For three decades the Creston Valley Hospice Society has been providing comfort through the dying process.
The organization describes itself as being “made up of a group of trained volunteers dedicated to provide free compassionate emotional support to terminally ill patients; to their families and friends; in the home, hospital or care facility; during and after the end of the loved one’s life.”
Long-time Creston physician Dr. William Mitchell-Banks is credited with founding CVHS. Now a resident of Powell River, Mitchell-Banks wrote last week about his inspiration.
“As a general practitioner, my thoughts were influenced by Cecily Saunders, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (whose book, On Death and Dying, induced countless readers to think about dying and grief) and other writers,” he said. “I was oppressed by seeing dying people surrounded by curtains in a hospital ward with only the call bell as a companion. I found that often nobody knew how to raise the subject with someone who would die soon – while the person dying also was fearful to raise the matter. There developed a double silence.”
His early plan was simple. He placed an ad in the Advance. “Nobody should have to die alone!” it said. And he booked space in an upstairs room near the Catholic church.
“A group of around a dozen materialized out of the dark to gather round the table. I remember Geri Buchanan, Joanna Wilson, Liz McKenzie, Boyd Roberts, Nancy Mann Wood – to mention a few. (Former Creston mayor) Lela Irvine came to the Society early on, and Harry Haberstock came very early on, certainly giving it immense credibility.” He also acknowledged the vital contributions of Marg Rauch and Marg Brown.
“I declined any position of authority. I had my own ideas, but realized the Society must find its own way. I did act as recording secretary for a while and taught as a member of the team at workshops. While in practice I would not visit as a volunteer, since my profession would be an intrusion on another doctor’s turf. I did sometimes use subterfuge as when I asked a dying artist to teach me to draw!”
Soon, Mitchell-Banks created a web site—one that he still edits—at crestonhospice.com.
Now 88, he looks back at his early efforts.
“I think my decision to let it go its own way was right. It in some ways departed from what I had hoped – a place where volunteer and patient could become friends and the volunteer remain a loving companion to the end. That is the way in general practice, but perforce a doctor is an ‘authority figure’, as well as companion. The relation is not the same. But what is being done is good.
“I want to emphasize that the Society developed from infancy to toddler with a lunch bucket to informed and reliable adult almost before I knew it. The credit belongs entirely to the volunteers who have made it vital.”
Harry Haberstock credits Mitchell-Banks with having had “a lot of compassion for terminally ill people, cancer patients in particular.”
As a pastor, Haberstock routinely crossed the street from his Redeemer Lutheran Church office to visited hospital patients.
“Professionals can only do so much, though,” Haberstock said last week. “Lots of care is needed by both dying patients and their families.
“We needed a lot of people with different areas of expertise, including people with financial experience and those who knew about ‘constitutional stuff’, because William and I didn’t. And we needed people who could give their time.”
He said the organizational efforts went smoothly and quickly, and soon trained volunteers were sitting at bedsides, providing comfort and support to patients.
“We soon realized that families need care, too, as they were staying with their loved ones day and night,” Haberstock said. He described one friend mentioning recently that when his wife was dying a decade ago, hospice volunteers provided 80 days of support.
“I’ve always been very proud of hospice,” he said. “Volunteers are not thrown into their roles cold—the are well trained and I think they handle the situations very well.
“I have never had an incident where hospital staff were not extremely helpful and co-operative.”
Haberstock noted that the concept of hospice has evolved, with the addition of palliative care rooms in the hospital and also at Swan Valley Lodge.
“We have come to understand that people don’t have to die in a hospital—they can also die with dignity in care facilities or their homes.”
Creston offers a remarkable range of support services, hospice included, he said.
“This community may be small, but it fills big shoes in the care of terminally ill people. Hospice is a very quiet, but highly mobilized force.”
Creston town councillor Joanna Wilson recalled her own early involvement as a director and volunteer with the Creston Valley Hospice Society last week.
“William was a friend and our family doctor, and another founding director, Geri Buchanan, was also a friend,” she said. “I was born in England so I always knew about hospice care and I thought we should have it here, too.”
As a board member she helped with publicity, and she recalled what was then a lengthy training regime for volunteers.
“William believed that if volunteers were serious about committing their time they should be willing to take the time for courses, too!”
Wilson recalled that Nancy Wood, wife of the Anglican Church minister Randy Wood, was the first co-ordinator, and Buchanan replaced her early on.
“In the early years of hospice we did night shifts, which was often when families really needed someone for support. But eventually, that started to burn volunteers out.”
Becoming involved was fulfilling on many levels, she said.
“Death was an abstract for me at the time, and it became not an abstract. But it was never intimidating—we were well-trained by William and we were taught what to expect. We learned that death isn’t grim, that it is a part of life. And it was impressed upon us that our work was extremely valuable to patients and families. The work was extremely rewarding.”
She also credited hospital staff for their co-operation.
“The nursing staff were so happy to have us there. I think it helped that we could report on patients’ needs to the staff, and the nurses were always very appreciative.”
Thirty years of history has proven that Creston Valley Hospice Society continues to be a vital part of what makes this an amazing community, Wilson said.
She entertained with her keyboard at the anniversary celebration in October, and provided the music as another long-time volunteer, Brian Daybell, sang.
At that event, tribute was paid to the organization’s many long-serving supporters, including Thelma Destobel, who has volunteered for 30 years, and Benita Josephson, also a 30-year volunteer but the society’s coordinator for the last 15 years, as well.
Josephson has recently been busy training her successor, Christine Smith, who took over the position on November 1st.
For more information about hospice, go to www.crestonhospice.com phone 250-428-7575.