Hospice volunteers are trained to deal with death and bereavement

The Lillooet Hospice Society will be renamed the Lillooet Hospice Palliative Care Society.

The name change reflects changes in Canadian society and views about death and dying, says Vivianne (Vi-Anne) Zirnhelt-Yew, the chair of the society’s Board of Directors.

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“Changes are coming for hospice and palliative care in Canada, including medically assisted dying, in-home hospice and palliative care,” Zirnhelt-Yew told the News. “They could affect all ages of Canadian citizens participating in required care related to death, grieving and living well.”

The purpose of the local society is to provide trained hospice and palliative volunteers who visit with both dying and bereaved people and provide support for end of life care.

“The work that we as a society do is preparing our volunteers to do things that fill a gap or need,” Zirnhelt-Yew explained. “We’re not interfering with anybody’s job and we’re more than a bunch of do-gooders.”

She said the volunteers are there for bedside and tuck-in service, plus grief and bereavement support.

“Some people think we should come from the nursing community,” she continued. “My background, my specialty is early childhood education. Dealing with death and bereavement is something we do every day, whether it’s bugs or pets that die. We talk about death and yet some parents and people in our community can’t say that word. But by saying that word and talking about death, then we can move forward and say we respect that person’s spirit by remembering them.”

She says more people are saying, “I want to die at home, I want to wake up and see the painting that I have on the wall. I want to wake up and if I’m getting close to dying, I can still vaguely see pictures of my ancestors or children or grandchildren.”

Zirnhelt-Yew says that even when people are in the very last stages of life, “they can still see and still hear.”

And sometimes humour can be found as death approaches.

She has fond memories of sitting by the bedside of a man who was dying.

“He was a delight to listen to,” she recalls. “And then he would nod off and go to sleep. And then he’d wake up – he always had a smile on his face. And then he would say, ‘Ha ha, I fooled you. I haven’t died yet!’”

In addition to Zirnhelt-Yew, members of the Lillooet Hospice Palliative Society’s Board of Directors include Vice Chair/ Transit Bus Coordinator Gail Madrigga; Treasurer Jacqueline Bzdel (new to the board); Secretary Tawanda Hatendi (new to the board); Volunteer Coordinator Wendy Potter;  and Directors Anne Heath, Gloria Hutson, Carol Kane, Doug Drummond, Roberta Martin and Marta Berky.


In 2017, society volunteers recorded 365.5 hours of service. As a volunteer organization, they know their funding relies on accounting for hours served, so those hours are carefully tracked.

Over the past year, the society has been successful in:

-       Opening its office downtown in what had been a “storage room” in St. Andrew’s United and St. Mary’s Anglican Church.

-       Hiring Nadine LaRochelle as office administrator, with support from the Wage Subsidy Program

-       Receiving a grant from Interior Health

-       Continuing its Seniors Bus program, with funding assistance from the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD)

-       - Accessing grant funding from BCHPCA/St. John’s Ambulance to share stories of the volunteer work carried out by society members. The name of the current project is ‘I Couldn’t Talk About It (Death) but I can Now.’ “We will be collecting stories of those who wish to share, transcribing the information and with photos of those involved, will share them with our funder and our community,” the society states in its annual report.

-       Receiving support from the District of Lillooet for its application to New Horizons for a Seniors Program

-       Purchasing items for seniors use, including an oxygen concentrator for Red Rock Manor

      -    Carrying on with the Lillooet Hospice Volunteer Training program, which began in February 2017; the current group of volunteers will complete their training this November.  

-       Hiring two summer students to work in the office. Students Kio Kage-Thevarge and Matisan Kelly also created a Lillooet Hospice Facebook page, rode the seniors bus with Gail Madrigga to assist seniors with shopping and trips to the Farmers Market; and helped bring in their groceries

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