Five years of walking through grief

Hospice Society celebrates fifth anniversary, with a look back at journey of society

When Maria Kliavkoff’s father was in the hospital dying, she would sit and talk to him. She would wait patiently while he slept. In those times, a nurse started asking if she would sit with other patients.

“I thought (I was asked) because families were away. What I discovered was that was not the case,” Ms. Kliavkoff shares.

The nurse told her she found after Ms. Kliavkoff sat with the patients, they were calmer and more at ease.

“I started paying attention to what I was doing. I realized there’s a calm patience that needs to be brought to those visits, and a respect and honouring that needs to be brought in,” Ms. Kliavkoff recalls.

When Ms. Kliavkoff returned home to the Columbia Valley, she wanted to get involved in a hospice society and receive formal training on how to be present for people in their end-of-life stages. That is when she discovered there was no local hospice society.

She started doing research to make a case for the importance of a Columbia Valley-based society. Amongst the findings, she discovered that by the year 2030 across the province, one in four British Columbians will be 65 years or older. But for the Valley, that will be one in three.

“That’s a staggering number that one in three of us will be 65 years and older, but there was no pathway for discussing death and loss,” Ms. Kliavkoff says.

When an unexpected injury found her in a cast with seven weeks free time on her hands, Ms. Kliavkoff decided the timing was right to launch a local society. Given her injury, she also spent a lot of face-to-face time with people in the medical field who not only wholeheartedly endorsed the idea for a local hospice society, but even became founding members of the board.

The Hospice Society of the Columbia Valley is celebrating their fifth anniversary this week. And the mandate has stayed the same throughout. They focus on three areas: end of life support, programming in bereavement and bereavement support, and public education.

In supporting individuals at end-of-life, the board decided to help individuals at end-of-life from the time of diagnosis.

“When somebody has been given that diagnosis, part of what happens if family and friends, when they find out, they’re dealing with their own reaction to the information,” explains Ms. Kliavkoff. “It’s important to have somebody who’s been trained to sit in on those difficult conversations, so you’re not worried about them squirming in it; they know how to hold space in that.”

In bereavement support, the hospice society works to help people learn how to deal with grief.

“Many people in our Valley don’t know how to grieve a loss,” she comments.“Hospices become the place that people can come in the Valley whether through a support group with visitors and volunteers to walk through bereavement.”

The hospice society also engages in public education such as the recently launched ‘Hello’ games which introduced conversations about living and dying. So far, the ‘Hello’ sessions have been a great success, Ms. Kliavkoffsays, with 36 people attending one of the first three sessions. Two more were scheduled after the Pioneer’s deadline, in Fairmont Hot Springs and Invermere.

Over the past five years, the Hospice Society of the Columbia Valley has been able to support 98 end of life clients and their families with almost 2,700 visits. They have supported 72 bereavement clients through visits and support groups and have loaned an average of 50 books per year from their lending library. They have done focused information sessions in the Valley on topics ranging from advanced care planning, to how to support those who are grieving.

Hospice volunteers consistently hear from family members how the hospice society training and help gave them the confidence to have a hard conversation with a loved one, or to sit with them during their final days.

“To know I am now one of those people who facilitate the ability to have conversations at the end of life, and how blessed we are that we get to do that,” Ms. Kliavkoff says. “I am so honoured to have been able to do this, to see it grow and flourish.”

There is no cost for the services offered by the Hospice Society of the Columbia Valley. For more details please contact the Hospice Office at 250-688-1143.

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