Last moments see a regional commitment

“Our life is not measured by the breaths we take, but rather by the moments that take our breath away.”

Printed on a slim bookmark, accompanied by the unison flight of doves and the applause of the hopeful, last Friday morning saw the official sod turning for Hospice House.

A news item, for sure, with all the deserving dignitaries and politicians there, voicing enthusiasm and thanks, this next step for this very important place was celebrated under bright skies. With hope.

A virtual army of supporters is marshalling this consistently generous community into financial action. Quiet, background people who volunteer their souls are stepping up to take on the task of ‘asking’. As honorary campaign chairman, Dr. Rick Irvin, points out, this is a community of people caring for families as a loved one moves through their last days of life. These are people who have experienced death and whose hearts reach out to help others whose lives are at the final chapter.

“We’re not into sales or promotion at Hospice,” says Rick, the region’s medical trainer for palliative care for health professionals. “For us, Hospice has just been a quiet word of mouth and running a fundraising campaign for $5 million has been something we’ve had to learn. We always had our quiet way of being with people at the end of their lives.”

Beating their own drum isn’t a natural activity for Hospice folks; it’s been terrific to be able to rely on community expertise as this incredible process moves forward.

This building on Penetanguishene Rd. will offer 10 beds for palliative patients, care and support for their families, support groups for people who are dying, support groups for people who are letting them go. This is the work of Hospice and with the late June Callwood as their mentor the Hospice Simcoe folks are taking the lead.

But where does it all begin? In the case of Barrie, the flame for developing something happened a quarter-century ago. It happened when two youngsters, Debbie Irvin and Ann Bridgnell, were each diagnosed with T-Cell Lymphoma, a cancer of the blood cells. Both young girls lost their battles with this disease, Debbie at age 12 and Ann as a teenager. Their parents spent days in foreign surroundings at Sick Kids Hospital, camping out in hospital rooms, soaking up precious time with children who were leaving. It is a pain indescribable.

“We spent much time with Debbie in her room at Sick Kids and we stayed at McDonald House. We said ‘this is not the way we should be doing this. It’s not caring or appropriate.'” says Rick Irvin. But it’s all there was.

It is a pain that in its way has brought this community a facility that will let lives end in a caring environment.

Kathy Irvin and Pat Bridgnell, mothers of Debbie and Ann, were two of that first organization of women to discuss the possibility of starting something that would help people through this hurting and hurtful time. Jane Fitzgerald and Brigitte Campbell-Nash (both of the Community Care Access Centre), nurses Betty Stewart, Hazel Baxter, Barb Toivenan, joined with Linda Gooderham, Joanne Di Biasio and Heather Cox… together these women shared their experiences and centred on a goal and started out to achieve it.

Hospice Simcoe opened in 1988, in modest cubbyhole on Owen St and then in a larger space on Bradford St. It’s been a place of programs… support groups, sharing groups, bereavement care, life celebrations, and the training of the 150 volunteers who care-fully visit and serve those who are dying and those who are living with that dying.

When Hospice House is completed in nine months, it will have accommodation for 10 people and will need twice the number of volunteers it has today. As folks stood in the sunshine alongside the construction site last Friday, the Dunsmores and the Smileys whose farmland has given way to development, stood quietly to one side, no doubt in support of what is happening on their land.

This remarkable building with its equally remarkable services, will give people in this area a service that raises the barre everywhere. Interested?