When Laura Gamache’s mother passed away she was worried about the lasting effects on her children.
Her children, who were only four-and-five-years-old at the time, had watched their grandmother for six weeks as she slowly declined in health due to a stage four cancer diagnosis.
Gamache, a nurse, had taken care of her mother’s palliative care at home, but, she said, when her mother was healthy, she used to be the one to take care of the children.
“I think because I’m a nurse and because I work so much shift work, my mom did a lot of their caretaking. So they were very close with my mom, almost like a parental relationship as opposed to like a grandma relationship. So they took it really, really hard,” she said of her mother’s eventual passing.
Gamache’s daughter has a generalized anxiety disorder to begin with, which became exacerbated as she tried to cope with the sudden loss of her grandmother, and her son started becoming more withdrawn.
So Gamache turned to the Ridge Meadows Hospice Society for help.
The Ridge Meadows Hospice Society is a not-for-profit that provides compassion, support and care to individuals experiencing their end-of-life journey and grief support for their loved ones.
Gamache decided to get counselling there for her own grief and enrolled her two children in play therapy – free programs offered by the society.
Gamache was impressed by the volunteers who ran the program, whom she described as warm and wonderful people.
“It was a really great experience for the kids,” she said, so much so, that when Gamache lost her father in 2019, they turned, once again, to the hospice society to cope.
Her children built memory boxes as part of their group therapy, which they attended one day a week for about five sessions after her mother died.
“They built these beautiful little wooden boxes and they decorated them with different words that were meaningful to them and they painted them and put stickers on them,” Gamache described.
Then, she said, they collected items to put in the boxes to remind them of the loved ones that they lost, like pictures, little notes or the watch her father used to wear all the time.
When finished each child presented their box to the other children in the group.
“Because it was group therapy, it wasn’t just one-on-one, it was a group of grieving kids. So, they were able to be with each other through the loss and be supported by the volunteers,” noted Gamache
They also participated in sessions where the family blew bubbles into the sky to make wishes on or simply to send them up to their loved ones. This helped her third child, who was only three-years-old when his grandfather died, again of stage four cancer.
Gamache also enjoyed a snack night during which hospice volunteers invited parents to view the memory boxes their children made.
“It was something that left an imprint on my kids,” she added, now aged 12, 10, and four. They still keep the boxes, one for their grandmother and another for their grandfather, in their rooms.
In March, the Ridge Meadows Hospice Society will be celebrating a quarter century in the community and it is stories like Gamache’s that makes those at the society proud of the work that they do.
A virtual White Dove Dinner is being thrown to highlight the society’s 25 years of service to the community.
“It’s a complete honour,” said hospice executive director Lindsey Willis about serving the community for so long.
“We are celebrating so many people – from staff to volunteers to board members – who have been involved and contributed over all these years,” said Willis.
“It’s hundreds of people who have built the hospice society,” she added about the society’s deep roots in the community dating back to the 1980’s.
The Ridge Meadows Hospice Society was founded by Edna Grace Trethewey in 1980. Trethewey, a public health nurse who moved to Maple Ridge in 1961, poured her heart into the hospice, working first as a coordinator, training volunteers, bringing awareness of the society to the community and supporting families. Then as a volunteer.
The society was incorporated in 1987.
Trethewey was the first-ever recipient of the Ridge Meadows Hospital Foundation’s Dr. Lloyd Capling award in 1989 for outstanding contributions in the health care field. Her name was also placed on a Tree of Life plaque in McKenney Creek Hospice, the opening of which was one of the society’s greatest accomplishments in the community, said Willis.
In 2019 alone, 2,500 people in the community were helped by the hospice society in some way. Every year about 550 people access their grief support programs.
“For every one person you support through their grief, you know you are reaching an extra five people,” said Willis, about the ripple effect out into the community.
“It’s hard to quantify it, but it’s broad,” she said of the society’s impact.
The White Dove Dinner takes place from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Mar. 6.
The virtual evening event will be offered in a pre-recorded format with live components as well.
Each ticket will provide every guest with a link to watch the event from home on a computer, tablet, laptop, or other device.
The evening, emceed by Taryn Stephenson, will include stories from the hospice society about the lives it has touched – including stories of loss and grief and how they’ve transformed into stories of love, compassion, hope and inspiration.
Musical guests will include Robert Campbell, Bruce James Orchestra, and Sam Ellington.
An online silent auction will open Monday, Feb. 22, and will include items from travel, to experiences and treats to bid on.
There is also a 50/50 with up to $2,500 to be won.
An option to purchase a three-course dinner from Humble Roots Deli and Cafe will also be available.
Willis is hoping to raise $25,000 through the dinner. So far, 32 donors have raised $13,100.
To purchase tickets or simply make a donation go to trellis.org.
For more information call 604-463-7722 or go to ridgemeadowshospicesociety.com.