Excerpts from a Grief Diary

By Megan Slobodin

The author and her husband, Brent Slobodin in Dawson City.

A year ago, my husband passed – unexpectedly, suddenly.  I felt myself plunging deep into grief, fighting for air, and forcing myself to take active steps just to keep myself alive.  Coming to grips with the loss of my partner and best friend was devastating enough. Realizing the magnitude of all the secondary losses that accompanied it sometimes felt insurmountable.  I was unprepared for the loss of identity, for the lost sense of personal safety and security. I was unprepared for the loneliness.  Suddenly I was having to confront everything I had taken for granted in my life.  I began a diary to track what was happening.  Excerpts from that diary and from my blog on solitudes are below.

0-3 months

And then descends the yawning chasm of his absence.  And nothing now makes sense. There is no purpose.  I am a dog with three legs.  “There goes that poor dog,” people say.  But I no longer care what people think. I put the news on to listen to the noise but I can’t make sense of the words.  I am no longer interested in discovering places.  My world is one place only, and consumes me completely: a previously little-known inner landscape of profound loss, unremitting grief, my body no longer under my control.  Dizzy, disoriented, tearful, hands shaking, sleepless, listless, nauseated, aching heart, breaking heart:  the physical symptoms of grief ripple their way through me, and I am astounded.

Teeming with saturated grief just under the surface of my skin, I feel delicate, like broken china freshly glued. If anyone says anything to me about him, the fluid wells up and I find myself speechless, and just nod.  I walk about my errands scanning other people in case I know them, so I can look away and not have to engage. Self-imposed isolation.

My mind is 100% of the time on him, so there is really nothing left over for anyone else.  They wonder why my conversation suddenly drifts off and I am unaccountably staring off into the middle distance. I am looking for him, replaying where I last saw him, turning over the leaves of my heart to unearth memories that might remind and console. I turn back distracted to them, and mumble an apology.  Could others take this constant feeling that they are a stranger in a strange land, lost with no bearings, slowly understanding they will never see their lost person again, despite looking for years? I am an empty half. There is no joy. I am biding yawning time.

It is tiredly reliable now, in this new life, quite predictable actually, that I get by each night on only four hours of sleep.  At 4:00 am I regularly come awake now, the quiet whirr from the fan filling the room, my dog shifting watchfully beside me.  I look at the cracks of light around the dark-out blinds, gauging the hour.  The phone under my pillow confirms the time. I lie, eyes half open and staring somewhere between the world of sleep and dreams, where I might yet find him, and the landscape of my approaching day, from which the imperatives of his lifeforce have unaccountably withdrawn.  The day is my own; I just have to find a way through it.

3-6 months

Grief has no mercy. Each time it comes as raw as that first dreadful moment when you understood you were standing on the cliff’s edge and the wind was blowing hard and you didn’t know which way to fall.  Each successive time grief comes, you are not standing any further back from the edge, you are still right upon its verge.  And every single time it frightens you with its intensity.

Grief is foremost a weight, like a heavy wet wool blanket in shades of black and greys and brown, wrapped around and around. Suffocating. It weighs me down and makes me slow when I used to be quick as lightning. Grief is the air I take in and out of my lungs, trying to breathe when my breath comes out in gasps. Grief saturates my cells, coats my skin. It is the shaking in my hands, the stumbling in my feet. Grief is the tears unbidden and unwanted, slipping down my face even when I am not thinking of him, and grief is me not caring.

As little time as I have been along this bleak and uneven path of grief, my opportunities for relief have come only from being mindful of the moment. Looking far into the future is relentlessly like a knife through the gut, doubling me over.  The middle distance causes only anxiety and worry. My view of today, of this morning, of this particular moment, keeps all the competing landscapes at bay. I will be kind to myself and feel into only what I’m doing in this moment. These mindful moments are the only ones that offer me peace. Bolstered by the tranquility of the moment, I quietly allow in thoughts of my husband, letting in a little at a time, and rush back to the breath when it threatens to overcome.  Returning to the breath is the only thing that makes the process of grieving even tolerable, the living of this new life endurable. It is not a practice of self-kindness so much as a strategy for continuing survival, day by day.

I cannot gauge well what is happening to me.  My best mentors in a culture that does not feel comfortable with grief and lacks the conversational architecture to sustain its weight, is to read books about grief.

Today was one of those “afresh” days, the early morning when I first awake and realize afresh that I will be living the rest of my life without ever seeing him again.  I had been exempt from an afresh for a few days, been able to think about him in depth without tears, had even indulged in some reading that for once was not about grief.  I thought I had turned a small corner.  But each afresh brings with it a reminder that this is a journey without corners, that I will not be able to “turn a corner” from my grief and gain some distance with that old feeling that life is good and full of joy and meaning and purpose.   Grief is like humidity, and just hangs in the air, but like our air that is full of smoke from neighbouring forest fires, it is hard to see through to any distance.

A phone call from a well-meaning friend yesterday, when I thought I might be strong enough to weather the insensitivities of the casual enquirer, helped place me into the path of my latest afresh.  As she chattered on about how lovely and perfect her life is currently, she enquired without real expectation of response in the midst of so much of her talking “So, are you still reading all those books about grief? Not reading anything new and interesting?” 

Some days I feel I have read every book about grief that is out there. At first I read to get my bearings, tossed upside down and gutted by his departure. Then it was to find resonance with others, commonality of experience that let me know I was not going crazy in this new world. And my understanding of grief has slowly grown, and I wonder at all the traumas people endure in their lives that they are unaware of, carrying around a sad, saggy weight that draws them down, turns light step to trudges through vast tracts of their lives.

And so I write. Perhaps by articulating my emotional storm, I can lessen the electrical charge of grief when it returns to cast me gasping up onto the shore. It will be seen in time. For now, writing every day is part of my mindfulness meditation on him, returning to the page when, shaking, I have ventured too deeply into the whole mess of it all.

I never knew that grief strips you down, sheds you of your confidence, strips away your happiness, casts off your personal power, steals your identity. Grief also takes over your physical body like an alien being, an earwig, makes you nauseous, makes your heart race and feel like breaking, puts you off-balance, makes you shaky, makes you doubt your capacity to survive, causes the world to move in and out of focus though you try hard to look clearly, makes tears flow for every reason and for no reason at all.

Looking over my shoulder, I can see that part of this journey has been coming to understand in the darkness that only I can come and rescue myself.  I’m still learning that path.  I’m relearning the strength he saw in me. It’s not that I had lost my strength, it’s that I had come to over-rely on our combined strength, and now I need to tease out the filament that is mine alone.

6 – 9 months

People who are grieving play through endless scenarios in their minds, like the universe of all possibilities.  We’re emotional masochists.  We plod through every possibility, torturing ourselves with all the “what if’s” of our imaginations.  The only time I have ever found benefit to the “what if’s” is in realizing how relieved I am that I was the one to outlive him.  I accompanied him to his end of days, and not the other way around.  Outliving him and becoming the one having to acquaint myself with the depths of grief was my final sacrament in our married vows. 

I am tired this morning, so very tired of this new life of mine where everything takes so much effort, where I am constantly pushing at my back to get through to the end of each day, just so I can perhaps sleep and then have another day like this one.  Grief is for long-distance endurance now, this new life sentence. It both frightens me and makes me weary.  I did nothing to earn this “rest of my life”, yet it is inexorably in my face every day.  There is no escape from it, this I have come to know.  I am sailing perilously close to the winds of self-pity today, and I miss him desperately.

Recently I look in the mirror with wonder at the way my face has changed in seven months, my skin and contours claiming the cellular imprint of his absence. A new visage I don’t claim as mine yet, since I am waiting in transition, but one day my skin will sit upon a face more settled by the seasons of this grief, and I will know it for mine.

The shock has finally worn off and the realization that he is gone forever from this life has settled in like hardening cement. I started off this grief journey resentful and self-pitying that we were supposed to spend the rest of our lives together and that we were robbed. Now I think I realize from the universe that we only ever were going to have lives that intersected, travelled together for a while, gave each other gifts like our children, then parted toward our own destinies, souls on separate paths. My continuing suffering seems to rely on the belief that he irrevocably was mine for the rest of my life, that he belonged to me, and that I have been cheated.  Yet by turns my grief becomes gratitude that I got him for my companion for such a seminal part of our separate destinies that we shared for a while. I loved that time together, but I would just feel better about my future path if I could be assured that he is alright, loved and blessed somewhere, secure and happy with his own result. I just still miss him so, and have unfinished conversations I suppose I will have to have in my head to resolve.

First anniversary of his passing

The first anniversary of death is the most dreaded date in one’s first year of grief, and there are plenty of hard dates to get through before then: his birthday, our wedding anniversary, my birthday, all the first holidays, and every plodding day in between.  But looming always in the distance are the earth’s inexorable revolutions returning to that now terrible date of the happening itself: the hard medical news, the final conversations and decisions, the insistent affirmations of love, the gratitude for each other, the waiting, the last breath, the sudden ineffable shock of it.  The tectonic shifting in my existence, where all the rest of it falls away and becomes backdrop.

What I did not bargain for were all the notes and calls and texts and memories of him flooding in from friends and loved ones, touching base with those who love him, who care for me, who send their kindest most gentle remembrances to me as their remaining best link with him.  I welcome them all, and am so grateful he is remembered, and I am cared for.  But this flow of energy and emotion into my usual isolation knocks me off balance, not by reminding me of that date last year particularly, but by emphasizing what I’ve been feeling since then in steady allowable measures, but now withstand in a torrent:  just how much I lost when he passed from this world.  

The anniversary doesn’t pass without the stunning realization that I survived the passage of the first year where grief is marked in daily slogging increments, hourly chasms, and thousand-yard stares.  Survival comes at a price. It is only in looking back from where I came that I can better see who I was and who I am now, and I note with awed certitude that I am simply not that person anymore.  So grief must answer for the parts of who I thought myself to be, that may now be missing more than they are present, and for the new additions that have been layered in which I would never have thought would be part of my life journey.  Sometimes I wonder if I recognize who I am, and I wonder if he would recognize me too.

Grief has taught me the fundamental lesson that I don’t control anything.  It is an illusion that we can make plans and expect the universe to stick to them.  In the end, I don’t think I have become something that I wasn’t.  I think I have allowed more of who I really am to be revealed, to myself and others.  Layers have been peeled away, my soul stripped bare in places, and I don’t have the inclination to cover it up. Soon it becomes my new skin.

My love for him is absolute.  But grafted to our love is a personal grief that I know now will be a current running through the remainder of my existence, sometimes erupting in a bright charge here or there when something triggers, but always a thrum, a low vibration invisible to the human eye, yet heard in the human heart.

Copyright Megan Slobodin, 2020.

Note about the author: 

In 2020, Megan donated her extensive collection of books on Grief and Loss to the Hospice Yukon lending library, in loving memory of her husband, Brent Slobodin.

In March 2020, Megan began a blog (Northerncoronagrief.com) to catalogue the various faces of solitude which come from living in the north, living in isolation under the coronavirus, and the ever-constant living with grief.

Heartfelt Thanks to our Volunteers

This year, as in many years past, our passionate and skilled volunteers have contributed countless hours towards the work of Hospice Yukon. Our volunteers help in myriad ways… they are part of all of our programs and services, and also help out ‘behind the scenes’. The following are some of the important ways they contribute:

  • they facilitate spring and fall walking groups in all types of weather
  • host ‘lunch’n’learns’ for caregivers of young children facing grief
  • facilitate opportunities for kids to create something in honor of their loved ones
  • provide public education about grief and self care
  • facilitate groups that provide a range of ways for people to process grief and mourn their losses: discussion groups, journal groups, poetry groups, and art groups
  • sit vigil with our elders in their last weeks and days of life
  • offer healing and relaxing energy therapy through Healing Touch
  • offer each other the opportunity to learn together, share a meal and recharge
  • do the ‘behind the scenes’ work that keeps everything running smoothly: laundry, baking, building desks, hanging curtains, fixing things, yardwork and so much more.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a small glimpse into the nature of our volunteers who our integral to the Hospice community. We thank them all. ❤

New Resources for Pet Loss

Pets are treasured members of the family. Whether the main companion to someone who lives alone, or a four-legged member of a big family, our pets are important. They are sensitive to our moods, make us laugh with their antics, they get us out for fresh air, and they are an endless source of physical and emotional affection.  Its no wonder that when they die they leave a huge hole in our lives and in our hearts.

The death of a pet can be devastating. Studies have shown that the grief we experience when a pet dies can be as intense as the loss of an important human relationship. Yet many grieving pet owners experience what we call ‘disenfranchised grief’: grief that isn’t validated by society or those closest to us. It makes us feel isolated at a time we are most in need of connection and support.

Knowing what a difficult time this can be and seeing it first-hand with our clients, we saw the need for more specific resources to support people experiencing this particular kind of loss. We are pleased to have two new resources about Pet Loss, both published this year by Hospice Yukon.

The first is an easy-to-read pamphlet called “When Your Pet Dies”. It offers a simple explanation the grief process, information about pet loss specifically and ideas of how to support yourself and others in this situation, including children and surviving pets.

The second is our newsletter on Pet Loss that came out this past spring. It contains some beautiful articles written by local pet owners on some of the specific things they did to mourn and honour the lives of their beloved animals. There’s also a helpful article by a local veterinarian about how and when to make the difficult decision to euthanize a pet.

Both of these resources are available at Hospice Yukon, and have also been distributed to Alpine Vet, All Paws, C and D Feeds, Duffy’s Pets, and The Feed Store in Whitehorse. The pet loss newsletter is also available online through our website.

Hospice also carries Feelie Hearts to honour pet loss. Some contain dog fur, others are sewn part way, leaving an opening for a pet owner to include the fur or hair of their own beloved animal companion. These can be a thoughtful offering to someone who has recently lost pet or is anticipating the death of a pet.

 

Hospice Board update

The health of any organization can be measured by the strength of its leadership and governance. Hospice Yukon is fortunate in having had a long history of skilled and passionate board members guiding the ways in which we fulfill our mandate.

At our AGM in May of this year there were some changes to our Board of Directors. Two Board Members moved on and we welcomed several new Members.

With the new season of programming now underway its a good time to introduce our current Board of Directors of both new and longstanding members. Read on to learn a bit about who they are and what brought them to serve with Hospice Yukon…

Patricia McGarr

Patricia and her husband Greg

“I have lived in the Yukon for 35 years with my husband. I have two children in their twenties, both of whom come and go to Whitehorse, depending on the season, and work and education situations. I am a registered nurse with a clinical background in oncology, palliative care and home care. My history with Hospice Yukon goes back to its founding days when I was on the Planning Committee, then the Board and then served as it’s second Program Co-ordinator in the early 90’s. My Governance/Board experience was honed with 17 years as E.D. of the Yukon Registered Nurses Association. It is a great pleasure and privilege to be involved with Hospice Yukon once more.”

Mary Martin

Mary Martin

“I have lived in the Yukon for over 30 years, working as a data analyst for YG and as a librarian in different libraries in Whitehorse.

After a long hiatus from serving on boards I am happy to join Hospice Yukon. Although I’ve had no prior experience with Hospice, I am happy to join the Hospice Yukon Board of Directors because of what a well loved and respected organization it is. I look forward to supporting the work of the dedicated staff and volunteers who are the heart and soul of this organization.”

Heather McFadgen

Heather MacFadgen

“I am a Cape Bretoner and retired lawyer who has worked on human rights, equality and social justice throughout my career. I think dying with dignity and caring support is an important part of our human rights which are with us  right to the end of our lives.

I have been coming to the Lights of Life ceremony almost every year since my family moved to the Yukon in the early 90’s, sometimes singing through tears as a member of the Persephones. This beautiful and meaningful ceremony has helped me through a series of losses that always seem more poignant at Christmas. Volunteering in my community has always been an important and fulfilling part of my life. Becoming a Hospice Yukon Board Member has been a small but satisfying way to give back to this caring and supportive organization that has helped so many of us work through grief, loss and dying.”

Val Pike

Val Pike

“My story is similar to many other Yukoners’. I arrived in 1979 to work at Whitehorse General Hospital as an RN on the medical ward. Met my husband a few weeks later…fast forward 40 years: married with 5 grown children, three of whom live in Whitehorse. I worked my entire career as a nurse at WGH in a variety of positions. Retired 5 years ago and now have more time to quilt, knit, stay active and volunteer in the community, such as Run for Mom, Mardi Bra, Arctic Winter Games and the PARTY Program (Prevent Alcohol and Risk Related Trauma in Youth).

As a founding member of Hospice Yukon more than 30 years ago, it gives me great pleasure to be on the Board once again. It is especially rewarding because of the growth this organization has seen and what Hospice Yukon means to the health of our community.  Our dedicated volunteers and staff really embrace the concept of healthy grieving. It is truly an honour to be considered part of this amazing team.”

Alex Kmet

Alex Kmet

“I first moved to Yukon in 2014 from Alberta, making Whitehorse my home and place of work as a physician in Family Practice, Anaesthesia and Palliative Care.

As a physician with a focus on supporting the dying and their loved ones, Hospice Yukon is an organization dear to my heart for the invaluable service it provides to Yukoners.”

 

We are grateful to these Directors for sharing their skill and passion to help guide Hospice Yukon. Thank you!

Hospice Welcomes New Volunteers

Volunteers are truly at the heart of many of the programs we offer at Hospice Yukon. Our vigil program, Healing Touch program, grief groups, and many of our public education programs rely heavily on the involvement of volunteers to offer these supports to our community.

This fall and into the winter we are looking forward to training a new intake of Hospice Yukon volunteers. They have just completed their first training session and will have several more group sessions in addition to independent studying between now and the new year. This an exciting time for us an organization. The diverse skills and experiences of our volunteers bring so much to the programs we offer, and often bring the spark of inspiration needed in developing a new grief group. Our volunteers come from a wide range of ages and backgrounds, and it is always a privilege to get to know them and the valuable skills they bring to their volunteer roles.

Some of the books our new volunteers will be reading from during their training.

Training a new intake of volunteers is an investment of time and energy for the new volunteers, as well as for Hospice; we run a volunteer training only every year or two.*  While we teach some core skills and information at each volunteer intake, we also continually change and update the training based on emerging trends in grief support and palliative support. Carlie, our Program Manager, is working hard on the curriculum to engage our new group of volunteers on a wide range of topics. Each new intake of volunteers learns so much together.

After completing their training this fall/winter, each new volunteer will complete some ‘shadow sessions’ with an experienced Hospice volunteer or staff member to gain experience and comfort in the program they will be volunteering in. New volunteers who are interested in our Healing Touch program have already completed their Level 1 Healing Touch course this fall as part of their Hospice training.

Our volunteers are an integral part of our team. We look forward to getting to know each of our new volunteers throughout this fall and winter and welcoming them into our vibrant Hospice Yukon community. Starting later in the new year look for some new faces helping out with our programs, and please thank them for sharing of themselves. They are really at the heart of what we do.

*The intake for this round of Volunteer Training (Fall 2019/Winter 2020) is now closed.  If you are interested in finding out more about volunteering: the application process and screening process, please email Hospice Yukon

 

30 years and Going Strong

This year Hospice Yukon celebrates 30 years of providing compassionate support to Yukoners at end of life and in grief. So much has happened in these 3 decades… thousands of Yukoners have been supported through the variety of programs and services that have been offered over the years. So much growth and change has happened. We spoke with with one of the earliest founders of Hospice Yukon, Jackie MacLaren, about the early days and how it all began…

In 1988 the Hospice Yukon Board of Directors received funding from the health investment fund to send two Yukoners, Sandy Baran and Jackie MacLaren, to mentor with the Hospice Victoria volunteer training program with a view to training volunteers to offer Hospice supports in Whitehorse. After completing their mentorship Sandy and Jackie trained the first round of volunteers in 1989, officially marking the beginning of Hospice Yukon services.

Barb Evans-Ehricht, the first Program Coordinator for Hospice Yukon

After the initial round of volunteers were trained, the Board hired Barb Evans-Ehricht as the first program coordinator. She paired volunteers with palliative or bereaved clients, offering Hospice Yukon’s first services in the community. Over the years a variety of different programs have been offered, including different kinds of grief support groups, educational programs, and one-on-one supports. We make our best efforts to have our programs and services reflect the needs we see in the community. In the past few years this has meant a shift towards expanding our public education programs and supporting loss in the workplace. Our staple supports: counselling, Healing Touch, grief groups, and vigiling remain important and well-used services.

Jackie MacLaren (and volunteer Hanna Hoefs) at a recent Lights of Life event. Jackie still volunteers as a tree sitter…30 years and counting!

Lights of Life is a tradition that stems back to the earliest days at Hospice Yukon. Sandy and Jackie learned about the Lights of life tradition through Hospice Victoria and felt it would be a good fit in the Yukon. The first Lights of Life was held in 1989 at Horwoods Mall with just one tree. That first year it was loaded with tags and Hospice Yukon has never looked back. Lights of Life is now one of our best-known programs and can be found at many locations in Whitehorse as well as in most Yukon communities.

Looking back over the last 30 years, plenty of things have changed: some of our programs, our location (though we’ve been at our current location for half of that time), staff and volunteers (although we have had many very long-standing volunteers, Board members and staff over the years).

And what has stayed the same? The immense caring capacity of our volunteers, staff and board members and the high quality of compassionate care we offer Yukoners. Also, importantly, consistent financial support from Yukon Government has remained a reliable presence through all of Hospice Yukon’s years of operation. This has allowed us to focus our efforts on the programs and services we offer rather than on raising funds for our operating costs.

We have lots to celebrate! We hope you will join us for our Open House to commemorate Hospice Yukon’s 30 year anniversary on Wednesday October 30th between 11am and 2pm at Hospice House at 409 Jarvis Street.

 

Grief: The Surprises in Store

By Elaine Schiman

This is only the third time I’ve written or spoken publicly about loss and grief. And let’s start by saying I’m no expert. The first time was a speech at my husband’s celebration of life in December 2017; the second was at Hospice Yukon’s Lights of Life ceremony in December 2018; and, this is the third. It’s hard to say why I do it. In a way, it seems self-defeating. Because no matter how much you write or talk about it to others, I believe the experience of grief is indecipherable to everyone but those who are already there.

Elaine & Greg in Maui, one of their favorite places to spend time together.

Maybe I write at least partly for myself and others in the same “grieving” boat. Ultimately, we all will be here, so even though it seems an impossible task, I also write for those who have yet to go through this, to give them a tiny hint of what may come, at some point in their lives; to provide a sense of what other people might be going through; and some ideas about how they might help. Because some of it was surprising, at least to me.

My husband Greg died unexpectedly of cardiac arrest, on November 2nd, 2017, about 20 minutes after we kissed each other goodbye, as he went to meet a friend. He was 59.

I got the news from the RCMP, at the door of the Old Fire Hall in Whitehorse, after the concert Greg and I had been attending together.

It was the worst moment of my life, a shock for which I felt entirely unprepared. It was followed by the worst hours, when I had to identify Greg’s body and telephone our sons.

On that evening, I was surprised, and I still am, at just how huge this thing we call grief is. It fills you up, knocks you over, shatters the good things you took for granted, and overshadows everything but itself.

When Greg died, I had already lost my parents. Letting them go was hard, but I still felt strong afterwards; I felt like myself.

It was different with Greg. Because he was my life partner for 30 years, because we spent nearly every day together, because we had many hopes and plans, his loss meant that my life, as it was, has almost disappeared. I’m still in the process of re-shaping it.

There were other surprises in store. One was that missing Greg has made me miss my parents more than ever before. Three of the people I am closest to, who know me best and love me most, are now gone. There is no way to get any of that back.

I have also been surprised at how becoming a widow is like becoming a parent, in a way. Before parenthood, you have no idea how this new little person will change you and your life and, afterwards, you cannot explain it others who are not parents. You just have to get there yourself. Grief is like that too. You are changed, you have feelings you never knew existed, the loneliness runs far deeper than you knew was possible. There is no way to explain it.

Grief hurts physically. I didn’t know that. I remember hearing about people who lived with chronic physical pain and wondered how they got through their days. I now have at least a partial sense of what it’s like to carry hurt around every day.

Grief makes you question and doubt many things. When I had thought about Greg’s and my deaths, it was more about whether our wills were up-to-date, or how Greg might do, if I died first. I never feared for my own ability to manage. It’s so much harder than I thought. In addition to missing Greg (his ideas and insights, his hugs, his sense of humour, our morning coffees, preparing our meals together, and so much more), in addition to feeling badly for him about everything he’s missing, I have the indelible knowledge that life can end in an instant. It can be a struggle to find purpose and to reconcile all the decisions that led you to where you are today.

Grief makes everything more difficult and complicated: going out in public, staying home, planning vacations, just waking up to face the day. It makes you doubt yourself in new ways. There have been many times since Greg died, when I have been certain I am screwing everything up terribly. On the positive side, when you manage something well, big or small, it’s encouraging. I notice the growth of new resolve and confidence.

I have been surprised to realize how inadequately I handled the grief of others in the past. Once I felt my own grief, I couldn’t help but remember all the others in my life who had lost dear ones. I had only paid lip service to their grief, maybe saying sorry or sending a card. But I had no idea what they were going through, or what they might need from me.

I have also been surprised at what I do need, and how much I appreciate the helping hands that come my way. Food brought over (a side note: sweets are not the best option; we received far too many to consume!), invites to dinner or events, steps and driveway magically shoveled, help lifting heavy things, emails and phone messages sharing fond memories of Greg, encouraging words about something I or my boys had done. If you know someone who is grieving, make those offers, even if they sometimes decline. The timing might not be right, but it will be, at some point. Try to be specific about how you want to help. So many people say: “Let me know if I can do anything”. (I’m sure I said that very thing.) Although meant well, this general offer puts an extra burden on the person who is grieving …to think of what you should do.

I’ve been surprised at who showed up and who didn’t. Some of the people who have been most kind and present for me were friends I hadn’t seen that much of or who I didn’t know that well. Others who I might have expected to be there were not. I don’t say this to blame anyone. Sometimes you don’t know what’s needed or you’re not in a position to help. I’m grateful for those who were able to be there for me.

I’ve been surprised about how many people are in grief. Because of my situation, people confide in me about their losses. I’m often shocked when someone, who seems fine, has lost a child or a spouse, or has an illness or some great sadness. You can’t tell from the outside, and it’s best to assume everyone is dealing with huge challenges we can’t see.

I’ve been surprised by the way grief affects family. At first, I imagined it would automatically bring us closer and we would be there for each other constantly. That does happen at times, but it’s not always the case. Loss and grief throw everyone for a loop; there are new stresses, anxieties and needs…and when we’re under pressure, who best to take it out on but our own family, those we love the most. I try to be forgiving with myself and my own failings… and also with everyone in my family. We are all struggling.

The last surprise I’ll mention is that all the things you need to do to help you live with grief, are the same things you should do just to live well. Sleep enough, eat healthy, exercise, go outside. Do things you love and spend time with your people. Accept hugs, smile and laugh, find joy and peace when you can. Be thankful for what you have. Live.

I don’t know if the grief ever goes away. I don’t think so. But I have learned that it does subside at times. At the beginning, it hurt so much, I couldn’t imagine going on with life in that kind of constant pain. But now, when I have a bad moment, or hour, or day, I know it won’t stay that way.

One of our sons got married in October. I was worried … I wasn’t sure how I’d manage at an event where Greg should so clearly have been there with me and our family. But the wedding was joyful. It was fun. We had a really good time. There were hard moments, but it was reassuring to me that we could celebrate as a family, remembering the one who was missing, but also appreciating all the ones who were there.

That’s what they tell you, the books, the counsellors, the friends, the videos on Facebook, the lovely people at Hospice Yukon. They tell you that you will find joy again. And it was good on that wedding day, to find out that does seem to be true. And I know that’s what Greg would want.

 

Elaine Schiman is a Whitehorse writer who has used the services of Hospice Yukon.

 

TLC for Hospice House

New paint and roof at 409 Jarvis

Two years ago Hospice Yukon was able to purchase the little house at 409 Jarvis Street that it had rented for many years thanks to a generous contribution from the Yukon Government. Hospice has now offered its services to the Yukon public from this house for 19 years, hopefully with many more to come.

And the good news doesn’t end there. After the house purchase sufficient funds remained to allow for some much-needed renovations to the old house.

People often remark on the warmth they feel when they walk through these doors so we wanted to share with you what has been done to preserve the longevity of the house and maintain its welcoming feel.

Some of these improvements are easily noticed, others less so. Altogether, the upgrades – some big, others small – have made a huge difference.

The roof was really showing its age. We were able to put a new roof on the house as well as on the storage shed at the back of the property.

Two original windows were replaced with new, better insulated ones, and new window coverings. Fresh interior paint and new flooring throughout the house have made it feel much brighter.

New floors, paint and windows in the front room at Hospice.

The counselling room at the back of the house looks fresh and inviting with the new paint, floors and also a new couch.

The bathroom received some upgraded fixtures, and the front entry room was improved with a better storage system for our office supplies, and better lighting.

We were also able to put new exterior paint on the house, shed and fence, which matches the colours of the main house and looks great.

Bamboo panels were installed along the side fence in the front yard, creating more privacy for people who come to use and enjoy the Peaceful Place.

We are thrilled that ATCO Electric Yukon chose Hospice Yukon as its staff fundraising beneficiary this year. As part of this program they donated many hours of staff time to strip and paint our shed. The pictures show the incredible before/after result. Thank you ATCO!

Also, Hospice financed the removal of our old furnace system and installation of a new, efficient propane furnace. This has led to substantial savings on our energy bills during the winter months.

Plans for more improvements in the future are in the works. Some of these include installing new lights in the basement, as well as upgrades to the electrical panel.

Altogether, a great deal of change has taken place at Hospice over the last two years. Please stop by to take it all in!

Hospice Board Sees Change in 2017

Hospice Yukon has been blessed with being served by many skilled and dedicated board members since its inception more than 27 years ago.

2017 was a year of change for our Board of Directors. We said a huge thank you and fond farewell to long-time volunteer and board member, Lori Eastmure, and a warm welcome to new board member, Patricia McGarr. Here you can learn a bit more about Lori and Patricia and their roles at Hospice.

Lori was involved with Hospice since the early 1990s. In her early years of involvement she co-facilitated adult grief groups. For the past 11 years she served as a dedicated board member, and many of those were as co-chair of the board. She stepped down in May of this year. Several years ago Hospice awarded Lori with an honorary lifetime membership in recognition of her dedication and involvement. Her dedication and passion for Hospice services, and her warm, gentle nature will be missed at Hospice.

Here are a few words Lori had to share upon leaving Hospice this spring:

Losing my husband as a young wife was very difficult. I had no experience of loss this close. The advice back then was essentially about ‘getting on’ with life. I attended a grief group lead by Jackie McLaren and Sue Grabner which was life-changing. The following year Hospice Yukon was formed. I wasn’t ready to become a volunteer the first year but the second year I took the volunteer training and was on my way to healing in a very good way. One of these ways was in turning my attention to supporting others. It was transformative.

I started as a volunteer grief group ‘shadow’ leader. From there I co-led grief groups for many years. I really enjoyed meeting so many people in such a deep and meaningful way.

I joined the Board in 2006. Later, I became co-chair and held that position for many years. I think I had this long term commitment because of the remarkable people I met through this organization – the staff, the volunteers and our clients.  I have loved the challenges, the friendships and the accomplishments – especially the dream I and others have had for so many years – to secure a permanent home for our organization, which we accomplished in 2015.

I don’t know where I’d be today without Hospice. Thank you all for enriching my life. “

Thank you, Lori, for all you have shared with Hospice over the years.

And now, we welcome Patricia McGarr to our Board of Directors. Patricia has been a Registered Nurse for many years, and has been involved in various capacities with Hospice Yukon since its inception. Here’s she shares about herself and her involvement with Hospice over the years:

Patricia McGarr and her husband Greg.

I came to the Yukon 32 years ago from Scotland and it has been my home ever since – well, apart from a couple of years in Victoria (where I worked with Hospice Victoria); a short stint in Edmonton (being a new Mum and supporting husband in his Master’s degree); and a couple of years in Ottawa (working with the Canadian Nurses Association). I have a husband of 31 years (length of time married that is – not his age) and have two wonderful children in their twenties. We are lucky to have our son here with us in the Yukon for now, while my daughter is exploring Canada and the U.S.in a camper van.

I am a registered nurse and specialized in Oncology in Scotland and England. I was the first coordinator of the Yukon Home Care program, which was when I got involved in the early days of Hospice Yukon. It was invigorating to be part of a very active planning committee when the association was formed, meeting weekly to plan volunteer programming in palliative and bereavement support. In the late ’80s and early ’90s I was involved in a variety of roles with Hospice Yukon including: member of the Personnel Committee; member of the Board of Directors; joint facilitator of adult bereavement group; and Program Co-ordinator from 1990-1993, taking over from Barb, our first Co-ordinator. (Thankfully, Barb came back on the scene).  It was always moving and meaningful to sing at the Lights of Life opening ceremonies with the Persephone Singers. Yikes! Prior to that, I think I even sang a solo at one of the earlier opening ceremonies in Horwoods Mall!

I took on the position of Executive Director of the Yukon Registered Nurses Association in 1996, where I worked for 17 years. During that time I had a lot of experience in working with local and national Boards of different styles and feel well prepared to contribute to the board of Hospice Yukon. It has long been my intention to be part of Hospice Yukon again in some capacity. 

I look forward to this opportunity to serve again on the Hospice Yukon Board of Directors and help advance the philosophy, principles and values of our holistic and essential program.

The Hospice Yukon Board of Directors currently consists of 5 dedicated and dynamic members (left to right): Christine Gray, Dr. Sally MacDonald, Patricia McGarr, Nansi Cunningham, and Debra Fendrick.

Thank you all for the important work you do!

 

Workshop teaches Compassionate Workplace Leadership

On November 29th Hospice Yukon will be offering a workshop geared towards helping Managers and other workplace leaders establish compassion as a guiding principle in the workplace and create policies that will support employees when their lives are affected by grief and loss. This workshop is offered in partnership with Yukon College and the Northern Institute of Social Justice.

Hospice created this workshop in order to meet a need we could see in the community. We often receive calls from Yukon workplaces when an employee has died or has suffered a significant loss, and co-workers wonder how to provide appropriate support during these challenging times.

This workshop helps managers and supervisors develop practical tools and policies that will help them support grieving employees and provide leadership during times of crisis. They will also learn to anticipate the challenges of both supporting their employees and maintaining workplace productivity during high stress periods at work.

The workshop also features guest speakers who share passionately about how they found unique ways to support grieving employees, and provided effective leadership when significant losses affected their workplaces.

Kelvin Leary, former Deputy Minister of ECO and Environment, has been a great supporter of this workshop since its first offering five years ago. He explains the rationale behind it:

“Planning for grief and loss is a missing piece in our leadership toolbox. We regularly practice fire drills and implement emergency plans that are rarely needed, yet somehow we fail to plan for tremendously impactful events like grief and loss that will inevitably occur in the workplace.”

Loss is indeed an inevitable part of life; it eventually affects all of us. And when it does, we experience the grief not only emotionally, but also physically, mentally, socially and spiritually. Because grief is so all-encompassing, we know that it’s effects really cannot be separated from the workplace.

Some common symptoms of grief that can be seen in the workplace include: having difficulty concentrating, lack of motivation, confusion, memory lapses, anxiety, social withdrawal, fatigue, and more frequent illness, to name a few.

In one study 75% of employees who suffered a major loss say that their reduced ability to concentrate lasted well beyond their bereavement leave. In other words they are bringing their grief to work with them. A grieving employee is more likely to make poor decisions and be less productive, a fact proven by different studies, as well as the experiences of grieving individuals at work.

So, what to do? How can employers help?

The key in helping employees resume productivity at work lies in creating a compassionate workplace. The research clearly bears the proof of why this is worth investing in: organizations who put their people first do better on all indicators of success. Employees who are part of a compassionate workplace feel more loyal to their organization and are more motivated in their work.

If you would like to find out more information about our upcoming workshop, Supporting Your Staff Through Loss and Grief, please contact us at info@hospiceyukon.net, or phone 667-7429. To download the poster click here.

To register phone Yukon College: 668-8710 (CRN 10401)