As I begin to pen this column I am writing in anticipation of the celebration of Hospice Month in May. I have just come in from beginning to clean up the garden. Though I was dressed for winter and could see my breath, I also could see so many things peeking out from under last year’s old foliage. The old and the new. What is new about Hospice that has sprung from its roots?
The word hospice comes from the Roman era, when people would provide hospitality to travellers. In turn, they would expect to be hosted when they were travelling.
The word began to imply a mutuality, host and guest becoming interchangeable, both affected by the encounter.
Hospice originates from the 11th century when the Sovereign Order of St John of Jerusalem established wayfarer houses to care for people on their way through high mountain passes, to or from the crusades. Interestingly enough they are still involved with the hospice movement as a sponsor of our provincial hospice association BCHPCA.
The 1800’s saw homes for the dying established by various religious orders in Paris, Ireland and New York. Although not connected with each other, the principles of these organizations shared a concern for the care of the dying, and in particular the dying poor. Although they were not places that offered sophisticated medical or nursing care, these early facilities created some of the preconditions for the development of modern hospices.
Dame Cicely Saunders founded St. Christopher’s Hospice in South London in 1967. A friend of mine growing up in that neighbourhood remembers walking past each day on the way to school.
As a teenager she was inspired to go in and began volunteering. As the first modern hospice, inspiring work all over the world, St. Christopher’s combined three different principles: excellent clinical care, education, and research.
Greater Trail Hospice Society in our small rural area also tries to incorporate these principles in our work in the community. You will see they are reflected in the activities we have planned for Hospice Month in May.
We will be cohosting a regional Community Conversation on Dying: Lessons from the Field, today Trail and Castlegar Hospices are collaborators on a research project with UBC Okanagan and are bringing in the researchers to report on some of the changes occurring in Canada and how they affect us.
We will be hosting several workshops on Advanced Care Planning and Estate Planning, allowing people the opportunity to work in a small group to actually begin the work of articulating their own wishes.
Research shows that procrastination is one of the greatest blocks when thinking about creating our personal plans and that those who do are more likely to end up having what they consider a “good death”.
We hope to help overcome the blocks for those who participate. Details can be found on our website www.trailhospice.org.
Please join us for any or all of these events and join in the conversation, as we sit at the bedside, not just of individuals, but of the community.