Although many businesses had to shut down due to the pandemic, the Ridge Meadows Hospice Society (RMHS) just changed its course – they continued supporting people virtually.
Adhering to their mission statement ‘grief has no timeline’, the question for the hospice was not when but how they can continue to support families and patients in the evolving climate of pandemic mandates.
Being present alongside a loved one as they battle an illness became more challenging when people weren’t able to see each other. What was considered customary now became a desire.
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“In a typical death, you’d be together at the hospital. You’d be going to chemotherapy, learning about the Hospice, and planning your funerals and celebrations. But all of that was severely challenged. We are just learning about the severe impact of these factors on [people’s] grief and loss,” said Lindsey Willis, executive director of Ridge Meadows Hospice Society.
In March 2020, they realized that things weren’t going to change and decided to shift their services online.
They set up iPads at the Hospice and taught the team, volunteers and families how to use Zoom but none of it compared to being physically present with each other. But Willis believes that the announcement of moving things online must have scared a lot of people off from accessing the services.
Being the sole provider of grief and loss support in Ridge Meadows was insufficient for some people. Sussane Lamb, counsellor for bereavement services said that many people couldn’t access the services online. She added that seniors who didn’t have electronic devices couldn’t access the services, leaving them unsupported.
“So a lot of people called and said that they would call back when we resume in-person sessions so that was hard because these were people reaching out for support and we couldn’t put it into place. It was difficult to know they were struggling and not being able to help,” said Lamb.
But the team and volunteers were also feeling overwhelmed. Many volunteers stepped back and others who worked 12 hours shifts were suddenly unable to do so.
Not being able to support people in person was really difficult for us on an emotional and spiritual level, Willis shared.
The financial hardship of the pandemic
Generating revenue was another challenge for RMHS.
While the fundraising dinner and two events were attended virtually and funds were raised, the thrift store had to be shut down for three months, resulting in significant financial loss.
But they were able to bounce back.
The pandemic gave everyone time to think about their consumption habits and support local and small businesses, the thrift store, located on 12011 224th Street Maple Ridge, checked all those boxes and people wanted to donate stuff to them.
Loss of job or low income were also factors behind the popularity of thrift shopping, Willis shared
Although capacity was limited and hours reduced, they were pleasantly surprised to see people returning to the store. In 2021, 30 per cent of the revenue was generated from the store.
Recovering from pandemic blues
Coming out of two years of loneliness and lack of grief management, they anticipate that people will have a lot to unpack in the coming future.
Lamb shared that grieving has now become a lot more complicated than it was. People are experiencing more anxiety and low moods in the aftermath of the pandemic and restrictions.
“Grieving is hard enough as it is and just the fact that the social piece or being out with someone was pulled away [made] a lot of people feel very isolated, increased their anxiety, loneliness and depression,” Lamb shared.
To better support the youth, they are planning to appoint a child and youth support worker for children and their families and simultaneously, rebuild and train a pool of volunteers in the near future.
The term closure is often associated with feelings of grief and loss but Willis said that the expectation to move from something within a year is stereotypical.
“Grief doesn’t close or end but it moves or softens. It’s always with us but softens to a point where grief becomes a part of us and who we are. It’s not as acute but it can raise its head and catch us out of nowhere, years later, said Willis.
They also plan to create community awareness about their services so in future, those who could have been supported, know where to go for help when needed.
Grief and loss are human experiences we all go through despite our religious, social, and ethnic backgrounds. The hospice has been that one agency in Ridge Meadows that anybody could access anytime and they hope to continue doing that for years to come.