Society has forgotten how to deal with death.
Brenda Watts, executive director of Red Deer Hospice, said Canada has been very successful at “putting death behind closed doors.”
And these days some lucky people live for decades without having a loved-one die.
“We’re a very fortunate society. We meet people in our hospice who are well into their late 40s, 50s or even 60s who have not experienced a death of someone significant to them yet,” Watts said.
But for almost five years, Red Deer Hospice Society has reached out, offering compassionate care so people can die in peace, comfort and dignity in a home-like setting, with support for their friends and family.
Since the topic of dying is mostly avoided by the public, the work of the hospice goes unnoticed by many. Even those who know Red Deer Hospice exists — the only hospice in Central Alberta — there are still some confusion, she said.
“I heard of a case this week of someone saying they’d like to come, but they just can’t afford to,” Watts said.
“There is no set fee to stay. I think that’s one of the biggest myths in our community. Nobody is ever denied care because of their personal financial situation. Eligibility criteria for the hospice is based on medical assessments.
As a non-profit, donations by family and friends are appreciated, she said.
Since September 2005, almost 300 terminal patients have used the one-storey facility near Anders on the Lake, at 99 Arnot Ave. Last year, 76 patients stayed at the hospice.
Each of the 10 patient rooms has a sofa bed so a loved one can remain close by. Right now the average length of stay is 31 days.
To qualify, terminal patients must be diagnosed with four months or less to live, and are no longer seeking treatment for their illness. The hospice only provides comfort measures.
According Canada Hospice Palliative Care Association, hospice care would be beneficial in about 73 per cent of Canadian deaths. Hospice patients typically have cancer, advanced heart, respiratory and kidney disease, Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and multiple sclerosis.
Most patients are referred to Red Deer Hospice by Alberta Health Services home care services and by Red Deer Hospital’s palliative care unit.
The hospice has cared for patients as young as their 30s, up to a centenarian who was 102.
Watts said people who have not been to the hospice can only imagine the sadness. But the joy of life is also celebrated.
“We promote living until the end. Yes, people die here on a weekly basis. But we have a lot of living here, a lot of laughter, a lot of fun.”
Red Deer Hospice extends its support to family, friends and co-workers in the community through education and outreach. Services are available to anyone, regardless of whether or not someone they know is or was a patient at the hospice.
Watts said people usually don’t know how to talk to those who are dying and they don’t have the support system to help them through their grief.
“Twenty or 30 years ago, often you were born and raised in the same community, and you had numerous extended family,” Watts said.
Cheri Purpur, Red Deer Hospice nurse manger, said people who are grieving tend to isolate themselves and don’t seek the guidance they need.
“Sometimes all it takes is for someone to say what you are experiencing at this very moment is absolutely normal and you shouldn’t be expecting more of yourself. It’s fine to feel this way at this time,” Purpur said.
If people don’t deal with their grief, it can lead to mental illness, job loss, physical problems, and addiction, she said.
“We need to normalize this process so people don’t question themselves when they’re feeling the profound emotional reactions to losing someone that they loved.
“The more we talk about it, the more we educate the public about death and dying — something that every single one of us will experience — the better the journey is going to be for everybody,” Purpur said.
Watts said the baby boomer generation is aging and the number of Canadians who are going to die in the next 20 years will rise significantly. And they will be looking at their alternatives and hospice care.
Alberta has a good public health care system, but people don’t realize the hospice is a non-profit that depends on fundraising to operate.
Alberta Health Services provides about one third of its funding. For the year ending August 2011, the hospice is working to raise around $800,000.
“That’s a big feat.”
The hospice’s 10th Annual Spring Gala raises about 12 per cent of its fundraising budget.
The partial roof collapse at Red Deer Lodge means the gala has been rescheduled to March 31 at the Capri Centre.
With the larger venue, another 200 tickets are being printed, to host a total of 650 people.
The dinner will feature live and silent auctions. Tickets are $175 each, with $100 eligible for a tax receipt. Tickets are available by calling the hospice at 403-309-4344.
For more information about Red Deer Hospice visit www.reddeerhospice.com.