The end of life space is one that has been shrouded in mystery, mainly since we simply do not talk about it. That's why we at Eirene have started the "Intimate Conversations on Death" series.
In this series, we spend time chatting with people in the end of life space, to learn about new perspectives and offer new ways of navigating and discussing death.
In this latest instalment, we speak with Sarah and Ruth of Wishstone, a dynamic duo that has a vision of being your compassionate partners in navigating and accessing the information, care and support you need.
Wishstone is Sarah & Ruth, two women with varied backgrounds who met while volunteering in the hospice community and whose paths kept crossing. There was a connection. Over several months, and many animated chats in coffee shops, their connection grew into a friendship as they explored our shared commitment to using their skills and experience to support better end-of-life planning and care in our communities.
Through personal and professional experience, they have learnt that so many individuals and families feel lost as they grapple with life transitions and come face to face with the reality of aging, dying, death and grief. Living in the biggest city in Canada, with a myriad of programs and services, but so often people can be confused, disconnected, under-resourced and ultimately have impersonal end of life experiences.
It sounds like there was a spark from the get-go between you both. Can you share with us a little about Wishstone and how it came to be?
Ruth and I met at Kensington Hospice while completing our volunteer training. Upon meeting, we found out that we both also volunteered for Hospice Toronto (in-home) and had many similar skills, training and experience in end of life. It was obvious to us both that we shared a passion to be with the dying and supporting their families.
After many meetings in coffee shops to explore our ideas and thoughts, we both identified a growing need in society for the type of service we were offering. We decided to expand our reach by setting up a private practice whilst still maintaining our very many volunteer commitments.
As a partnership (as opposed to being a sole practitioner) we have the added benefit of not only offering our clients two different skill sets but we can provide one-one-care to the client and a loved one at the same time when visiting. This becomes invaluable at the end-of-life.
What are your thoughts on accessibility of end-of-life care and what have you put in place to make sure that your own services were accessible?
One of the most frequent questions we get asked is around how people can get the services they need and want at end-of-life. The healthcare system is not easy to navigate and sadly often families are sent home after treatment and left with little to no information or support on what the next steps are, what are their viable choices and how to access them.
In order for people to know about our services at Wishstone, we are both active end of life volunteers in many areas of the city (which we are very passionate about). In addition, we do presentations in the community about the work of End-of-Life Doulas.
We have also done presentations to organizations such as Family Councils of Canada, George Brown College, ALS Canada, Ryerson University, Stronach Cancer Centre among others. We are members of the End-of-Life Doula Association of Canada, The National End of Life Doula Alliance in the US and Soul Midwives School based in the UK.
We’ve been hearing a lot of talk about the positive death movement and the idea of “dying well.”
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the concept of dying well and how does Wishstone provide that?
Dying well (for us) means living well right up to the moment you take your last breath. We spend time with people and their family to discuss all aspects of the dying process from a holistic perspective and work on documenting peoples wishes, legacy work, fears and after death care so when dying occurs it truly reflects the journey that person wants not only for themselves but also after they have gone. We believe this is the greatest gift you can give to your loved ones.
Dying well is about switching the focus from cure and medication by giving loving care with human touch. We work alongside the medical profession – often stepping in when the doctors have done all that they can do.
In the age of the COVID-19 pandemic and its myriad of restrictions, how do you think people can experience a good end-of-life? How we can be brought closer together with community as we grieve and memorialize our loved ones best?
We have been working through COVID and is surprising how creative you can be. A lot of the planning, discussions and legacy work can easily be done via Zoom.
The availability of people has been wonderful as people have been home-based so we have been readily available to participate in such things as ‘Circles of Care’ which provides much-needed additional support for families.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to a person who is looking to plan for their end-of-life?
It is never to soon. We work with people on a one-to-one basis to document their ‘Wishes’ at the end-of-life. We believe this is important to do with an experienced facilitator, so the appropriate and thought-provoking questions are asked.
Working one on one with someone on these documents also ensures you sit down and do it. Otherwise, it is all too easy to print something off and add to ‘the pile’ on your desk and never get around to doing it (speaking from experience!). We believe this is such a gift to your loved ones as it provides them with the guidance, comfort and support during a very emotional time.
Interested in learning more? Connect with Sarah and Ruth at Wishstone today!