There’s a warm glow as soon as you step inside the front doors of Hospice Yukon – a feeling of being held, as if inside a cozy cocoon. Afternoon sunlight streams in through a southern facing window and a heart-shaped pillow makes a loveseat more loveable. Rows of neatly arranged book spines line shelves edging the perimeter of the room.
A patchwork of small, hand stitched, red and pink hued hearts hang from a branch on the wall.
At first glance, it looks like the word “love” spelled out, but soon after, it becomes clear this is only the feeling evoked from the compassionate wall hanging – and the doting ambiance at the Hospice House, located at 409 Jarvis Street.
Hospice Yukon’s open door policy is one of the ways that this non-profit society shows that they care, the other is the wide range of support services that they offer to all Yukoners, on an as-needed basis.
“It’s not something you need everyday, but if every Yukoner knows what Hospice has to offer when they need it, that’s our goal,” says Debbie Higgins, communications coordinator.
“Sometimes the loss is fresh and sometimes the loss happened years ago and people haven’t been ready to move into the healing process,” explains Higgins. “Loss doesn’t go anywhere. It’s right where you left it, and when people are ready to heal, Hospice Yukon has a variety of programs to meet those needs.”
This need that Higgins speaks of is compassionate support, education and advocacy related to grief and loss. Hospice Yukon provides this through bereavement and palliative support services, and they have been doing so here in the territory since 1989.
Death touches and affects every one of us, whether we have personally lost a loved one, have supported a friend through their journey of grief, or are nearing end-of-life ourselves. Sometimes, loved ones have words that comfort, and other times, grief can border unchartered, wordless territory.
When helping a loved one navigate grief and loss, being with and holding space for that person can be truly invaluable.
“We can be so backwards in our society about how to care for someone who’s grieving,” says Higgins. “People are so worried about saying the wrong thing and making it worse, but you really can’t make it worse when someone has experienced the death of someone close to them.”
In fact, even worse than saying the wrong thing, is not reaching out at all.
It’s a good thing Hospice Yukon is all about reaching out. Their support programs offer aid to people who are grieving the death of a loved one, individuals who are dying, as well as caregivers and support givers.
In caretaking for those who are dying, sometimes caregivers’ wellbeing can be overlooked, resulting in burnout or compassion fatigue. Hospice Yukon ensures that everyone is taken care of, including the physical and emotional wellness of those encircling individuals in palliative care.
All the core programs at Hospice Yukon are free and provide education on how people can support themselves and others. The society has a holistic philosophy of care and healing that addresses the diverse needs of those who are grieving and dying.
While some hospices in Canada offer beds where people spend their last days, Hospice Yukon offers services that complement an individual’s palliative or psychosocial care.
“Good palliative care is a team approach and what we provide is a very important piece of that care,” Higgins says.
Some of the services offered by Hospice Yukon are grief support groups, grief and palliative counselling (offered onsite at hospice, at hospital care facilities or people’s homes), vigil support and healing touch.
The vigil support sees trained volunteers sitting bedside with patients in their last hours and days of life, which can bring comfort to the dying person and family members if they can’t be there all the time.
The healing touch program or “relaxing, gentle energy therapy” as Higgins explains, is offered workers and trained volunteers. The healing touch supports physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health, and provides connection to those grieving, dying, or who have experienced loss.
Hospice Yukon also features an extensive “lending library” of books and resource materials that are available to the public.
“It’s one of the hidden gems in Whitehorse,” Higgins says, “We have books on every kind of loss and grief. I’m always trying to promote our library because it’s so great!”
If they weren’t offering enough compassionate services already, Hospice Yukon also offers “feely hearts” to those who have experienced loss. These pocket-sized hearts are sewn, felted and stitched by volunteers, and passed along as a tangible reminder of comfort, love and support. As Higgins affirms, these hearts are small, but they have a profound impact when gifted to others.
“It’s common to feel helpless when someone is going through a hard time,” Higgins says. “You can’t fix that, but you can offer something that provides comfort.”
Higgins laughs, “We really should have feely hearts on our list of services.”
Over the coming months, Hospice Yukon is ramping up to provide a diverse range of services to the community, and their hope is that there is something for everyone.
On Feb. 8, Hospice presented a two-hour presentation called “Living with Loss” at the Whitehorse Public Library. This workshop is offered four times a year, so if you missed this one, there will be more upcoming.
Higgins describes the presentation as a “Grief 101,” covering the “grief wheel,” which is a particular model Hospice Yukon uses for looking at grief, and a baseline of the grieving journey. The session emphasizes the fluidity of the grieving process, as grief looks and feels different for everyone.
On Feb. 12, Hospice Yukon offered a three-hour workshop called “Loss and Creative Expressions.” This artistic and therapeutic session provided the opportunity for participants to explore their loss through the use of art materials. The process was mainly self-directed, but volunteers were there to provide support and guidance as needed.
The focus of workshops such as these are on the process rather than the product, so no art experience is necessary to attend. There will be similar arts workshops such as this presented throughout the year.
In spring (weather dependant) Hospice Yukon provides a walking group once a week for four to six consecutive weeks. Higgins says that not everyone wants to sit down with a counsellor, but there is something healing about walking parallel with someone through their grief, a companioning of sorts.
“When walking in nature, by the river, it’s easier to have silence. Shared silence in shared loss can be healing and speaks to some people differently than counselling and discussion groups,” Higgins says.
While Hospice Yukon does offer phone counselling services and mail resources to the communities, at this point in time, the society is unable to physically travel to communities to provide support. Higgins acknowledges the huge need for grief and loss support in Yukon communities, and hopes to see this change in coming years.
“If I had a crystal ball looking into the next five years for hospice, I would see expansion,” Higgins says.
If you would like to access confidential support free of charge, or are curious to learn more about Hospice Yukon programs and services, you can visit their website at www.HospiceYukon.net or Hospice Yukon Facebook page, or you can drop by the Hospice House Monday to Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.