Gifts for the living

     They are gifts that speak of a tender intimacy.
     Yet they are given to somebody that we may never know.
     They are the sorts of gifts that we might bestow upon a newborn baby such as a soft blanket that comforts as it warms, a quilt that was lovingly sewn or a brightly coloured pair of slippers knit by hand.
     Yet these gifts are not given to one who is newly come into this world.
     They are offered instead to the one who is departing from it.
     There is an ancient connection between birth and death that might seem puzzling to some. 
     But to those who have felt a newborn's tiny hand grasp their finger and then cradled the hand of one who is dying the similarity between our 'beginning' and our 'end' can become very clear. Because it is in both the hours following our birth and the hours leading up to our death that we become most aware of just how fragile and precious this life of ours really is.
      Moreover, it is after we have spent time with someone who is dying, that we come to fully appreciate the importance of Palliative and Hospice Care.
      The individuals that choose to become members of the Kipling & District Palliative Care Committee have each come to understand that dying truly is part of our living. They have witnessed the pain and helplessness that can often mark those weeks...days...hours...moments.
     That is why this group of people work so diligently to raise money needed to bless those who are dying with gifts that can help ease the pain and provide some measure of comfort to those who are helpless.
     "Our committee has never been directly involved with providing palliative care," explains Shirley Santo. "We have always been a support committee. We do what we can to make family members and patients more comfortable."
     They do this by paying attention to details that might otherwise be overlooked but which can often make all the difference to those needing palliative care.
     As Shirley points out: "We furnish the palliative care room and decorate it so that it feels more like 'home'. We provide things like TVs and a fridge that family members can use. The people working with these patients and their families let us know what is needed and what sorts of things might help provide support for these people. And we raise money so that we can provide these things and give these people that support."
For example, Shirley says that: "Years ago, we got crocus bulbs that we sold because crocuses are a symbol of palliative care. Now, we make purple ribbons instead. We also have our 'Tree of Life' fundraiser every year...we have a table set up at the annual Holiday Fair for that. We find that people are very generous in supporting us with our fundraisers. And, we are very grateful to the people in our community for their generosity."
Shirley goes on to note that: "There are rules that are meant to provide patients and their families with privacy. Those rules prevent us from knowing exactly who it is that we are helping. These rules are there for good reason, and we are careful to respect them."
     However... "This is a small town,î she adds. ìThe truth is that quite often even though we aren't supposed to know who it is that we are helping we in fact DO know. And really, even when we really don't know who it is that we're helping, we are always certain that these are people that are part of our community. These are OUR people."
     By claiming palliative care patients as ìour peopleî the members of the committee go a long way towards breaking through the barriers that can isolate people approaching the end of their lives from their community. Often, this isolation can mean that palliative care does not receive the attention and resources that would make so much difference to the people depending on this care. As Kim Balog (a Registered Nurse who works with palliative care patients as well as with the Palliative Care Committee) observes: "There is a great need throughout Saskatchewan to focus more attention on palliative care. I've spoken to nurses who are just starting out and who are wanting to go into palliative care. They often tell me that they lack the sort of direction that a mentor could provide; and find themselves not knowing even what to say when dealing with a family who has lost their loved one."
     Kim's response to these nurses is grounded in her own experience, and offers insight into the vision she shares with the other members of this committee...of what palliative care truly is: "I tell them to remember and express to these families that it is a privilege and honour to have been able to care for them and for their loved one as they move through this part of their lives."
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