Originally published in The Chronicle Herald
By Gina Brown, Chair, Hospice Halifax Communications Committee
October 17, 2017

When Nova Scotians identify a need for the good of all in the community, there’s a long and proud tradition of working together to get the job done.

That’s the case with Halifax’s first residential hospice, where a small but stalwart group of volunteers pursued their dream for 15 years. With construction for Hospice Halifax now underway, the number of volunteers, members and supporters will continue to grow.

A hospice serves a unique role in the community: it provides a peaceful and home-like setting for those facing end of life. In addition, it offers comfort to families, knowing their loved ones will be treated with dignity, kindness and respect —and open to all at no charge. It’s about living well to the end.

This special experience is delivered in many ways: instead of a large hospital setting, Hospice Halifax will be in a residential area on Francklyn Street, near the beautiful Northwest Arm. The small-scale building will include 10 suites, offering private space for families —and a nearby garden for quiet moments.

Décor will be cosy and meals home-cooked. Flexible visiting hours will encourage regular visits by family members and friends —and pots of tea will add a touch of home. Even four-legged friends (family pets) may be able to visit. But first, it must be built.

The building of Halifax’s first hospice could be likened to a modern-day barn-raising, yet different from our ancestors’ experience in rural Nova Scotia. Barn-raising was a collective and manual effort —where neighbours with their natural inclination to help one another —rallied to build barns until everyone in need had one.

Today, the principles are the same: citizens identify an important need and people pitch in to make it happen. However, the construction of a modern hospice is vastly different.

A hospice must meet the highest standards to ensure the safety and comfort of clients, staff and visitors, therefore trained specialists must be involved in designing, building and equipping the facility. The physical work won’t be done by community residents bringing their own ladders and toolboxes, but the project provides work for local contractors, so in many ways it’s still a collective effort —just different.

There will also always be a large-scale need for hospice volunteers “inside” the organization. If everybody were to be paid for their work, the costs would be prohibitive. Instead, a small team of paid staff engage volunteers to help with the tasks. Together they manage finances and provide expertise in the areas of law, communications, human resources, accounting and social enterprises. When the hospice is operational, professionals will also oversee and deliver the medical care while trained volunteers provide vital support —everything from meal preparation and laundry to bedside companionship.

The biggest challenge today is raising the money to build and operate the hospice. While governments contribute, most funds must be raised privately —one donor at a time. And that’s when we rely on a group of community leaders to help.

With their knowledge and leadership, they’ll find community citizens or companies willing to step up with generous gifts. In many ways, they’re building the foundation. Others will donate for the supporting walls, or a roof over everyone’s head; and individuals with big hearts will donate to their means. Before long, the momentum and enthusiasm builds.

When we reach the magic moment when the hospice opens in late 2018, we’ll find a way to celebrate, perhaps with an updated ceremony called “Topping Out.” The tradition is to place a bough, wreath and/or flag at the high point of the frame after the last piece is in place. Or, in the case of Hospice Halifax, it could be a repurposing of an architectural detail that honours the original houses on the site, such as a stained-glass window.

As volunteers and supporters in our community, when we put out the welcome mat to the new hospice, we’ll remember that every stone, window, door and floorboard represents a generous donation of somebody’s time, expertise or money —for which we will be forever grateful.

And so continues the long and proud Nova Scotian tradition: When everybody lends a hand, we make a lot happen for the greater good of the community.

Photo Credit: Lindsay Construction