Strangers In Our Lives

Recently I did something that was very humbling. Donna, the Intake Coordinator at Bethell Hospice, who meets potential clients that wish to come to Bethell Hospice, invited me to attend a meeting with a prospective resident. Donna meets most people who are referred to the hospice or who want to consider the hospice as a healthcare option.

Although we had talked about this opportunity presenting itself, I was nervous when it finally came. On the way to the appointment Donna and I chatted about the easy things in life: kids, grandkids, family, vacations, etc. For me it was easier to talk about these things than to focus on the reason for our trip.

Upon our arrival we were met by a caregiver who gave us a brief history on the lady’s condition; what she was physically capable of, her emotional state and what we could expect. This was helpful in preparing for the visit. We then met the lady’s husband, Wes*, a 92-year old gentleman. We were welcomed into their home and met Laura* and their daughter Stephanie*. Laura is 90 years old, is bedridden, suffering from cancer, and has been receiving care from visiting personal support workers (PSWs) and her family. Stephanie is on leave from her job and has been caring for her mother.

When we entered the home, Donna approached Laura’s bedside, lowered herself to eye level with Laura, warmly grasped Laura’s hands and introduced herself in a more personal way. She told Laura who she was and that she was there to visit and to understand if Laura wanted to consider Bethell Hospice as an option for her healthcare needs. With the introductions out of the way Donna then “spoke” to Laura. When I say spoke, I mean it in the kindest, gentlest way. Laura was full of trepidation and a bit confused when we arrived; apparently she is not a fan of strangers. With compassion and heart-felt effort Donna focused on Laura and asked her how she was feeling, what concerned her the most, they talked about family dynamics, her provision of healthcare, and many other things that helped Donna understand who Laura is. Donna asked the questions in such a way that they were simple, clear and concise, making it easy for Laura to respond.

When Donna saw that Laura was tiring she asked permission to speak to Stephanie and Wes to get the rest of the information that she needed. When that was granted Donna turned her attention away from Laura, allowing her to rest, while we talked with her family. Laura was in the room with us as Donna spoke to the family, and was encouraged to listen and ask questions if she had any.

Donna then turned her focus to Stephanie and Wes. She pulled them physically close together and using her calming ways, obtained the information she needed. Interspersed with the medical information were personal questions – how many kids were there? Grandkids? Who provides support? How long had Wes and Laura been married (66 years by the way)? How long had they lived where they were? Where were they before that? What did they do for a living? What would they like to see for their wife/mother relative to care? All of these questions were answered through a conversation, not through a questionnaire. Donna showed an immense amount of interest in the answers and paid attention to everything that was being said.

We learned that Wes and Laura have three children. One lives in Western Canada so he cannot provide much in day to day support, another lives in London, Ontario but is dealing with a medical crisis within her family so she cannot help much. Stephanie lives close by and her parents are dependent on her for guidance, while she is trying to look after her family. Stephanie is a perfect example of the “sandwich generation” – someone raising their own family while supporting elderly and ailing parents.

As we were visiting, Laura would call for her daughter and ask who was visiting. Stephanie patiently explained that we were from Bethell Hospice and why we were there. This happened more than once during our visit and each time, Stephanie explained it as if it was the first time she had ever heard the question.

A nurse from the facility came with Laura’s medication. Stephanie was wondering what the medication was for and why her mother had to take so many pills. Donna offered her guidance and Stephanie quickly accepted. For me, this was an “aha” moment. We had literally come to the apartment less than one hour before and Donna had made Stephanie and Wes comfortable enough that they trusted her and were looking for her expertise on medication. Donna reviewed the medication chart, explaining to Stephanie what each medicine was for, and sharing information on the medication used at the hospice. Stephanie appeared relieved at the explanation and shared her newfound knowledge with her Mom.

Donna noticed that Laura did not appear comfortable in her bed so she asked if she could help with repositioning. She shared some tips with Stephanie on how to make her Mom more comfortable in the hospital-type bed based on her experience as a registered nurse. I think Stephanie was surprised that none of the previous healthcare providers had made the suggestions to her in order to provide more comfort to her Mom.

As Donna was helping Laura I got to spend some time with Wes. He told me about how he came to Canada 70+ years ago, how he met Laura and what their lives were like. During the conversation we realized that we knew some of the same people, so that led us down another path. It was an honour to get to know this gentleman and I was humbled by his willingness to share some very personal thoughts about his life and his wife’s illness.

As we chatted with the family Laura’s doctor came in to check on Laura. I was quite surprised to see him – I thought house calls were a thing of the past. He spent a few minutes with Laura, gave her some guidance and shared with Laura and her family that choosing Bethell Hospice would be a good choice; he had some experience with the organization and was impressed with what he had seen. He also spent some time with Donna giving her more medical information on Laura and her health status. How lucky was I that in this one visit I had the opportunity to meet and visit with a prospective client and her family, watch PSWs in action and see a doctor’s care and compassion for his patient. I can truly say that I am gaining a greater understanding on the term “focus on the patient”.

I want to thank Donna for her kindness in allowing me to witness this special meeting. I learned many things that day, the most important being how important it is to be selfless in meeting someone else’s needs. The manner in which we speak to each other is critical to embedding trust in relationships; strangers can become an important part of our lives in a very short period of time, if they are willing to recognize what we need and how to deliver on that need.

‘* Names of the family have been changed


  1. Thank you for posting this insightful description of your experience with hospice. It was very meaningful to me.

  2. I love to read your blogs and understand your learning and growi ng understanding compassion while at Bethell Hospice. I am so grateful and honored that you have been a part of the Bethell Hospice team….. Louise

    1. Louise, thank you for the kind words. I feel exactly the same way – honored and grateful to be part of this great hospice family. I will never forget what this experience has meant to me.

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