The look of loss is different for everyone

There are few absolute certainties in life. One of them is that everyone dies. For nearly 25 years Hospice Yukon has been helping people come to terms with, and be comfortable during, their final days.

There are few absolute certainties in life. One of them is that everyone dies.

For nearly 25 years Hospice Yukon has been helping people come to terms with, and be comfortable during, their final days.

Staff and volunteers help dying and bereaved clients in local care facilities, at the Whitehorse General Hospital and in their homes.

But the work done out of the tiny house-turned-office in downtown Whitehorse goes beyond those facing the end of their life.

It also includes helping people living with a loss – any type of loss.

That could be the end of a marriage, the loss of a pet or even the loss of a job.

Since 2002, the organization has hosted Living with Loss: An Introduction to Healthy Grieving four times a year in Whitehorse.

Based out of the Whitehorse Public Library, the presentation is designed to help people understand their grief, the grieving process and how to help others currently experiencing a loss.

The next event takes place Sept. 26, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Barb Evans-Ehricht, volunteer and program manager Hospice Yukon, knows grief can appear different on different people. Anger, sadness, depression or the inability to think clearly are all common reactions, she said.

“In the West, as a society, we don’t like those feelings that aren’t the nice touchy feelings, so people think they’re going crazy. If it’s the first time they’ve experienced that, they think, ‘Oh my God something’s wrong with me, I’m really going crazy.’”

But you’re not going crazy, and you can make it through the other side, hospice insists.

“I think our society thinks that happy is the normal and if you are outside of not feeling happy, that’s not normal. But the emotions that we experience, the whole range of it, is what’s normal, not just happiness,” said executive director Stacey Jones.

As modern medicine improves our ability to delay the inevitable end of life, some people have developed a reluctance to even talk about death, said project co-coordinator Deb Higgins.

“I think we’ve evolved as a culture to think that we can fix most things, and this is something we can’t fix. It is hard,” she said.

“So I think there is a natural aversion that we don’t want to go where it is uncomfortable. But that is the only way through, to confront those feelings and fully experience them.”

Evans-Ehricht has been involved with Hospice Yukon since its creation. She was the organization’s first paid co-coordinator when it opened its doors in 1988.

She’s watched people circle the block outside the office multiple times before coming in the door and bursting into tears.

“Because it’s admitting you’re dealing with death and dying,” she said.

How society deals with the end has also changed, the women agree.

The trend has moved from a time when people cared for their own dying relatives to one where that responsibility is left up to professionals. There are also fewer funerals, with more people requesting no service after they die.

“They don’t realize that by coming together after a person has died, that actually brings healing and support for each other,” Evans-Ehricht said.

“They think they are trying to save them the money or whatever. But a ceremony or ritual, from the beginning of time, has been important to have.”

Talking about death is uncomfortable, but it’s important.

“When a woman is pregnant, we always talk about having a good birth and what you want that to look like,” Higgins said.

“The idea is that you can do the same thing with dying. It’s helpful for you and for your family members to think about the kind of death that you want to have. It helps prepare you and it helps prepare your family members for when that day comes.”

This month’s event on grief is held at the library because it provides a neutral place for people to come, she said. It is not a support group and no one is going to be asked to share their story. It is simply a chance to gather information.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com