I have arrived back at GSK this week, with my PULSE assignment behind me and my re-integration to GSK ahead. It’s hard to believe that it was last July when I packed up my personal belongings and walked into the hospice to start something new. I will definitely miss my Bethell Hospice “family” and the way that they embraced me, however, I know that GSK will offer me many challenges and opportunities as I acclimatize back into my “real” job.
I want to reflect and take stock of my learnings, my experiences and how this opportunity has impacted me and others that I have met or engaged with during this time.
I gained insight into how an NGO works, how they struggle for every dollar they earn and justify why money should be spent and how it should be allocated. I watched leaders struggle with making financial decisions that would have the least impact on the people they serve, the residents and their families, who so desperately need the services provided.
I was lucky enough to spend time at two other hospices in the GTA and see how they work. It was inspiring to see the excitement displayed by the Executive Director at Heart House Hospice when she learned that the city had agreed to sell land in order to build a new residential facility in Mississauga, despite the $15M price tag that would accompany the plan. The joy came from knowing that they were starting down a path to increase residential palliative care capacity and that they were going to play an integral role in that journey.
I met people who are doing a job that they love. Their hearts have led them to do something that gives them personal fulfilment and an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. When I asked some of these folks why they do this type of work they told me that “it is an honour to be able to spend the last part of someone’s life with them”. How many people can say that they truly have an impact like that on someone’s life? Although the relationship is short, it is the quality of the care, not the quantity of time that is important.
I have seen moments of joy and times of great sorrow during my time at the hospice. For me personally the most difficult situations came when young children were at the hospice because their parents were ill. In one scenario I was lucky enough to spend time with an eight-year old boy whose Father was battling through the last stages of his illness. We spent a few hours one afternoon playing Lego. The excitement in this boy’s eyes as we played was heartwarming for me and allowed him a break from dealing with the inevitable outcome. I went home that night with a swollen heart, both for the sadness that he was going to endure but also for the joy that I brought to his life, if only for a short few hours.
A second scenario involved a twelve-year old girl who was spending time at the hospice with her Mother when she decided that she wanted to knit a blanket for her Mother. Although she could knit there was no way that she could complete the project on her own in the time she had to complete this task. Everyone at the hospice who could knit, or knew someone who could knit, was asked to make squares for this young girl so that she could complete her project in time for her Mother to enjoy it. Needless to say the squares arrived at the hospice in leaps and bounds; volunteers and employees at the hospice, friends of hospice employees and volunteers, knitting groups and total strangers all did their part and provided more squares than this girl could have ever hoped for. The end result was that the project was completed and the little girl had some peace knowing that she had made this loving tribute for her Mother, with a little help from friends and strangers. I am touched to know that I played a small part in her joy.
My beliefs and values have been challenged. What I used to think about death and dying has been changed forever. I am now able to cherish the life that was, rather than dwell on the loss to come. My family and friends think I have lost my mind when I speak pragmatically about planning for the inevitable. The end of our lives is not optional so why don’t we take the time, when we feel it is appropriate, to plan for this? Why leave this task for someone you love, who is likely not operating at the best of their ability at one of the most stressful times of their lives? A lady I met told me that she has planned her own funeral (no, she is not ill at this point in her life) and she wants to leave the funeral home with a song from the Lion King playing. She said that by planning her own funeral she knows it will be exactly what she wants it to be – a lively celebration of her life.
I have witnessed numerous acts of caring and compassion. When we at GSK speak about “focusing on the patient” we talk about what is best for the patient, but we are often far removed from the impact that we have on individuals. At the hospice I saw that impact every day in a chat between a nurse and a resident, a warm hug for a family member or the support that the care team showed for each other in times of stress or loss. Each resident is an individual and there is no “one size fits all” solution. Each person must choose their journey and the way in which they wish it to end; some people become spiritual, some share their memories with strangers who through their work at the hospice become friends and some choose to be embraced even tighter by their family and friends.
My first blog gave thanks to those who helped me as my journey began and now as it ends I am more appreciative of the people in my life. As I gathered with my friends and family at special events like Thanksgiving and Christmas, I looked around and found joy in the fact that we are not dealing with any issues that would take us to a hospice – yet. I fully expect that in my lifetime I will face health challenges, either for myself or with someone I care about and I can only hope that they receive the kindness and love that I have had the honor to witness during the past few months.
I am proud that I will be continuing my work at Bethell Hospice through volunteering. I will continue to work on their accreditation project and support them in whatever way I can. I have found an organization that I am proud to be associated with and believe that my association with Bethell Hospice will be long and prosperous for both parties.
Thank you for taking the time over the past few months to read my blogs. I appreciate your kind words and am grateful that I had the opportunity to bring my perspective to you through the postings.