A vital Columbia Valley organization continues to aid the community
“The hospice is an oasis where no one dies or grieves alone.” This is how Michèle Neider describes the Hospice Society of the Columbia Valley. And although the pandemic has shut down so much of this world, Neider, the hospice’s Executive Director, is proud and relieved the Invermere-based hospice is continuing its important work during this crisis—albeit in a new way.
The hospice supports individuals and families during the dying and grieving process.
For someone diagnosed with a terminal illness, “This is an opportunity for you to sit down and talk about your life,” Neider says. “Then this person can put all the memories of their life together and say, ’Okay, my life mattered.’”
This person’s loved ones and caregivers also need support. Before the death, the hospice can help them deal with feelings like anticipatory grief, anxiety, burnout and guilt. After, they can access one-on-one or group bereavement support to help with the healing process. “We talk about the importance of rituals, the importance of having ceremony,” Neider says. “It’s not for the person who’s gone, it’s for the people who are left behind.”
In 2019, the hospice’s 80 active volunteers put in 2,667 hours. This included doing 301 end-of-life visits that served 25 individuals and their families, doing 348 bereavement visits that served 27 individuals, and conducting three 12-week-long bereavement support groups.
Most of these services are offered wherever the individuals are: at home, at the hospital, at a local long-term care facility or even in a coffee shop. The pandemic, however, altered this.
“It was a huge effect on the whole hospice community,” says volunteer Amy Lange, who has done bereavement visits for about two years. “We normally like to see people face to face, because you get so much from a person, not just from speaking to them, but through their body language.” Lange says the new question was, “How are we now going to support people in a really effective way when we can’t be near them?”
The answer has been to connect by phone and through technology like FaceTime and Zoom.
“It definitely honed my skills for listening because you need to listen to influx of voice instead of the signs that you’re going to get when you’re right beside someone,” Lange says. “It was definitely a learning curve.”
The hospice has since managed to provide hundreds of “visits.” Some of these—the Zoom visits—were made possible thanks to a grant from the Trust to deal with pandemic-related impacts.
This enabled it to purchase a Zoom membership and a new computer, which it has also used to conduct training workshops for its volunteers, including Lange. “It was a real lifesaver,” she says, “because we were able to keep up with training and keep up-to-date with what we needed to be doing.”
“The amount of people we can service in our valley is huge,” Lange says. ”Everybody goes through something in their life that they might need some support for, and hospice is the perfect place to get that from.”