Of loss, and angels among us - The Orca

Of loss, and angels among us

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Jody Vance on the passing of her beloved Dad, and the long-term care workers – heroes, every one – who helped her family through the most difficult of times.

With so many stories associated with negative outcomes at long-term care homes in BC, this week my Middle is rooted in The Other COVID-19 Story of LTC.

It doesn’t get any more personal than this – the letter my brother Greg and I sent to the caregivers at Deltaview Cascades Unit.

Cascades Team,

Since Friday evening’s passing of our beloved Dad, Bill Vance, Greg and I have been struggling with how best to honour and thank you. We are sending you this note, posting it publicly for all to see – and most certainly sending it to the executives who sign your paycheques. You are priceless.

Our Dad has been in some level of care for almost a decade. Each increased level came with new challenges for our family. Nothing was more of an adjustment than when our father entered your home –  shortly afterward, we were hit with a global pandemic.

We struggled, as most everyone in the situation does, with coming to terms having our loved one in long-term care, and zero access for months. It was unimaginable – and yet, you helped us navigate it.

Your team saw us. They knew how essential we were to his wellbeing, and gave us the gift of vaccination. You were there for our Dad every step of the way.

You were there for him and you were there for us.

Our hearts skipped a beat every time the call display read “Cascades Deltaview.” And almost every time the call began “Everything is okay, it’s Sean calling, just updating you…”

If it wasn’t Sean, it was Rupinder, Arianne, Parm, T.T., Manpreet, Veronica, Elvin, Neeru, Suman, Dalwinder, Sijit, Suzanne, Lin Ying, Kayla, Tina, or Ginny.

We were in a rhythm of connection with all of you, and that certainly helped us when Dad’s significant health decline began three weeks ago, when your beloved Coach Bill saw his valiant battle with Alzheimer’s and cancer get the upper hand. Even with these incredibly complex and sensitive needs all of you rose to the moment with gentleness, kindness, and familial love.

To emergency at Delta Hospital and back, you worried as we did. You were on the journey with us and sad when we knew his time was short. The heroic efforts and gestures made to get him “back home” to Deltaview were incredible. Ensuring that we knew that while he was largely non-verbal, you asked if he wanted to see us; he answered with the single word “yes.”

The call to tell us the time had come for immediate planning and action.

You held our hearts in your hands as we discussed his end of life plan. You told us of your admiration for him and how he added so much to any room he was in. His love of music and helping with the simple tasks of folding towels with the personal care workers. How he was funny and a bit crass – and liked the occasional inappropriate joke.

Simply: you are his (our) family.

As members of our extended family and our closest friends came to say a final farewell, they too were struck by the gentleness of his caregivers. The emotional support offered every visitor.

Each and every personal care worker made a point of coming to honour Coach Bill. We are so grateful for the stories of his time with you.

Your team went far beyond just doing a job; you clearly cared for and even loved our Dad. It felt as though you were with us in our grief and while taking all steps in the inevitable path of “active dying.”

You helped us understand how to help usher him through the end. Not for the faint of heart, these steps are actions ensuring comfort and pain management, which very few are equipped to navigate.

With months of daily case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths coupled with tragic headlines of the failures of long-term care homes, we are here to tell The Other Side of the COVID Story.

The story of how, even understaffed and locked down, the people who tirelessly protected our elders deserve our deepest gratitude.

Here’s to you who made sure he had a book to thumb through, a towel to fold and feel needed. The one who joked with him about his athletic prowess proudly displayed on the walls of his lovely little room. You were what he needed, what we all needed.

Our Dad died on Friday. He was 81. In our days since he left, words fail us. How would we have managed without you? We feel for those who don’t have heroes like you. You deserve every accolade, all the praise, every bonus and — yes — a raise. YOU are what makes the unbearable survivable.

It’s been a long journey: Alzheimer’s, cancer, treatments, and surgeries. It all ended in an unbelievably dignified and peaceful way – thanks in no small part to his personal care workers at Deltaview Cascades long-term care home.

We will miss you almost as much as we will miss him. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being there and guiding us through the window of active dying that none can prepare for, really…unless it’s what you DO.

Goodness, you are angels among us.

Making the inevitability of death something to be navigated with grace is a gift deserving of so much — all we can do is offer our humble gratitude.

To you at Cascades and to every caregiver near and far — you who’ve sacrificed so much to care for our most vulnerable. Thank you all.

Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.