Jane Leeming was pregnant with her daughter in the fall of 1984. That’s how she remembers the date when her boss, Randy Gris, told her about an article in the Nelson Daily News inviting any interested people to a meeting at the hospital to discuss the formation of a local hospice. Her father had died two years earlier and had spent his last days in the Victoria Hospice. They were just amazing according to Jane, and sparked her interest in the idea of creating something similar in Nelson.
A group of local people, along with Jane, worked diligently over the next couple of years, planning, organizing, grant writing, and finding volunteers, and by 1987, Nelson Hospice was officially recognized as a society. Nelson was the original area covered by their services, with Salmo, East Shore, and Kaslo added years later. Kaslo and Salmo have since created their own societies and the East Shore branch, while remaining a part of Nelson and District Hospice Society (NDHS), is governed by their local advisory committee and the board.
Two feasibility studies were undertaken over the years to see if a hospice facility with beds and staffing could be created. Both showed that the population base wasn’t large enough to justify the expense, so instead NDHS focused on training volunteers who would meet people in their homes, care facilities, or hospital to offer services, companionship, practical assistance, and support for the person dying and their family, as well as bereavement services for the grieving and education and Advance Care Planning assistance for the local community.
For the past 10 years, Jane DiGiacomo has led the organization as executive director. Under her leadership, NDHS has expanded grief support (one on one and group sessions), created a day hospice program and founded the West Kootenay Boundary Caregivers Support Group, which shares an office with NDHS in the Community First Health Co-op.
Leeming served on the board of directors for the past 35 years, even though her involvement goes back 38 years. She retired this year with a lasting legacy that she helped create. In her words, “I think hospice is so important and something that people should have available to them if they so desire, and not everybody does. A lot of people have enough family around that they don’t need it, but a lot of people don’t. I think we do great work and that it’s very necessary.”
Hospice can be an essential service for anyone who has been living with serious illness or who is grieving, especially if they don’t have family or friends nearby to help them with end of life planning and support. The compassionate companionship of NDHS volunteers can become an indescribable balm to ease difficult times and highlight times of joy and gratitude.
A referral from a doctor is not necessary. The phone number for information or to request services is 250-352-2337 in Nelson and 250-505-4915 on the East Shore.