When her first husband Lorne died of lung cancer 11 years ago, Tracy Haddow wished she’d had more outside support.
Her friends and family seemed uncomfortable about talking about his illness, and, later, his death. It felt “weird and awkward” talking to businesses and insurance companies. She wasn’t put in touch with home support or hospice until it was nearly too late.
“(Hospice) really wasn’t presented to us early in our journey and then there was a rapid change at the end and that’s when they started to reach out. It all happened too late for us. In hindsight, there could have a lot of advantages being connected early on,” Haddow said.
“That was really a turning point for me. I’d experienced lots of other deaths in my world but that one was a little bit different. One of the things I really discovered through my own loss was that a lot of people really just don’t know how to respond to illness, grief and loss.”
The death of her husband of 31 years prompted Haddow to dial back her work life as she realized that “life is short and we need both balance and meaning.”
Two years later she applied for a job as hospice coordinator in Williams Lake. She didn’t get that job but was hired as the executive director of the 100 Mile House Hospice and Palliative Care Society, a post she has held for the past eight and a half years.
“All of the pieces just made me realize our society is poorly prepared in terms of comfort levels to support family, friends and co-workers. That just added to the stressors,” she said.
Clearing up misconceptions about hospice and palliative care has remained one of Haddow’s most reoccurring challenges. She’s done her best to spread the message that “just because people get involved with hospice doesn’t mean they’re going to die tomorrow” through community events and education.
“My job is to educate and support the volunteers so they can support individuals in the community who have experienced a diagnosis of a serious illness that could potentially be life-ending,” Haddow said. “It’s about being able to support people from the moment they receive the diagnosis, if they choose, all the way through the journey.
Helping others isn’t new to Haddow, who moved to Williams Lake in 1980. While she and Lorne raised their four daughters, she volunteered for the local Crisis Line, where she discovered a lifelong passion for helping others. She went on to become a certified life skills coach and volunteered with the Williams Lake Salvation Army. She also worked for Interior Health, Thompson Rivers University and a woman’s shelter.
Haddow said now she tries her best to ensure families of those diagnosed with life-threatening or terminal illnesses are connected with the local services. Just having someone outside the family to talk to about what’s going on can make all the difference, she said.
She said her greatest achievement as executive director has been the recent establishment of two palliative care rooms in the 100 Mile District General Hospital. Haddow said it was rewarding to be a part of creating a space that’s more warm and comfortable for patients. She looks forward to unveiling the rooms to the public, but at the moment they’re still mostly being used to house patients with COVID-19.
When asked what the future holds, Haddow is unsure. The pandemic makes long-term planning difficult so she intends to continue to run hospice running and keep up the spirits of everyone involved.
“I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with so many people and volunteers who understand that life is precious and everyday matters,” Haddow said. “Life is a cycle, and illness, dying and grieving are a natural part of it. We don’t have to walk through it alone.”