L'Etoile - - IN OTHER WORDS -

It is so­me­times in seeing things from a new pers­pec­tive that we grasp the full extent of its ma­gni­tude, po­wer and pur­pose.

That’s what hap­pe­ned to me re­cent­ly when my hus­band’s Aunt Lin­da was ta­ken to the Vau­dreuil-Sou­langes Pal­lia­tive Care Re­si­dence, VSPCR, in Hud­son. She was dying, the fa­mi­ly was told. There was no­thing to do but make her com­for­table and sur­round her with love.

Thank­ful­ly, mer­ci­ful­ly and not by coin­ci­dence, the VSPCR and its staff and ar­my of vo­lun­teers (over 200) were there for Lin­da, and for our fa­mi­ly.

As a re­por­ter I’d writ­ten about the VSPCR years be­fore it was built, when it was what see­med like a long-shot idea being floa­ted by a small but de­ter­mi­ned group of doc­tors, nurses and re­si­dents who felt we nee­ded such a fa­ci­li­ty in the re­gion. I’d co­ve­red the sto­ry be­cause it was news­wor­thy and heart­war­ming: build a home paid for en­ti­re­ly with do­na­tions of mo­ney, buil­ding sup­plies, la­bour, pro­fes­sio­nal ser­vices and more. Make the home a place of re­spite for pa­tients and their al­rea­dy grie­ving fa­mi­lies, who would be com­for­ted, lo­ved and cos­se­ted in their hour of need. No one would have to wor­ry about mo­ney be­cause all ser­vices would be free of charge. It soun­ded too good to be true. But like the lit­tle en­gine that could, that grass­roots com­mit­tee wor­ked ti­re­less­ly and soon the mo­ney star­ted coming in, things fell in­to place, and in Sep­tem­ber 2010, the VSPCR ope­ned its doors with a mis­sion of de­li­ve­ring spe­cia­li­zed pal­lia­tive care with se­re­ni­ty, warmth and com­fort to anyone - chil­dren, tee­na­gers, adults - with ter­mi­nal ill­nesses.

First hand­look

I had tou­red the halls of the beau­ti­ful red­brick home nest­led on a woo­ded Hud­son lot. I’d seen its pa­tient rooms that were no­thing like ste­rile hos­pi­tal rooms. For while they did have hos­pi­tal beds, they were co­ve­red with in­di­vi­dual hand­made quilts, pic­tures were hung on the walls and warm co­lours, wooden tones and com­for­table re­cli­ning chairs made it feel like what it was sup­po­sed to be, a home.

So while I knew what to ex­pect, it’s dif­ferent when so­meone you’ve known and lo­ved is lying in the bed.

The day we vi­si­ted more than a week ago, Lin­da was sit­ting up fa­cing an al­most floor to cei­ling win­dow. Her view was of the trees that were al­rea­dy be­gin­ning to change co­lour, and the bird fee­ders at­trac­ting at­ten­tion from an ar­ray of flying crea­tures.

Though a brain tu­mor had clou­ded her thin­king, Lin­da knew she didn’t want the shades drawn on the sun­ny fall day. And though she hadn’t slept well the night be­fore, her nurse would come in to stroke her arm, fix her co­vers and, at one point, shift her po­si­tion so as to dis­cou­rage bed sores.

What we didn’t see, but her sis­ter and son told us about, were who they cal­led “the li­ving angles” - Lu­cie Gui­mond and nurses/ at­ten­dants / vo­lun­teers Melissa, Isa­belle, Ju­lie, Daph­né, Syl­vie and Lyne - who ti­re­less­ly gave Lin­da care, love and di­gni­ty un­til she took her last breath.

Lin­da, who was just 61, ado­red her two sons, so a pho­to of the boys - now men - was pro­mi­nent­ly dis­played in her room. She lo­ved blue but­ter­flies (one of which she’d had tat­tooed on her shoul­der 10 years ago) thus a well lo­ved but­ter­fly sha­dow­box from her home was brought in and hung on the wall. She ado­red coun­try music so it was of­ten quiet­ly played in the back­ground and when she was gi­ven her first bath.

Her son was able to sleep at the home when he wan­ted, while her sis­ter could call in the middle of the night to find out if eve­ry­thing was ok.

In short, no­thing that could of­fer com­fort, reas­su­rance or a bit of hap­pi­ness see­med to be off li­mits.

And when Lin­da sad­ly but pea­ce­ful­ly pas­sed away in the af­ter­noon on Sep­tem­ber 26, the VSPCR angles took a pri­vate mo­ment to re­move all traces of me­di­cal equip­ment from her bo­dy, gent­ly co­ver her with a beau­ti­ful lace bed­spread, place flo­wers above her head, light candles and quiet­ly play coun­try music be­fore in­vi­ting her lo­ved ones back in­to the room to say their fi­nal good­bye at length and in peace.


Even with a fu­ne­ral to plan, our fa­mi­ly can­not stop tal­king about the VSPCR and how their love and com­pas­sion made this ve­ry pain­ful ex­pe­rience a lit­tle more bea­rable. There are even some fond me­mo­ries, like of the pa­tient who lo­ved horses so much that a nurse ar­ran­ged to have her horse brought to the par­king lot where the pa­tient was sea­ted and wal­ked around.

There is a hair­dres­ser of much re­pute who vo­lun­teers her time to cut, style and groom pa­tients’ hair just to make them feel good. There is a 17-year-old vo­lun­teer who goes from room to room de­li­ve­ring fresh water and re­mo­ving used dishes, while a well-known music tea­cher has gi­ven her time in the kit­chen one day a week since the home ope­ned. These are the sto­ries a re­por­ter does not get du­ring a 15-minute tour of the home. Or du­ring a press con­fe­rence.

But what we do get is news about the la­test fun­drai­ser. Be­cause the home which was built on do­na­tions, is still run with do­na­tions.

I saw firs­thand what such a fa­ci­li­ty can give to a dying per­son and their fa­mi­ly.

I hope others ne­ver need its ser­vices, but it is im­pe­ra­tive that all who can, sup­port the home in any way pos­sible. Maybe through the pur­chase of a $5 raffle ti­cket. Maybe by vo­lun­tee­ring some time, or at­ten­ding an up­co­ming event. I saw that this real­ly is eve­ryone’s home. Let’s hope eve­ryone joins to­ge­ther to keep it run­ning strong for years to come.

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