Compassionate Community Niagara West: Learning to Live with Loss

A community model of supporting the bereaved

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”

― Vicki Harrison

Pallium Canada is showcasing and celebrating Compassionate Communities and projects happening here in Canada through a series of interviews and blogs. We are grateful to Rachelle McGuire, Bereavement Support Clinician of the Niagara West Palliative Care Team supporting West Lincoln Memorial Hospital and McNally House Hospice for reaching out and letting us know about the great initiatives taking place in the communities she serves.

Rachelle is familiar with the Compassionate Communities model and wanted to ensure that grief and bereavement were included in the community engagement efforts conducted with Pallium’s initiative. Just as communities are taking initiative to support individuals who are dying, we must recognize the integral role that grief plays and plan for care and support there too. For Rachelle and the communities she supports this has not been a hard sell. People are seeing grief everywhere and her community has the desire to care for individuals who are grieving but express fear that they lack the confidence and knowledge necessary to support those who are bereaved. Rachelle describes her role as building the capacity of the community so that their abilities and confidence increase over time. She listens to the need, brainstorms ideas and then backs away as the community takes over. It has not been a “hard sell” to recognize the benefit of offering such programs as everyone is impacted by grief and the community has recognized it as a universal part of the human experience.

Some examples of initiatives embraced by the community to support individuals who are grieving and bereaved include the following:

A). Remembering with Recipes

A 6-week cooking class held at the Real Canadian Superstore in partnership with McNally House Hospice. It is designed specifically for individuals who are grieving the death of a spouse and/or partner. There is no charge for the class which focuses on healthy eating, cooking and grocery-shopping for one in addition to giving community members the chance to meet others who are having a similar lived experience. A second class was offered specifically for young families who have experienced a death. This class focused on building the culinary skills of young children in order to help alleviate the responsibility of meal-making on the surviving parent.

B). Yoga for the Grieving Heart

A local yoga studio, Yoga Truly in partnership with McNally House Hospice offers a 10-week yoga class designed specifically for those grieving the death of a loved one. The class is offered free of charge. Rachelle offers support and education to the yoga teachers to increase their capacity and confidence in supporting the participants.

C). Death: Something to Talk About; A movie screening and discussion event.

The Grimsby Public Library is the location for monthly movie nights hosted by Rachelle which aim to encourage public conversation about dying, death, grief and loss. Examples of films shown include Stephen Jenkinson’s Griefwalker and Rabbit Hole.

D). A Meditation Group

This 12 -week meditation class is designed for those who are grieving the death of a loved one and is offered free of charge. Members of the community who have completed McNally House Hospice’s 42-hour bereavement volunteer training facilitate the group.

E). Walking with Grief

The 12-week walking group is also designed for people who are grieving. Similarly to the Meditation group it is supported by members of the community who have completed McNally House Hospice’s bereavement training program.

Rachelle recommends trying a variety of different offerings as different people need different things. Each community will be deeply unique. She works to listen to the need she finds expressed in the communities where she works. Sometimes the initiatives that she, volunteers and community members propose work and sometimes they are less well attended. Rachelle does not hesitate to ask for support from community members when needed. She believes strongly in what she learned from her beloved friend Diane who died in 2005. Diane would always say, “You have the no, go for the yes”. And when the communities of Niagara West have been asked to support members of their community who are grieving, the answer has been a resounding yes! Rachelle encourages you to go for the YES in your own communities! If you would like to talk to Rachelle further about building a community-based bereavement program in your own community she can be reached at mcguirer@hhsc.ca

Written By: Dr. Kathy Kortes-Miller
January 2016

If you are involved in a Compassionate Communities project in Canada and would like to be highlighted on the Pallium Canada website, please contact Pallium Canada’s Compassionate Communities National Lead, Bonnie Tompkins!