We surely do celebrate life when a baby is born. The family gathers, bringing gifts. We wait until the baby is actually there before we celebrate.
But the celebration that happens at the other end of life is different. We wait until after the person dies before we celebrate their accomplishments and connections. We know that the death may happen but somehow we don’t gather to say goodbye to them in person. Marking the end of life is important but we do it without the person whose life ended.
Maybe it’s because we’re reluctant to talk about death. It’s painful to think about losing someone in our lives even though we know it’s inevitable for all of us. Perhaps our death-denying society would rather celebrate manufactured youthfulness as seen in ads for products that mask signs of aging.
It seems like it would be more meaningful if we could find a way to celebrate their life with them to show our appreciation and love. People at end of life have shared they sense it seems difficult for family and friends to talk about what will happen. It can be a lonely experience.
New West Hospice Society suggests we work toward making New Westminster a “Compassionate City,” where death is no longer taboo, people know what to say and do, , residents can die with dignity, and family members and friends can grieve well. This fledgling society, only recently incorporated under the BC Societies Act, is truly grassroots. At its first public meeting, attendees were asked to help devise board priorities to help build a city where residents care and celebrate life at its beginning and end.
The board identified three priorities:
Through education and conversation, “normalize” how we talk about dying and death.
Dr. John You, who has led research at McMaster University on death and dying, says: “We need to normalize conversations about death and dying so that people can be more comfortable having advance care planning discussions within families before there’s a crisis.”
Recruit and educate the community to be involved.
We need to “reach in” instead of reaching out. The New West Hospice Society identified that people are often reluctant to ask for help and instead suffer in silence. They ask, “can we find a way to be the neighbours, friends, family, or even local business owners who reach in and offer to help?”
Start the process of reinstating hospice beds in New Westminster with the goal to eventually open a hospice residence.
Founding members deliberately did not bring this idea forward themselves because they believe if it is to come about, it must be truly owned by the community. This was the first idea small group discussions at the meeting revealed and was reinforced by every group that followed. One of the participants remarked “This is something I have been waiting for for a very long time. Since the Hospice at Queens Park Care Centre was closed. I volunteered there for years, and look forward to being a part of our very own hospice residence.”
Without knowing about what is happening in other cities being designated as Compassionate Cities around the world, New Westers identified the priorities that will the city become a community where “people are motivated by compassion to take responsibility for and care for each other”—a surefire way to be more comfortable in celebrating life even at the end.
You can find out more about the New West Hospice Society and join the conversation through their Facebook page, facebook.com/newwesthospice.