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The Palliative Care Society celebrated their 15th anniversary with Mayor Lori Ackerman and Councillor Bruce Christensen.

Death is something we all inevitably have to face. For some it happens instantly, while others suffer with illness for months and even years.

For most, it's not an easy thing.

The Fort St. John Palliative Care Society has been helping people through their darkest days and hours for the past 15 years.

They celebrated their anniversary by handing out cake at the Totem Mall on Saturday afternoon.

"Basically, we are a group of volunteers that have been trained in palliative situations, with people who are terminally ill, so the outcome is not good for them," said Cheryl Deakin, the Chair of the Fort St. John Palliative Care Society.

"What we do is we would get a call from somebody and we can go either to the hospital, or we can go to their home and we just sit with them so that their families can get a break," Deakin said. "Because at that time of their lives, it's pretty scary and it can be overwhelming for families."

Deakin has been involved for approximately eight years.

"I heard an announcement on the radio, they were looking for volunteers to do the training session," she said. "It was something that I've always liked, to be around seniors, and I thought, well, a lot of people who are sick are seniors, so I thought why not?

"It's been really good," she continued. "It's been a passion of mine for a long, long time; it's just nice to be able to help people."

She met her husband through volunteering with the Palliative Care Society.

"I took care of his first wife many, many years ago and got to know the family really well and kept in touch, so I'd have to say that was one of my good experiences," Deakin said.

The society currently has between 15 and 20 active volunteers, but Deakin said they definitely need more.

"Most of them work during the day; that makes it really hard to schedule," she said.

Volunteers make a huge difference at the end of a person's life.

"We sit with them; we could read to them; we could give them a hand massage or a foot massage," she explained. "Basically, we just sit and listen if they want to talk.

"Lots of times it's really hard for them to talk to their families because that's too close to home," she continued. "Being able to talk to somebody that they really don't know helps them."

She noted that a volunteer meets a family and sits with them as well.

"I've talked to a lot of volunteers, and they're really scared because you don't know what you're going to come up against," Deakin said. "After leaving the session, however, it's rewarding.

"It can be - I don't know if it sounds kind of funny to say - but it makes you feel good to know you're helping somebody," she said.

Though it's a rewarding experience, it's not for everyone, Deakin cautioned.

"I think you just need to be prepared for it," she said.

"We normally don't get called until the very end," she continued. "We might have one visit, two visits before, so you really don't get to know anybody, and they're usually in a bad state when you do get to go."

Training is mandatory for all volunteers.

We have lots of grief counselling and just talk about anything to do with palliative care; any kind of situation you could come into; how to deal with families, those kinds of things."

They charge a $50 fee, but 50 per cent of that is reimbursed after the training is complete.

"It's basically just the cost to cover the paper," she said. "Even if you never, ever used it (the training), it's just good for you."

They have a range of volunteers.

"One of our youngest was 25ish, and then up to seniors; we have both male and female because lots of times we'll have male clients, and it's just easier for them to have a male to visit," she said.

As the Palliative Care Society looks to the future, Deakin said they're trying to educate more people.

"We want to let them be aware that we're here and we want to help," she said.

"We need more volunteers of course," she said. "We're working on revamping everything right now with the group; I've got a really good group of volunteers that are really wanting to move forward, and kind of make it more available for people."

In an effort to raise money for training and education materials, supplies for the palliative care kitchen, furnishing two palliative care rooms at the hospital and more, the Palliative Care Society is hosting a fundraising in May.

The Hike for Hospice Fundraiser kicks off National Hospice Palliative Care Week on Sunday, May 6.

To pick up a pledge sheet, volunteer or to donate any money, please call 250-793-8147, or drop by the office in the Lutheran Care Home at 9812 108 Ave.

PHOTO AND ARTICLE COURTESY: Katelin Dean, Alaska Highway News


fsjpcs verna

Verna Pickett placed an ornament on the tree at the Fort St. John & District's Celebrate a Life service at the Peace Lutheran Church.

An assembly of Fort St. John residents confronted Thursday what is often in Western society the unmentionable - death.

The service was hosted by a group of people that face death every day: the members of the Fort St. John & District Palliative Care Society.

Held at the Peace Lutheran Church, the ceremony dealt with the often ignored, if not repressed, reality that everyone must deal with death, including one's own.

The non-denominational service was a way for residents to celebrate the lives of people they hold dear, whether alive, dying or already gone.

One of the readings was a sermon by Henry Scott Holland written in 1910. It was titled 'Death is Nothing at All.'

"Death is nothing at all. It doesn't count, I've only entered the next roomWhatever we were to each other, we still areLet my name be the household name that it always was."

After the ceremony, participants filed to the front of the church where there was a tree that they decorated with ornaments in memory of loved ones that have died.

The society was founded 13 years ago in 1997, said one of the founders and current volunteers Pat Albrecht.

Had she known about palliative care when her father got sick she said she would have tried to keep him in his home as long as possible and that is why she helped found the palliative care society here.

Albrecht said that years ago, death wasn't such a foreign and uncomfortable thing.

"Babies were born in the home, grandparents would end up moving in and the children were exposed to death, it was real," said Albrecht.

Now she said elderly people move from their homes, then to condos, then to long-term care facilities and no one has to actually see death.

Volunteers for the society, who range in age from 20 to 80, go through a rigorous training process that forces them first and foremost to look at their own deaths and be comfortable dealing with it.

Albrecht said that it is a rewarding experience for everyone involved and that they get more out of it than they put in.

"It changes you," she said.

She said it gives you a sense of peace and the good feelings from being able to help somebody in a difficult time.

The society cares for around 18 people a year in either their homes or the hospital's two palliative rooms.

Sometimes though, they visit patients in general admission when there aren't enough palliative rooms to go around.

"Dying is a lonely thing," Albrecht said.

She added that often times, people pull away when they find out that someone is dying, even if they are good friends.

When volunteers from the palliative care society spend time with people Albrecht said they take the place of those friends.

They don't foist themselves upon the dying.

"If they want to talk we'll talk, if not then I have a book to read," said Albrecht.

While the group is totally independent in terms of their training and mandate, they are affiliated with the provincial and national palliative care organizations.

What Fort St. John needs most, according to Albrecht, is a hospice separate from the hospital because it creates a totally different environment.

"It's a much quieter, calmer place. There aren't any bells and whistles like there are at the hospital. It's more like a home," said Albrecht.

Instead of focusing on curing, a hospice is a place that concentrates on comfort and caring.

Palliative care's important role in the health system is growing, especially considering that a demographic bulge will push the number of Canadians over the age of 65 to record levels.

Statistics Canada predicts that by the year 2026, 8 million Canadians will be over the age of 65 or 20 per cent of the forecasted population.

Because seniors account for 75 per cent of deaths each year, the sheer fact that their demographic will swell as the baby boomers age guarantees the fact that death will become a more prominent part of Canadian life.

By the year 2036 death statistics will be approximately 450,000 people a year, up from the current rate of 235,000.

Manitoba Liberal Senator Sharon Carstairs has been pushing the federal government to adopt a national palliative healthcare strategy since 1995. The issue was prompted by the case of Sue Rodriguez who in 1993 requested assisted suicide after suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease for years.

A 1994 Supreme Court Case denied her the right to choose her own death.

Before the country ever contemplates the issue of assisted suicide and euthanasia, Carstairs argued that it should first create a comprehensive and nationally consistent palliative care strategy that would address the underlying stress of living with a life-threatening illness.

In the 15 years since Carstairs wrote her report only 15 per cent of Canadians, and 3 per cent of Canadian children have access to a palliative care services.

PHOTO AND ARTICLE COURTESY: Ryan Lux, Alaska Highway News

In this issue:

  • An update on the latest happenings by President Randy Merk
  • Shared experience of a Palliative Care volunteer
  • Thank you aknowledgements to those who recently contributed to FSJ and District Palliative Care.                                                                                   

Read our file:

Winter-Spring 2017 Newsletter

What's in this issue?

  • AGM Reminder June 22/2016 - 5:30pm with dinner to follow, Peace Lutheran Church
  • FSJ Palliative Care at Fall Fair
  • Northern Health and the future of Palliative Care at Peace Villa



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