Talking to Rebecca Smith, executive director of Surrey Hospice and president of the Cloverdale District Chamber of Commerce, I was reminded that death is a one-way journey we do our best to avoid discussing.
Years after my own mother’s passing, I still grieve that I—an only child—was completely ignorant about how to navigate the heartbreaking end-of-life inevitability in a way that would help us both. Rebecca, whose 21-year-old brother passed away 25 years ago, three months after a cancer diagnosis, empathized.
When tragedy stuck their family, Rebecca told me that crisis assistance, information and other qualified insightful help was neither offered, nor available. The stunned family (which included a six-year-old) navigated their pain and grief privately, internally.
“I was shocked and appalled at how little I knew. I don’t want to see another family go through that … ever,” she says emphatically.
With a background in organizational management, public relations and volunteerism, Rebecca decided to explore ways to re-channel her business training and painful family experience. She was convinced the ‘Go home. Get ready. We need the room’ message her grief-stricken family received at VGH should and could be avoided by others.
“Guilt can keep you stuck. It’s really hard to get past guilt,” she recalls. “I just wanted to do more. I had no idea what hospice was. I thought it was just where people went to die.”
Years later, after much related training and onsite experience, Rebecca Smith is adamant the need for Surrey Hospice not only remains undiminished, but is growing.
“We are a society, not a residence. Everyone is welcome to come to us. Trained grief councillors are available to meet with people of all ages. Everyone grieves differently—especially children,” she explains. “Children are often forgotten, or misunderstood, when heartbreak happens. Navigating hurts in that age range requires unique insight and specialized training.”
The Surrey Hospice palliative care team works closely with Laurel Place, the Fraser Health long-term care home near Surrey Memorial Hospital. Hospice support here is tailored to individuals based on what the society can offer. There are also counselling legacy programs. During COVID these have been in abeyance, but ward access is beginning to open up.
Surrey Hospice is also a non-profit society with a plethora of undiminished ongoing hospice needs. Volunteers are invaluable, as is support from organisations such as Surrey Fire Fighters and Surrey Teachers’ Association.
Smith hopes the annual one-day free public conference, The Beginning Of A Conversation, usually held at Kwantlen Polytechnic University on 72nd Ave., Surrey, will happen again soon. This event features up to 25 speakers, an exhibition featuring a wealth of general information including end of life planning, executor services, and other pertinent topics.
Surrey Hospice online seminar registrations during COVID have increased and are valuable informal approaches to assisting people—particularly through “triggering events” such as Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Father’s Day without father, other ‘name’ days, and winter doldrums.
A Zoom Skip the Dishes Dinner, craft workshops, and small group dinners have encouraged people to connect.
“Laughter is an important part of grieving. It’s not all about body parts, scans, and rules,” says Smith.
To support the hospice, one can visit Surrey Hospice / Surrey Fire Fighters Charitable Society Store at 7138 King George Blvd., Surrey 604-599-9930 (closed Sunday).
For more information on Surrey Hospice Society, visit surreyhospice.com, or call 604 584 7006.
Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is the founding publisher and managing editor of the Cloverdale Reporter. Contact her at email@example.com.