Nestled in the heart of the Southern Kootenays in British Columbia, Canada, Greater Trail Hospice Society has been serving Trail and surrounding communities for 35 years. From humble beginnings supporting people at the end of life through a home hospice program, Trail Hospice expanded their services offering a robust program that supports an upstream, palliative approach to care for those living with declining health in the community. These services provide wrap-around care and include end-of-life vigils, grief support for adults, teens, and children, virtual reality programs (e.g., virtual travel programs), digital legacy opportunities, death cafes, library loaning, and Nav-CARE (Navigation: Connecting, Advocating, Resourcing, Engaging).
Gail Potter and Brenda Hooper have been with Trail Hospice since its inception. Gail, a nurse and Spiritual Care provider, and Brenda, a palliative care nurse, have been instrumental in leading the vision of Trail Hospice including bringing Nav-CARE to their community. Linda Merlo, the Volunteer Coordinator, champions the expansion of the Nav-CARE program as it grows into other communities outside Trail. Alongside a diverse and dynamic group of people including their board, the volunteers, and committed community members, these three visionary women embody the sentiment that
As a program that supports a Compassionate Community approach to care, being grounded in community has been integral to the success of Trail’s program: “It really takes a community to do this,” says Linda, “And we’re trying to make it a team and not get territorial about ‘you do this part, I do this part.’ [We] try and just maximize whatever services are available because there is so much need…. What are we doing and how can we help each other?” Relationships with health and social care service providers are key to creating this sense of community, positioning Trail Hospice as part of the “Circle of Care.”
The relationships between volunteers and clients are also central to nurturing a compassionate community. With Trail’s shift of focus from the provision of support mostly during the last hours, days, or months of life to also include an upstream approach, volunteers foster deep connections with clients that develop over time. Linda explains that for those living with serious illness their world can be very small, and Nav-CARE volunteers are integral in bringing the community to the client. Following their training in developing community connections and seeking out resources to support the client, volunteers utilize their skills to help people maintain their quality of life and be as independent as possible, for as long as possible.
To illustrate, Gail shares a story about Rose and Jack (not their real names). Rose was a woman with terminal cancer, living at home with the support of her husband Jack. The couple were really struggling as they walked this journey together. The volunteer coordinator matched them with a Nav-CARE volunteer navigator who provided companionship, connected them with resources in the community such as meal delivery services, and helped them prepare for future health challenges and transitions. As Rose progressed to the end of her life, the volunteer continued to journey alongside her, providing Rose support until she passed away. In the meantime, another volunteer was supporting Jack who was experiencing grief as he anticipated the death of his beloved Rose, and continued supporting him following her death.
It’s these stories, emblematic of a community coming together, that makes the work at Greater Trail Hospice so personally satisfying for all involved. Volunteers share their experiences with one another through stories illustrating that “the little things, the little connections… are huge.” Brenda, plays a supportive role to the volunteers and bears witness to these stories. She has an expression:” I’m glad I made the coffee” that speaks to setting up a safe space for people to share their stories which is where the “magic and awe” happens. Gail speaks to the privilege of “being with people; the privilege of accepting their trust and being able to be present as you watch them try and ‘make meaning’ or grow or meet their challenges.” Finally, Linda brings us back to the community: “I’ve always ascribed to the idea that it takes a village to raise a child, but I never considered that [that] same philosophy can apply to so many things in our community. [It] can apply to people staying at home, for people in declining health… It can apply to everything that we do, and that is what makes our communities vibrant.”