A Widow's Story: Making the Journey from Hospice Volunteer to Consumer
Published on Tuesday,21 April, 2020
Having spent 25 years in the learning environment of the York Region Public School Board, Marion (Marnie) Hyett always embraced the opportunity to learn something new. Now long retired from her career as a school secretary, she initially turned down the invitation from Stedman Community Hospice to participate in the Widow to Widow program after her husband Jim passed away there.
"I didn't think I needed it," she shared. "I'm so glad I changed my mind."
There was no question for Marnie as to where Jim should spend his final days. As a volunteer at Stedman Community Hospice for the past six years, she recognized that she alone could not provide the level of care equal to that of the Hospice.
The Widow to Widow program, made possible through donor support, is a 10-week structured group program, where women can share their grief experience in a judgment-free environment, and reflect on how grief has affected various aspects of their lives. It helps dispel the misconceptions of loss and helps women recognize grief avoidance. It also helps women establish a new self-identity and to move on in their lives without their partner.
It provided Marnie with a new social outlet with women who were living a similar experience and through 10 weeks of grief support, many friendships were formed.
Jim's decline was rapid. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in early May of 2019. A week later he made an emergency trip to Brantford General Hospital where he soon underwent surgery. Shortly after, his doctor determined the cancer had progressed quickly and nothing more could be done but to make him comfortable.
Jim passed away in Hospice on June 9th, the day after their 62nd wedding anniversary.
"He hadn't ever made a big deal about anniversaries," says Marnie, "but this time, in the days leading up to it, he had mentioned it a number of times, to the point where the nurses and personal support workers said to me that they probably should get busy and do something.
"The staff and Marnie surprised Jim with a cake. He was awake and alert long enough to know they were celebrating and softly said to Marnie "Our anniversary."
"He knew," says Marnie, smiling.
Later that night, one minute after midnight, Jim passed away peacefully with his wife by his side. Jim had a good life. The couple had raised two wonderful sons together, and were blessed with five granddaughters.
A few weeks later, when Marnie returned to her Hospice volunteer duties, Camillia Galezowski, the Hospice's Supportive Care Coordinator and facilitator of the Widow to Widow program spoke with Marnie about the program and offered an opportunity for her to participate.
"I thought I had a handle on things," says Marnie, "but I learned a lot."
"I learned there was a difference in grieving and mourning. The program allowed me to share some of my feelings openly with a group that was supportive and totally understanding of my feelings," she shared.
All of us now get together once a month for dinner," says Marnie. "It's wonderful!"
The Widow to Widow program is one of a number of cost-free grief support programs made possible through donations from the community. The Hospice offers a similar program for men, as well as one-on-one support sessions for adults. A separate support program exists for children which includes one-on-one sessions as well as an annual day camp and Christmas activity program.
The Hospice also offers a Day Wellness program for individuals who have been diagnosed with a life-altering illness. Participants have the opportunity to engage with others who are learning to manage a new reality.
"I'm so grateful to the donors for making the Widow to Widow program possible, for making this building possible," says Marnie.
"The people here are like family to me. It really is a wonderful place; we are so lucky to have it in our community."
To make a donation in support of Grief & Bereavement programs at Stedman Community Hospice, please call 519-751-7096, ext 2475 or give online at www.sjlc.ca.
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Published on Thursday,12 December, 2019
Three years ago, youth director Betty Steenbeeker and drywall installer Arnold Winter were strangers to one another. Both belonging to Christian Reform churches, they had heard each other’s name spoken by mutual church friends, but their paths had never crossed. They were leading separate lives, making a living, being good parents, and coming to grips with the fact that their partners in life had been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Before they would meet, the two would take a similar but separate journey down the road of caring for and eventually saying good-bye to the person they had hoped to spend the rest of their lives with. Their paths would take them to Stedman Community Hospice, where they would find the care they needed for their dying loved one -- and for themselves, the peace of mind to let go.
Little did they know that soon after the saddest chapter of their lives had been written, an invitation from a friend to fundraise for Stedman Community Hospice would bring them together, and a new story of love and hope would unfold.
On October 4th, 2019 Betty and Arnold were wed, in front of their five children and a large gathering of family and friends at Hope Christian Reformed Church,Brantford. The wedding invitation stated that instead of wedding presents, the couple would prefer that guests make donations to Stedman Community Hospice.
By mid-November, more than $12,350 dollars had been donated to Stedman Community Hospice as a result.
"We’re at that stage in our lives where we don’t need or want gifts, and for both of us, Stedman Community Hospice was just an incredible part of our journey.”
Betty and Arnold met in May of 2018 when their mutual friend, Nancy Hartholt, invited them to be part of her Hike for Hospice team. Nancy’s husband, Walt, passed away at the Hospice and she was putting together a team to raise money in his memory. In addition to meeting at a Hospice fundraiser, the couple, in their early 50s, have a deeply personal connection to the Hospice; in July of 2017, Betty’s husband Tony spent his final five days there. Several months later, Arnold’s wife Johanna came to the Hospice and passed away five weeks later.
"It was an incredible experience,” says Arnold.
"First of all, the surprise of finding out, the existence of in-home Hospice care to help Johanna with her pain and medication, that was incredible. And then to find out it was free was amazing, because that is the last thing you want to be dealing with at the time. And then to come to the Hospice itself and not have to worry about Johanna’s health or looking after her physical needs, was unbelievable.”
Betty shares a similar connection to the Hospice.
"A couple of times, the staff had brought Tony out to the garden in his bed. I remember sitting there thinking how can I be feeling so much peace, sitting here in this beautiful garden when my husband is so ill,” says Betty.
"I could not believe that in the chaos of life, and knowing that my husband wasn’t coming home again, how peace-filled I felt at the Hospice.”
"Being there allowed me to just let go of all those tasks, of caring for him, changing his clothing, trying to keep up with hygiene – it allowed me to just be his wife,” she shared.
About three weeks after meeting at Hike for Hospice, Betty and Arnold went out to dinner, and soon began spending more and more time together. Their journeys of losing their spouse after long battles with cancer, and talking about it with each other was a big part of the couple’s bonding process.
"Even though everyone’s story is unique, we could really understand what the other was going through. It was wonderful to have someone to share your grief with, someone you could be completely open and honest with,” says Betty.
"Some things that you wouldn’t necessarily share with other people, because they wouldn’t fully understand, with each other we had that safe place of being able to share right to the core.”
Nancy Hartholt, who has known both Betty and Arnold individually for three decades, and was good friends with Arnold’s deceased wife, Johanna, says it couldn’t happen to nicer people.
"In the midst of sadness and grief, they found joy in each other. I see it as such a blessing. And I can’t think of a better way for the two of them to honour their spouses than by requesting donations to the Hospice. It is such a worthy and needed place in Brantford, and I am thankful for their desire to see donations go there.”
Olga Consorti, President and CEO of St. Joseph’s Lifecare Foundation, the official fundraising organization for Stedman Community Hospice, noted that designating gifts in honour of a special occasion in lieu of presents, is a wonderful way to support the Hospice. It’s also the perfect present for the person who has everything!
In addition to weddings, people often make In Honour Gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, teacher gifts, Mother’s and Father’s Days, and Christmas. Often donors and employers who, instead of sending gifts to family, friends and employees at Christmastime, donate to the Hospice, and in their Christmas card, they include a note card from the Foundation that lets the person know a donation was made in their name.
For more information on how you can raise funds for the Hospice through a personal fundraiser, or to order In Honour cards, please contact Nancy Billard, the Foundation’s Director of Development & Communications at 519-751-7096, ext 2476.