Much has changed since Shirley Wade-Linton welcomed the first few hospice volunteers to her Comox Valley living room 40 years ago, but the organization’s original goals – to provide support for those nearing end of life, and their loved ones – is stronger than ever.
And as the Comox Valley Hospice Society celebrates its 40th anniversary this November, it does so with heart-felt thanks to those founding families, along with all of the staff, volunteers, donors and others who’ve followed in their footsteps.
“As we mark this significant milestone for hospice care in the Valley, we remember with gratitude all those individuals and families who have been supported in their journey because of the foresight of Shirley and her fellow volunteers,” says Christine Colbert, Executive Director of the Comox Valley Hospice Society.
The catalyst for Comox Valley Hospice came from Shirley’s own experience in early 1980s Victoria with her mother, who had cancer. With no room available at Victoria Hospice, the result was a difficult, painful death, she recalls.
Yet while death was a taboo topic at the time, “when enough people in a society have a bad experience with death, it starts sowing the seeds,” Shirley says. “You see how painful something can be, but it doesn’t have to be, if we shift things.”
Returning home to the Valley, Shirley gathered several friends who shared her vision for bringing hospice care close to home, and with the support of others at St. Joseph’s Hospital, began the training needed to provide comfort and support for those nearing the end of their journey.
After three years of building a strong foundation for the organization, Shirley passed the torch to the next hospice advocates. Four decades later, the Comox Valley Hospice Society operates an array of programs in hospital, in the community and at the Aitken Community Hospice for those facing a life-limiting illness. For grieving families and loved ones, they offer grief counselling and a variety of grief support groups that change with the season and needs of the community.
“I am so pleased to see it go way past what we hoped for,” reflects Shirley, who’s heard numerous stories over the years of local families helped by the hospice staff and volunteers. “It’s so exciting to see that the community around hospice is just so strong and that the organization is so healthy.”
It speaks to one of the goals of hospice care: to bring the topic of death and dying out of the shadows and see it as a normal part of life. By having those discussions with each other, with loved ones and with the medical community, we can help people greet death on their own terms, and more comfortably.