The discovery came, as it probably often does, while we were looking for something else.
“You have a tumour on your right kidney.”
In my mind I began to assemble whatever resources I might find to deal with this news. By the time you’ve reached your 70s, as I have, this is not shattering news. Something’s going to take you out, sooner or later, and after 70 there isn’t that much ‘later’.
I asked my doctor when it might be appropriate to make myself known to the Nelson & District Hospice Society. These people have been providing support services to people with terminal diagnoses for years. I knew them, and I’ve been on their board, and while I wasn’t sick yet, I looked forward to spending time with them in a different way than as a board member.
“Do it now,” the doctor said.
Soon enough I found myself connected to a hospice worker, and released into a set of conversations I so needed to have, and through those conversations saw everything fall together beautifully. I had that warm and secure feeling of everything being managed. Levels of care. Choices around dying. And the final disposition of my mortal remains.
At that point I was invited to join the Kalein Day Hospice Program, a collaboration between the Kalein Centre and the Nelson & District Hospice Society. Participating in this weekly program meant that I spent a day a week with a small group of other people dealing with a terminal diagnosis. It also meant singing, storytelling, clear conversation, exposure to a range of very capable volunteers and truly amazing food. In the afternoons, the program also brought in a variety of healing practitioners. We had the daily option of massage, as well as acupuncture, chair yoga and meditation. We sang together, and we drummed and got to play with alot of art supplies, all supported by the warm and generous volunteers. And we played a wonderful Exit Matters board game that everyone needs to play, not just people imminently facing death. We became very close when one of us died.
With all these things, I felt the clarity that the program was designed for me and the other clients, that what was presented, and how it was presented, was always available for our input, dialogue, and change. I, and I believe the other clients, had the experience of being held with wisdom, gentleness, and intelligence.
The program is free. No hoops. Generous, fun, and transformational. What more can a dying person ask?
(Bill Moore is currently an active member of the Kalein Day Hospice Program.)