The Art of Living When Every Moment Matters: A Hospice Journey Takes Shape

“You matter because you are you. You matter to the last moments of your life and we will do all we can, not only to help you die peacefully, but to live until you die.” Dame Cicely Saunders.

Along with almost 40 other heart-driven human beings, I recently completed a 10-week volunteer training program in hospice care hosted by Hospice Peterborough. For more than 25 years, Hospice Peterborough has been a trusted source for those living with, or affected by, a life threatening illness or grief. The organization operates with a very small, dedicated team of staff and is heavily dependent on volunteers to assist with program delivery. Last year, more than 1,500 community members were served and there is a growing and unmet demand for their services.

The Hospice volunteer training program was a rich personal experience as we worked our way together through topics such as sensitive communication; grief and bereavement; spiritual, emotional and psychological issues of death and dying and the role of the volunteer. Along the way, we dropped our masks and shared our experiences with loved ones lost or in crisis, adding personal colour to the content and conversation.

If you or someone you know is dying or experiencing a life-threatening illness, then you probably also know that our health care system is significantly lacking in hospice care. I became acquainted with Hospice Peterborough and the great work they do as a volunteer member of its Communications Committee supporting its current Every Moment Matters Capital campaign. Driven by a belief that this community deserves another choice for end-of-life care, as well as greater access to programs and services, planning is underway to create a new Hospice Peterborough Care Centre – a new facility that will provide a homelike haven for those at the end of life, and for those living with, or affected by, life-threatening illness or grief. The intent is to create a safe and caring environment and support, recognizing that on this journey, Every Moment Matters. Should you wish to support this special campaign, go to http://www.hospicepeterborough.org/residential.php

The significance of Every Moment Matters was amplified for me when we became acquainted with the story of the Simmons family. Documented in a video that captured the intimacy and dance with grief and death they shared, the story is about Philip Simmons, PhD. who was just 35 years old in 1993 when he learned that he had A.L.S. or Lou Gehrig’s disease. This is a fatal neuromuscular condition that usually kills its victims in two – five years. With two young children and at the start of a promising and academic career, he suddenly had to say goodbye. And by learning the art of dying, he succeeded, against all odds, in learning the art of living. Already a widely published author of fiction and literary criticism, Philip shared his hard-won insights in his book called “Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life”.

mandy

A very old soul, Mandy came to us for end of life care after a life of service to others. She died with dignity in Dec., 2013.

The story concludes shortly after what appears to be a rather normal walk through the family’s backyard. Philip and his wife Kathryn have escaped the confines of the home to enjoy their garden together. By then, he is in a wheelchair, fully dependent on others and has lost his ability to speak. He is, however, still able to communicate with sound. Kathryn offers up a freshly picked blueberry to Phil. She places it gently into his mouth. He chews carefully and with clear intent. He grunts with gratitude. As bystanders, we watch in complete silence, afraid we might disrupt this very special, cherished moment of intimacy between two people who have created a lifetime together. Philip is truly enjoying the moment – savouring it really — perhaps because he knows that he is quickly running out of moments like this. Philip died from complications due to ALS just a few weeks later on July 27, 2002.

For me, this shared experience is a significant reminder to live in the moment, to be grateful for each day and to savour the beauty that naturally surrounds us. How can we all live more in the moment? Here are a few ideas to ponder:

  1. Find reasons to laugh (not at the expense of others, but at the life experiences that naturally give us reason to chuckle)
  2. Enjoy small indulgences e.g. a good cup of tea or coffee in the morning, a hug, a visit with a good friend
  3. Be fully present when our spouses and children share their day’s events with us
  4. Unplug and declare “no technology or personal assistant device” hour(s)
  5. Celebrate milestones, small successes and achievements as they occur
  6. Be clear about your goals, while knowing that the richness is found in the journey itself
  7. Go for a walk in nature — sit in the shade of a really big tree
  8. Take in the scent of a flower
  9. Spend time in the presence of a horse, donkey, dog, cat or any other animal that has clearly mastered the art of chilling out.

What would you add to this list?

As one participant noted in our closing circle together – as with life and death, when something ends, something new begins. My experience with Hospice Peterborough is just beginning, and I am looking forward to adding these yet to be defined experiences to my life’s inventory of moments that matter, working with a dedicated team of volunteers and other professionals.

I encourage you to learn more about hospice and the wonderful work that organizations like Hospice Peterborough are doing to celebrate the art of living, while providing necessary support to people on their journey towards death.

Want to practice the art of living in the moment? The Mane Intent creates unique learning experiences for individuals, couples, small groups and teams interested in exploring what’s possible in life and work with a little horse power. Programs include Equine Relief for Grief and Equine Relief for Compassion Fatigue. Book your session today at www.themaneintent.ca

 

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The Mane Intent

June 5, 2015

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