This is one of a series of five stories on death and dying, each examining one individual’s thoughts on, and experiences with, the subject.Inge Kelly, 84, volunteers three days a week at Hospice Care Ottawa’s Ruddy-Shenkman Hospice and another day each week at the Diane Morrison Hospice at The Ottawa Mission. She also co-facilitates bereavement programs. Before becoming a hospice volunteer in 1996, she had a 38-year career as a nurse, including at the Queensway Carleton Hospital.“I couldn’t tell you how many people have died on me. Hundreds. And I can honestly say that I cannot think of one that I didn’t like. And I have met so many amazing people and learned something from everybody.“I know when I meet them that this is not going to be a long-term relationship. And if I’ve helped them along in some small way, that’s my satisfaction.”•“My background is in nursing. I graduated in 1958 from the Winnipeg General Hospital. I spent a few years at a small hospital in Nova Scotia, in Berwick, in the Annapolis Valley. And then I spent almost 20 years at the Queensway Carleton. I worked on surgery for a few years, and then I was the night supervisor for the last 15 years.“You can’t just retire and do nothing. I was thinking of retiring — I wasn’t sure if I was ready or not, but then they eliminated my position, so that took care of that. And somebody mentioned that they were starting up the palliative care program, and so I phoned and joined them.“In 1996, palliative care was just starting. And I’d often heard physicians, once there’s no more treatment, say to patients, ‘There’s nothing more I can do for you.’ And I thought, ‘That’s so wrong.’ The person is still living, and just because there’s no active treatment, it’s wrong to say there’s nothing I can do for you. So I felt that that was where I wanted to be.”•“I grew up in a small community in Denmark, and death was an accepted part of life. That doesn’t mean that somebody dies and you’re not sad and that you don’t miss them, but it was expected, that we’re all going to die, and we talk more freely about it. We use words like ‘death’ and ‘dying,’ and not ‘passed away’ or ‘lost.’ I did find North America was a much more death-defying society and afraid to talk about death. But I think we’re getting a little better at it.“The first death I can recall was my grandmother, when I was about nine. She was asthmatic and died during an attack. I had very mixed emotions. I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s, so I really missed her later on. But at the time, everybody came home — all my cousins arrived — and she was right in the parlour at home. And we all went off to church, and then after that my cousins and I played. Although I do remember quite a while after she died when it suddenly sunk in: I’ll never see her again. And I do remember being upset.“I talk about death with my own children, and at first they’d say, ‘Oh, mom!’ and I’d say the reality is that we’re all going to die, and it’s better to talk about it casually, here and there, than not talk about it and then suddenly you’re dead.“There’s been a slow change over the years, where more people are open to talking about death. But it’s been slow. A lot of people aren’t afraid of death; they’re afraid of dying, of the process of dying, because it’s an unknown journey, and most of us are afraid of the unknown. We don’t know how it’s going to feel to die.“It is so unknown. A friend of mine was dying, and I spent quite a bit of time with her. And towards the end I said to her, ‘Come back and tell us,’ and she said, ‘I will.’ But that was a couple of years ago, and as far as I know, she hasn’t come back to tell me.”
Inge Kelly, who became a hospice-care volunteer after retiring from nursing in 1996, says that clients often just want someone who will listen to them.
Bruce Deachman /
“I nursed before CPR came along, before resuscitation. So you sat with them and they took their last breath, and that was it.“As a nurse, death was a part of your job. There’s the odd person that you remember, but I learned to separate my work and my home, especially once I got married and had a family. I think you would be too emotionally exhausted if you brought your work home. I like the saying, ‘I’m a friendly volunteer, but I’m not a friend.’”•“It’s so marvellous going to people’s homes. As a volunteer, you don’t come with any specific task. The doctor comes to look at you, the nurse comes to do your dressing, the PSW comes to bathe you. But the volunteer is just there. You get to know them, and they’ll often talk about things in the past that they may not mention to anybody else. Sometimes things they regret having done, or not done. And they can talk about death if they want to. Often their family and friends don’t want to talk about death, so they’re comfortable talking with a volunteer about their families.“But then we also talk about their life experiences and what they have done. There was one lady who was really interesting, but she had a heart condition, and was so short of breath that she really couldn’t do anything. And yet there were pictures of her skydiving, and deepsea fishing. She had done all these wonderful things.“I walked another woman’s dog. I’ve gone grocery shopping with clients. I’ve done so many things.“And then they die.”•“I think people die very much the way they lived. If you were a kind and gentle person, you’ll remain a kind and gentle person. And if you’re angry and confrontational, you’ll go out that way. People’s personality is not going to change drastically because they’re dying. Though they do sometimes get a different perspective on life. Some people accept that they’re going to die and make plans for what they want to get accomplished. Some even make all their funeral arrangements. Others will look for a cure till the very last minute. Some look upon it almost as peaceful, and others are afraid of the end; they’re afraid on the unknown.“It is a big mystery. It doesn’t frighten me. I like to think there’s an afterlife, but who knows? The older you get and the more you think about it, the more you wonder what there is. But they’re not telling us. Some people believe in an afterlife of some sort, and some believe that death is death, and that’s it. I’m just curious. I think if you try to live as fully as possible until the end, that’s all you can do.”
The Ruddy-Shenkman Hospice.
Bruce Deachman /
•“At day hospice, when somebody dies, we all sit down here and have lunch together, and then we light a candle and have a little memorial, and everybody gets an opportunity to say something about the person, and I think that helps everybody.“Deaths at The Mission are different. For one thing, they get admitted to the hospice earlier than they do (at Ruddy-Shenkman), so they stay at hospice longer. Most of the people admitted (at Ruddy-Shenkman) have a home, they have family to care for them. So they were well cared for, except the caregivers in the family are burned out. But the average length of stay (at Ruddy-Shenkman) is about two weeks, while at The Mission it’s much longer than that. And at The Mission, they may have a life-limiting disease, but they also have many other problems, such as mental health issues and addictions.“And they’re survivors. They’re people who have survived on the street for years, so they don’t give up too easy. Their death is the same as other people’s, but they stay on their feet for as long as possible.”•“All the clients touch your heart in some way. I don’t always remember their names, but I’ll be driving in town somewhere and think, ‘Oh, I had a client down there,’ or something happens and it brings to mind a client that did something. But you think the good things about them. You don’t grieve.”firstname.lastname@example.orgALSO IN THE NEWSTrying to unknot a long-held family secret: ‘I would like to understand my genetic makeup’Sitting in front of TV may be worse for health than desk job‘Beyond reprehensible’: College of Physicians revokes Barwin’s licence, fines him