Death is inevitable, but Kim Johnston doesn’t believe people should have to go through it alone.
After three years of working behind the scenes as an administrative assistant for the 100 Mile House District Hospice Palliative Care Society, Johnston wanted to offer more to the people she saw coming through the door.
As a result, she trained to become a hospice volunteer.
“We will all face death at one stage, at one point in our lives. And we will all face having to go through that with other people in our families and our friends and loved ones,” Johnston, 56, said. “No one should ever feel unsupported when going through a terminal illness or disease that’s life-threatening, and not everybody has family near.”
Johnston, who grew up in North Vancouver, moved to Lone Butte with her husband in 2006. She said she decided to sign up for the volunteer training to learn more about what hospice does, expand her skills and offer more to people in need of hospice.
It was scary at first to take the training, she said, doubting her ability to be a hospice volunteer.
“I’ve been waiting for three years to do it, so I was terrified really, in all honesty. I was terrified to actually take the training because I wasn’t certain if it was something that I would be good at,” she said.
But while she hasn’t sat with clients yet, Johnston said the training has given her the confidence that she can lend an ear and support people who need it.
“Before, I was really scared I would say something totally wrong or do something that wasn’t supportive to the family and make the situation worse for them.”
The training, which lasted four full days, also led her to do some difficult self-reflection.
“Some aspects of it were difficult because it really pushes you to take a good look at your own self and some of the emotional things that we hold on to, especially when dealing with death and dying and you know in our last days on earth, it can be a really difficult process for individual families, so that part of it was hard.”
Johnston said hospice volunteers wear many hats. The volunteers work with families and clients, providing support in facilities, the hospital, and homes through their last days.
“We sit with them, we listen to them, we try and help them, and answer questions that they might have, Johnston said. “In that capacity, we try and build a network for them and work with other organizations and their families to make it as comfortable as possible.”
Volunteers can also do non-client volunteering, such as helping at events like the Memory Tree ceremony and Hospice Awareness Month.
Johnston said they have volunteers out in the community now, spreading the word and approaching different businesses for supports for the different events the Hospice is holding this month.
“Some people don’t necessarily feel comfortable doing certain things, so that’s when we just say ‘hey, well, what is it that you do feel comfortable with, and what is it that you would like to do?’”
But also importantly, she said, the hospice provides comfort on uncomfortable subjects.
“It makes death and dying not as scary. We don’t talk about it. We don’t want to talk about it because it is uncomfortable. But it’s so important that we have a plan in place for ourselves, and if we know of someone in our family, someone that we care about and friends, whoever that might be,” she said.
Johnston said she’s feeling really good about being a volunteer, but knows that it’s not going to be easy the first time she goes to sit with someone.
“I know it’s not going to be easy but then it’s not about me. It’s about them,” she said. “It’s about offering something to them that will just help make things a little less difficult. Because really nothing about it is easy.”