The past 20 years has been a very satisfying run for Gayle Dunsmuir as manager of volunteer resources and program director for 100 Mile District Hospice and Palliative Care Society.
On June 26, she retired from the position, after fulfilling a goal set for herself at the beginning, to develop and nurture the program to the state she now leaves it.
“It took longer than I’d thought to take the program to where I envisioned it to be, but I also managed to do several things for the program I had no idea would come up,” she says.
Dunsmuir entered the job with a few years behind her as a hospice volunteer, a load of empathy, and some might say, a heart of gold.
Her volunteer experience came at a time when she was a young mother. Nurses at 100 Mile District General Hospital had put out a call to women in the community to offer social and emotional support for a young mother who was dying.
“I had a sense of call to be of service to offer comfort to someone else. Even if its just your presence, often it’s enough.”
Hospice and palliative care began in 100 Mile House in 1985, with a group of volunteers who continue to provide a segment of end-of-life care that the medical profession can’t meet.
There’s no template for designing a care plan as each client is different, says Dunsmuir. People come with their own personal experiences, which have shaped their lives and how they deal with problems and situations. Making the end-of-life journey can employ those same approaches.
“My most satisfying moments have been with people grieving and those dying, and how they do it in a way that is right for them. It’s always different. Life experiences make them the way they are.”
Volunteer hospice workers are carefully matched with each client and others can come on board as needs dictate. Near the end, there could be up to five different volunteers working with the same client, filling in the gaps in time when family members can’t be there, and giving them respite.
“Historically, more family came at that time because everyone lived close by. Hospice volunteers offer that piece that shows a community cares about what’s happening to the family.”
They work as part of a team with medical staff, providing whole person end-of-life care. She expects to see more and more focus put on hospice and palliative care, and a time coming when this type of care will be very well done.
“You need a team to meet whole-person needs, and hospice has been a valuable part of that team.”
Part of her job entailed providing support for bereaved clients and she’s amazed at the resilience of the human spirit.
“Grief and losses can be so devastating for people, where the ground falls out beneath them, but they have to journey to that place for a while. They have to find their way again, and it’s very exciting to see that happen. This job gave me the opportunity to see that resilience.”
Dunsmuir leaves her position with approximately 25 volunteers on the roster. Most are retired and between the ages of 40 and mid-80s.
Each will have gone through an initial 30 hours of training in the beginning, followed by at least one hour of additional education each month, enabling them to adequately and compassionately address the social, emotional and spiritual concerns their clients have in dealing with a life-threatening or terminal illness.
“Our program has respect from the community and has some of the best volunteers in the province, I would say. Now, it’s time for the program to move ahead and I know I’m not the person to take it any further.”
Dunsmuir notes that on the first day of her job 20 years ago, she promised herself that if there was ever a morning when on her way to work, she didn’t feel she could be open to what came her way, that would be the day she stopped doing the job. That day never came.
“It’s neat to retire not because you have had it. I’m retiring because the program, from all perspectives is in a really good place.”
What she’ll miss most is the daily contact she’s had with people.
“There’s an awareness there won’t be the same connection and it will be a little bit quiet.”
Grand travel plans or anything out of the ordinary are not in Dunsmuir’s immediate plans. She’s keeping herself open to see what comes along and anticipates something very interesting and different in her future.
She leaves the program in the hands of Tracy Haddow, formerly of Williams Lake, and now a new resident of Lac la Hache.
She comes with a diverse background in human service work, both as an employee and as a volunteer.
Much of Haddow’s work has been crisis driven and among her favourite jobs was working at Williams Lake Salvation Army where she ran the community service programs. It included running the soup kitchen, teaching life skills, fundraising, Christmas campaigns and volunteer support. She also worked at Axis Family Resources as a family outreach counsellor, assisting families in making changes to ensure the safety and well-being of their family unit.
Haddow says she’s excited to join the hospice team and looks forward to meeting and working with everyone.
Dunsmuir does not plan to stay on as a volunteer at the present time, but chooses rather to step completely out of the picture, so Haddow can run the program unhindered by her presence, and as she sees fit.
“It’s time to step aside and know it’s been left in a really good place. It’s time to let someone else do that next step.”