Death is a fact of life. There is no break, no pause during the holiday season. This is supposed to be the most wonderful time of year, so the song lyric goes. What about families who have a loved one that is terminally ill, knowing that this person’s Christmas will be their last one? Are you allowed to celebrate and grieve at the same time? Should there be a Christmas dinner or gift giving?
When you walk into Hospice Simcoe in Barrie, there is no disguising the season. There are decorations and a Christmas tree in the lobby. Every Tuesday during the year, volunteers come to sing, and Christmas carols are added to the list of songs in December.
“We sensitively acknowledge the season,” says Lori Scholten-Dallimore, Spiritual Care Coordinator at Hospice Simcoe. “We have an opportunity for people to join in caroling. There is a legacy surrounding the Christmas season.”
At the same time, Scholten-Dallimore says it can be a difficult and emotional time and people don’t necessarily feel like celebrating. The Hospice also gives residents an opportunity to talk about the fact Christmas will be different this year.
Hospice Simcoe has been in Barrie for over 30 years, providing home and bereavement support. The 10-bed residential facility opened about a decade ago.
“There are several ways people can celebrate the Christmas season, “says Kelly Hubbard, Executive Director of Hospice Simcoe. “We have a Remembrance Tree where people can write a message to their loved one. There is also a reflection wall where family members can write how they are feeling this time of year. “
If a resident is able, they can also add to the Remembrance Tree and memory wall.
On Christmas Eve, nurses deliver donated gifts to residents and families. There is also food. Lots of food.
“There is a Christmas Eve dinner, a Christmas morning breakfast, a Christmas dinner,” says Hubbard. “It smells like home and it feels like home.”
She says there is a dining table or families choose to have a private dinner with loved ones in the rooms. There is also a community room where families can make their own dinner and bring all the family.
“It is really up to the individual. They can describe what they want Christmas to look like.”
Staff and volunteers are very sensitive to the fact that there are people and residents that may not want to even think about Christmas. Hubbard says they don’t push people, adding flexibility is the name of the game.
Not every resident will live to see Christmas. Resident rooms often get decorated in November knowing that person will not be there on December 25th.
“We will make Christmas happen in November or when it needs to come to them,” says Hubbard.
If the smell of a turkey or a Christmas song doesn’t lift the spirit, Daisy is also there to provide comfort. She is the dog that has taken up residence at Hospice Simcoe. This time of year, Daisy is wearing her Christmas bells.
“We understand there is sadness and grief at this time, but we also know people need a little lift,” says Scholten-Dallimore.
In fact, marking an event to Christians that is about a birth in a place where there are people who are dying is quite impactful.
“The spirit of the season touches you even more,” says Scholten-Dallimore. ” The importance of family and what the spirit of the season is about. Caring for one and other. That’s what really matters. It’s not about the gift-giving.”