For 15 years, Lou Santucci has been, quietly, and with great care, tending to grieving mothers, wives, husbands, and sons.

She has been the helper, when death is near, who eases the sorrows that bear heavy on the minds of those facing the great unknown.

And, through her many years of service with the Fort St. John and District Palliative Care Society, Santucci has selflessly given doting families the alone time they need when the role of caretaker takes too great a toll.

“I love sitting and talking to them, and hearing the stories, and sometimes they just need someone to talk to, because no one else is prepared to discuss the fact that they might be dying, or that they are dying,” she said in an interview with the Alaska Highway News.

“They need to be able to talk about that to somebody, and sometimes it’s us.”

It’s a difficult role, and it’s not for everyone. Volunteers often come and go, Santucci said. But for her, the reward of giving back is invaluable.

“You do get to know people,” she said, explaining “definitely you do, at times” get attached to the patients.

Santucci, a bookkeeper by profession, became involved with the society about the time her brother was terminally ill with cancer and passed away.

“That was in Grande Prairie,” she explained, “but we had a lot of help from home care and nurses, and I just decided I wanted to take the training for palliative care, and get involved with helping patients and families.”

As a volunteer, she collaborates with healthcare professionals to be part of overall patient care, listens to the client and his or her family, and tries to ease patient suffering and discomfort.

“You have to be able to spend time with the patients and families, and just be there for them. Not necessarily give advice, just to listen. Listening is the biggest thing,” she said.

Another big part of what Santucci does is help patients and families cope with grief.

“People don’t realize that somebody that is terminally ill, they are grieving because they know they are going to lose something,” she said, adding that “most people think of the family that’s grieving, but the patient grieves as well.”

The holidays, Santucci said, can be an especially difficult time.

But, despite the sorrow that surrounds them, palliative care volunteers like Santucci have to be “cheering,” she said.

According to program co-ordinator Pat Albrecht, the Fort St. John and District Palliative Care Society has about 20 volunteers. Some visit with patients, while others sit on the board of directors, participate in fundraising, advertisement and recruitment, and help with administrative duties.

All visiting volunteers—who sit with patients whether they are in hospital, a care home, or in their house—complete a five-week training course prior to visitations.

During that time, instructors stress the importance of respecting the confidentiality of the clients and their families.

To learn more or become involved, visit the society at 9812 108th Avenue, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or call 250-787-2814.

PHOTO AND ARTICLE COURTESY: Bronwyn Scott, Alaska Highway News


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