BY CHERIE KOK


ON MARCH 10, our family left for what we hoped would be a fun and relaxing vacation in Cuba. We had some concerns about the COVID-19 virus potentially causing problems but had no idea how quickly things would change or how bad the situation would become.

By the second evening of our trip, we became very concerned hearing all the information about the virus hitting Europe and North America. After consulting with our hotel representative, we decided the safest way to get home was to wait for our scheduled flight back on March 17.

We arrived home in Thunder Bay at midnight, so very grateful to be back on Canadian soil. Knowing that we were to be quarantined for 14 days was minor in comparison to the stress we experienced in Cuba.

The next morning, my brother called me to welcome me home but also to inform me that our mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease many years ago and lived in a long term care home in Thunder Bay, had not eaten for days. Instinctively I knew what this news meant. My mom, whom I had cared for throughout her 13-year battle with dementia, was in her final days of life.

I called the home, and they informed me that due to my travels, I would not be able to see her or hold her hand in her final moments. I can’t Even begin to describe how painful a realization this was. Thankfully, the staff at the home were wonderful and did everything they could to support our family through this incredibly difficult time. Friends also rallied around us and ensured my mother had someone there with her as much as possible, connecting us through phone and video calls. I was even able to sing to my mom and pray with her, something that brought me great comfort.

My mom passed away peacefully on the morning of March 21.

After going through this experience of loss and grief during such an unprecedented time, I have come to realize I am not the only one in these circumstances. Sadly, during this pandemic, the painful reality is that people are dying every day without their families by their sides.

Grief is a challenging emotion. It affects all dimensions of our wellness: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. For those who have experienced a loss, when grief is taking everything you have and you are already feeling depleted, the challenges posed by COVID-19 can feel overwhelming. Thankfully there are agencies like Hospice Northwest, an organization I am honoured to be a part of, who are doing what they can to help others like me with their grief.

Hospice staff are developing video grief support groups and organizing volunteers to offer one-to-one support by telephone. If you are a grieving person, or know someone who would benefit from support, please call our grief services coordinator to discuss ways we can help.

We are also developing a program for grief support for front-line workers. These individuals often form strong emotional bonds with the people they care for. The loss of a patient may evoke feelings of helplessness, anger, shame and grief, especially during such

challenging times.

Hospice Northwest would like to help. If you are a front-line worker and would benefit from a compassionate ear, please let us know. We have trained volunteers willing and ready to speak with you.In addition to our volunteers, Hospice Northwest also has several grief specialists available who are ready to talk to those in need. Claudia Otto, a certified grief counsellor, is working on an Emotional First-Aid Kit that will be available soon. The kit will offer suggestions and coping methods for dealing with our well-being during this crisis.

“I know firsthand how isolating grief can feel, and how in these times of crisis, this sense of isolation is compounded,” says Otto. “It is important that we find ways to nurture ourselves, our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs, in this time of grief and of COVID-19.”

Otto shared a quote from Albert Camus, that she says has been a source of strength and support for her, “In the midst of winter, I found there was within me, an invincible summer.”

Hospice Northwest staff can be reached at 807-626-5570 or by email at info@hospicenorthwest.ca


This monthly column from Hospice Northwest examines various aspects of palliative support and bereavement services. It appears on the Healthstyle page of The Chronicle-Journal on the first Tuesday of each month. Call Hospice Northwest at 626-5570 for more information.

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