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Long-time hospice volunteer in P.E.I. gets new perspective of special care

Eleanor Davies has spent the past 35 years offering caring and compassionate service to Hospice P.E.I. in a variety of roles. On Tuesday, she helped launch the annual Let Their Light Shine by paying tribute to her late husband Tom by hanging a card on the Memory Tree in the Charlottetown Mall.
Eleanor Davies has spent the past 35 years offering caring and compassionate service to Hospice P.E.I. in a variety of roles. On Tuesday, she helped launch the annual Let Their Light Shine by paying tribute to her late husband Tom by hanging a card on the Memory Tree in the Charlottetown Mall. - Jim Day
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

Eleanor Davies is driven to provide care and compassion.

The 82-year-old Stratford woman has long been fulfilling her desire to help others. She did so first as a career, and later for decades as a volunteer.

Davies began her career as a nurse in 1960. She would go on to work, on and off, at the old Prince Edward Island Hospital for nine years, juggling the vocation with being a mother of one, then two, and eventually three children.

Being a nurse was something Davies always wanted to do. Caring for others fed her soul.

However, when she left nursing to join her husband, Tom, for a lengthy, successful run in the restaurant business, she soon felt a void.

Davies realized she still needed to serve in a healing role. Hospice proved a perfect fit — in many ways, and for a very long time.

Over the past 35 years, she has served in many capacities with Hospice P.E.I., which is the volunteer arm of the palliative care program in the province.

Starting in 1985, Davies became the first volunteer co-ordinator for Queen’s County with the organization, which was then called the Island Hospice Association.

She would later serve as president of the association, and as a provincial representative to the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association.

She trained hospice volunteers and did public speaking as well.

Davies reserves her most heartfelt reflections, though, for the many times she took a direct role in guiding a patient along his or her final journey.

“You are just there for them," she says. “I was there to make a difference in those final days."

Attachments could grow quite strong, she adds, notably with long-term patients.

The more than three decades pouring her heart and soul into hospice has been nothing short of a remarkable experience.

“It has certainly enriched my life," she says. “It just makes you kinder, gentler and accepting of others."

Davies has also come to learn that death can be peaceful, dignified and in most cases pain free.

Hospice, of course, is not only about providing comfort and compassion to a dying person, but also in assisting family members along the difficult path of losing a loved one.

For Davies, last year was a time for role reversal.

After caring for her husband at home for about one year, Tom, who had leukemia, spent the final 12 days of his life in palliative care.

For those dozen days, Davies was seeing hospice from a new perspective.

“Being on the receiving end was different," she says. “I was being cared for instead of giving care. I saw all of the little things that staff can do to give personal care ... The palliative care doctors and nurses and support services cared for Tom with respect and dignity and allowed our family to be part of that care as well as meeting our every need.''

Tuesday marked a dramatic new experience for Davies as well.

She was attending the subdued opening ceremony of the Let Their Light Shine campaign for the 26th straight year.

The kick-off to the campaign traditionally has a first bulb lit on a large memory tree by one or more people who share their memories of a loved one who had died.

This time, Davies fell under the glare of a fully lit tree as she hung a card in memory of her husband.

“It is emotional because you are paying respect to someone you really miss," she says.

Meanwhile, Davies plans to continue to volunteer with Hospice P.E.I.

 “If I don’t do it, I sort of feel I am letting someone down," she says.

Remembering loved ones

Hospice P.E.I. has launched its 26th annual Let Their Light Shine campaign. Departed loved ones can be honoured by hanging a memory card on a Memory Tree in the Charlottetown Mall (near Winners entrance). 

This year, due to public health restrictions, Hospice P.E.I. is not able to host the annual campaign in its usual West Prince and East Prince locations. A virtual version is available at hospicepei.ca.

Jim Day is the health reporter for The Guardian.

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