Almost three years ago, that closeness helped them through the loss of Rob’s mother and Mandy’s father, within two months of each other.
Rob’s mom, Doreen Creelman, passed away Aug. 31, 2010 at Hospice House. Less than two months later, Oct. 4, 2010, Mandy said goodbye to her dad, Peter Reeves.
“We had never been inside the building,” said Rob. “But when we got there, Mom looked around and felt how comfortable it was and she thought the room was lovely. She felt comfortable with the staff and that she would be looked after, and her pain was managed very well.”
Mandy said the family’s positive experience with Hospice began at intake, with an RN who was “fabulous.”
It’s never easy to face the death of a loved one, but both Mandy and Rob say the staff and volunteers at Hospice go out of their way to ensure families have everything they need.
“It was always about Mom, it was her comfort that was paramount.”
With 10 years of failing health, Doreen was diagnosed with an aggressive and inoperable form of lung cancer on the May long weekend of 2010.
“Her desire was to be home as long as possible, but when she ended up in emergency, the ER physician said she couldn’t go home,” said Rob. “We had set her up at home with a hospital bed and we had done everything we could to keep her there.”
Doreen was just 75 when she passed away, after spending six weeks at Hospice.
“Doreen was a fiercely independent and private person and so it speaks very highly of Hospice how comfortable she felt there,” said Mandy. “The privacy she was given, the sensitivity that everyone showed, including the care aides, the social workers, the volunteers, the housekeeping staff, the volunteers in the kitchen.
“We were able to be a family and not worry about all of the medical stuff.”
The staff was extremely adept at helping the family to understand that Doreen would die in the same way she lived.
“She didn’t often speak about her feelings, she was not going to suddenly be this touchy-feely person, and the big thing was to respect who she was as a person,” said Mandy.
What that meant to Doreen’s family was that her husband, Gerry, and all six of their children could be there. While Doreen was not able to leave her room, each night her family enjoyed their meals together, either out on the patio or in the dining room.
“She knew we were together and when she was still able to eat a little, it gave her comfort knowing we were enjoying the same meal,” said Mandy. “Every table in the dining room had a different family at it and you don’t think you’ll get to experience that kind of camaraderie at the same time you are learning to let go of someone.”
Mandy said the staff’s caring extended to the small things such as ensuring that Doreen always had her favourite rose-coloured nightie to wear.
Near the end of Doreen’s life, she wanted only immediate family members nearby. Hospice staff took care of gently letting visitors know her wishes.
“Towards the end it’s a bit of a rollercoaster ride and every night we would wait to see if she’d make it through and then we’d go in the next morning, and she’d have a cup of coffee in her hand and was asking for Baileys,” said Rob, smiling at the memory.
In addition to raising six children, Doreen helped Gerry run his business and was a longtime manager at Tempo Music in downtown Vernon. She was blessed with 10 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Born in Saskatchewan, Doreen grew up in the Lower Mainland and moved with her husband and kids to Vernon in 1960.
Although there was always a family member sleeping in her room at night, they knew she needed privacy to pass. True to form, she died alone at 7 a.m. at the beginning of a nursing shift change.
“That was Mom, she didn’t want to inconvenience anyone,” said Rob.
Mandy’s dad, Peter Reeves, had been living with dementia and although it had progressed to the point where he was living in a care home, Heritage Square, he was not incapacitated.
“He was doing OK, so it was pretty shocking when he had some sort of cerebral event and it was made clear to us that he would need a palliative plan. The staff at Heritage Square is fabulous, and they were very fond of my dad.
“We wanted him to go to Hospice, but there was no bed right away, so the palliative coordinator organized a volunteer to sit with Dad so we could get a break.”
A father of two and grandfather of five, Peter emigrated from Bournemouth, England in 1956. A longtime car salesman, in his later years he ran a home handyman business, Man About the House.
“He was British to the end,” said Mandy.
With her mom, Annette, and her brother and sister-in-law, Chris and Shelley, Mandy got her dad into Hospice just before he died.
“He arrived at 1 p.m. and he passed at 3:15. It was reassuring to arrive at Hospice and to see the familiar faces; they were very respectful and sensitive.”
When her dad died at 76, his family was able to grant his dying wish, that his body be donated to UBC for anatomical research.
“For him he realized a life-long dream to attend university and for us it’s so comforting to know that his bounty lives on.”
Talk of death is never anyone’s favourite subject, but Mandy urges anyone whose family member has been declared palliative to consider Hospice.
“It’s a very reassuring place. Hospice is important to us and so when we go back occasionally, I feel like we’re coming home.”
When Rob and Mandy lace up their running shoes at Hike for Hospice this weekend, they will think of Doreen and Peter, who gave so much to their families and to their community.
“It’s a time to reflect on Doreen and my dad and to think about the people who came before us, who made Hospice possible, and when I’m walking I think about the families that are there still.”
The annual Hike for Hospice takes place Sunday at Polson Park. Registration is at 9:15 a.m., with the event starting at 10 a.m. The Armstrong Lions Club serves pancake breakfast from 8 to 9:40 a.m. for $5. This fun-filled morning of exercise and entertainment is a great opportunity to support quality end-of-life care in the North Okanagan. Pledge forms are available at Hospice, Nolan’s Pharmasave or online at www.nohs.ca.
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