouver freelance writer.