Supporting people during the toughest of journeys – when facing their own death or perhaps that of a loved one – is the idea behind the parish palliative care volunteer program of the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth.
In Yarmouth, a new group of program participants was slated to complete their training the first weekend of May.
Their 20-hour training had begun a week earlier with a three-hour session on ethics and values conducted by Dr. Nuala Kenny, chair of the ministry of care and companionship for the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth.
In promoting the parish palliative care volunteer initiative, the archdiocese invites people who feel called to visit the sick, terminally ill, dying and bereaved in their parish community to consider getting involved in the program.
Participants want to support those who are going through a difficult time and the program helps prepare them to do so, Dr. Kenny said while in Yarmouth.
“It’s ordinary people who want to visit some of these folks, who want to go to local retirement homes, long-term care facilities, help out people whose loved one has (for example) Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Kenny said. “This course gives them (what they need). It’s not years’ worth of training, but it has helped enormously.”
Louise Lalonde, the program’s co-ordinator for the Argyle-Yarmouth parishes, says there is a great need for this type of service.
Fifteen local people took the training last year, she said, and since about October they have had over 60 requests for visits.
“That’s a high number and that’s why we needed to get some more people,” Lalonde said.
Those involved in the program want to try to ensure people are not alone when they go through the process of dying.
Program volunteers can be a source of comfort and support to people, “whether it’s holding a hand, listening to them, referring them to the proper services, if they ask questions, that type of thing,” Lalonde said.
The selection process for program volunteers is pretty thorough, she said. People are interviewed. References are called.
If it’s found that someone who wants to be part of the program isn’t ready – perhaps because they’re dealing with an illness or there’s been a recent death in their family – they won’t be accepted right away, Lalonde said, the idea being they should take care of themselves before they can try to help someone else.
Dr. Kenny – who has a background in pediatrics and is professor emeritus at Dalhousie University – is a renowned educator and speaker on bioethics and has authored four books. The latest is Rediscovering the Art of Dying: How Jesus’ Experience and Our Stories Reveal a New Vision of Compassionate Care.
While in Yarmouth, in addition to doing the session with local participants in the parish palliative care volunteer program, she gave a talk for the general public.
On her way back to Halifax, she was planning to speak in Clare, which also has a palliative care volunteer program in place.