By the Nav-CARE team
On November 15th, Canada will observe National Grief and Bereavement Day. At some point in their lives, everyone will experience grief. And so, marking this day encourages us to think about the ways we can support one another through grief journeys. Grief and bereavement programs are integral resources that can help those who are grieving cope with loss and process grief. These programs have become particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic as sources of grief multiplied and diversified through experiences of increased isolation, loss of agency, missed milestones, decreased physical touch, and societal and economic challenges.1
This month we are profiling the Near North Palliative Care Network (NNPCN) and their contributions to supporting grief and bereavement in their community. NNPCN is in North Bay, Ontario and services the Nipissing and East Parry Sound districts, as well as NE Ontario. They began over 35 years ago as a small organization that provided palliative care, respite, and grief support to the community. They have since grown to serve about 5,000 clients over this large geographic area. Large distances, sub-artic weather, and poor roads among these communities have posed unique challenges for NNPCN to overcome. Monica Do Coutto Monni, the Executive Director (ED), credits their volunteers for overcoming challenges “Our volunteers are heroes; they see clients through snowstorms during winter and drive 45 minutes to an hour [for a single visit]”. She sat down with us to talk about NNPCN’s innovative programming that supports those living with grief.
NNPCN offers a variety of programs both virtually and in-person. Of particular note is their grief program that includes systematic training both in-person and on-line. What began as a brief training program developed by a local nurse has since developed into a robust curriculum that covers important topics from the psychology of loss to post-traumatic stress. During the height of COVID-19, the importance of providing online training became even more pronounced. This led to NNPCN receiving an Ontario Trillium Fund (OTF) Resilient Communities grant that allowed them to develop an online training platform with 300 hours of content and a multitude of modules and quizzes. Ongoing education is also important to NNPCN; they offer monthly group training sessions to reinforce the content and provide volunteers with the opportunity to debrief. Through these efforts NNPCN acknowledges the complexity and breadth of grief and demonstrates the importance of supporting volunteers to be educated, skilled and in the best position to succeed.
Monica also acknowledges an awareness of the need to offer virtual support programs for community members. To meet community members where they are at, the NNPCN provides virtual respite and friendly phone calls or teleconference visits. Volunteers visit with individuals with life limiting illnesses, which provides a much-needed break for caregivers. While the visit is taking place, caregivers can nap, cook food, exercise, run an errand or practice whatever self-care they may need that day. To make this program even more accessible, NNPCN began lending cellphones and tablets to community members who did not have access to devices. This service has been extended further to support people without homes who have palliative care needs. This extension is both innovative and simple. NNPCN provides various community organizations visited by people without homes with devices, which allows them to facilitate volunteer visits. While this is incredibly beneficial to people without homes, it also contributes to the development of meaningful partnerships between NNPCN and community organizations, ultimately expanding the reach of much needed palliative care services.
Reflecting on her 10 years as the ED of NNPCN, Monica explains that as the demand for palliative care continues to grow, reliance on community members is paramount “What would be absolutely pressing now is if we proactively train all of the local population online for free…it will come down to us helping each other”. By offering free widespread training, communities can be better equipped to support one another through the challenges of grief as volunteers, neighbours, friends, and family. Monica eloquently explains the impact of a volunteer by stating, “the most important job of the volunteer is to be present and to be there… They are a little ray of sunshine that can bring peace, presence, and social contact”. Emulating the characteristics of NNPCN volunteers is something we can all aspire to achieve.
- Statz, T. L., Kobayashi, L. C., & Finlay, J. M. (2022). ‘Losing the illusion of control and predictability of life’: Experiences of grief and loss among ageing US adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ageing and Society, 1-24. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0144686x21001872