In 1984 Fran Cornish made a six month commitment to volunteer at Victoria Hospice. 32 years later she is still volunteering on the unit every week and sitting on the Art committee.
Fran was attracted to Victoria Hospice because she has a nursing background and when she lived in Montreal she went to a lecture from Balfour Mount who introduced palliative care to Quebec. She tells us “I thought then that when my children were all in school that would be a good place for me. When we moved to Victoria the hospice here was just in its early stages so I joined the team.”
Fran shares that she has stayed with Victoria Hospice all these years because “Hospice is such a warm and giving place to volunteer. The patients, the families, all the staff, medical, support staff, housekeeping et al make it feel like a big family. You receive so much more than you give.”
By being a volunteer Fran is “comfortable with patients and family at this time in their lives and I speak of Hospice to others in the community to make them aware of this wonderful resource.”
Fran advises new volunteers to “take the preparatory course and to explore opportunities including the unit where their talents would be appreciated.”
A shift partner tells us “over years I have learned so much from Fran. She has been one of my teachers at hospice. I very much appreciate her good humour especially at the early hour of the morning when we start our shift. She is positive, hard-working and supportive.”
A senior staff person points out “in the midst of an amazing group of dedicated, compassionate people who are our Victoria Hospice volunteers, Fran stands out as someone who is extraordinarily kind, gentle with every person she encounters and dedicated to the care of those facing death and grief.”
Fran’s extraordinary service was celebrated recently with a Valued Elder Recognition Award (VERA) from the University of Victoria Institute on Aging and Lifelong Health.
Ryan has volunteered on the clinical unit of Victoria Hospice since January 2015. He was drawn to volunteer here after receiving his grandfather’s unfinished written life story. Ryan explains, “he died leaving a great deal unexpressed. The narrative ends abruptly, with many memories forever lost.”
He points out “the great service of Victoria Hospice is that it empowers patients to shape and mold the final stages of their lives. For some, this involves life reflection and chronicling, for others it means the serenity of a bedside singer, and for still others it entails pain control and the peace of undisturbed silence. Whatever the case, Hospice facilitates the freedom of each patient to live on his or her own terms.”
Despite a very busy life Ryan continues to volunteer every week. Being here reminds him of his own mortality. “We all must die. Encountering this truth compels reflection on how I live. Shallow concerns recede from the vista of mortality. Volunteering involves giving, but in exchange Hospice elevates a mirror of unavoidable self-reflection.”
Ryan notes “people often expect hospice to be a primarily somber and melancholy environment. This has not been my experience. The unit is alive with joyful reunions, amused reflections, and heartwarming connections. The nurses are an incredible group of positive, dedicated, compassionate individuals who are keen to integrate the volunteers into the work of the unit. I have found that Victoria Hospice is an institution of life, rather than death.”
Ryan says that Hospice reinforces the power of listening. “At times I have been afraid to engage in conversation with a patient, thinking I might have nothing to say. Sometimes, nothing said, a silent presence is exactly what that person needs.” Another lesson Ryan has learned is the constant reminder of the importance of living well today.
Ryan wants potential volunteers to know that “some people connect over parallels—like me, sometimes a patient rides motorcycles or is fond of pugs. Other times, people connect over differences—such as the enjoyment an elderly patient finds in telling a young volunteer about mid-century life in the French Countryside.” He concludes “there is no perfect volunteer. Whoever you are, there is someone for whom, in some moment, you can make all the difference.”
Meet more Victoria Hospice volunteers here.