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.
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.