By Matthew Grant
‘People don’t want to talk about death. It almost seems that in our culture there’s this idea that grief has a finite period of time. There’s not a lot of tolerance for it.”
Karen LaPrairie, grief counsellor for Hospice Yukon
As he walked through the fields of the farm he was working several years ago, Morris Lamrock couldn’t have known about the profound life experience he and his best friend Nancy were about to share.
There, in a lake on the farm he worked on just outside Victoria, was a deer trying to make its way to shore.
It was in trouble.
Instinctively, Lamrock, and Nancy, a woman nearly 40 years his senior, made their way to the shoreline to help the animal.
“We pulled on its legs and tried to inch it up; it was obviously in rough shape,” said Lamrock, who has since moved to Whitehorse.
“We got it up on shore a little and we held it for a while, we had its head on our laps. Then it struggled and struggled and its head went back underwater. So again we pulled it up.”
The effort went on for several hours until Nancy voiced an idea. “I think this animal wants to die; maybe we don’t have the right to keep pulling it out.”
With that a possibility, the two friends were forced to take pause, said Lamrock.
The animal was clearly ready; it had accepted that it was time for its life to end.
The only thing left was for the pair of friends to accept the same and let it go.
It was, in hindsight, a life lesson in acceptance, he said.
It was a lesson that would later be repeated when he was to grieve Nancy’s passing, at the age of 74, some time later, an experience that was made easier by a loving network of friends who played safe witness and supported him in his time of grief.
That was one of the bumps along life’s journey that led Lamrock to grief counselling and the doors of Hospice Yukon.
In a nutshell, grief counselling is talking with those who need to know that what they’re feeling is OK, and listening to those who need to talk about what they’re thinking, feeling and experiencing.
It’s counselling about death and loss and is tailored to both the dying and the living.
Both need to acknowledge and accept what is happening because neither really have a choice.
Hospice volunteers have dedicated themselves to helping others reach that realm of acceptance.
It’s difficult and rewarding work in a culture that finds it difficult to talk about, let alone accept the concept of death, said Lamrock, who joined Hospice a year ago after an intensive one-year training period.
And, it’s work that he and his fellow volunteers will be striving to help the public understand as the Yukon approaches one of the most emotional, family-oriented times of the year, Christmas.
Hospice volunteers will be giving others the opportunity to share their feelings about death and the grieving process, said Karen LaPrairie, a grief counsellor who has been working with Hospice for about six years.
That opportunity, referred to as the Creative Expressions of Grief, allows people to put pen to paper and express their feelings in a public way — cards.
After writing their message, people place their cards in trees alongside the memories, views and feelings of their friends and neighbours.
The whole thing begins at a ceremony at the Elijah Smith Building this Thursday at noon and continues Friday and next week at that location as well as at the hospital, Macaulay Lodge, the Hospice house, Copper Ridge Place, the adult and youth jails, Heritage North Funeral Home, the and Blue Feather Youth Centre.
It’s meant to be a way to bring the grieving process out of the shadows and help people understand that the entire death and grieving processes are acceptable and natural, said LaPrairie.
“There’s not a lot of room made for it. People are uncomfortable because we just don’t have a language for it in our culture,” she said.
“People don’t know how to support others in their time of grief. I think they want to, they just don’t know how.” And that’s what Hospice tries to do, she said.
It helps people with a process that, according to the now-famous author of On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, often involves a variety of emotions including denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
All natural and acceptable emotions that don’t need to be hidden.
Whether people have lost a loved one, have become incarcerated, or they’re dying, there needs to be room for people to express what they’re feeling, said LaPrairie.
They need to know it’s OK to talk about it, she said.
It’s OK to give your condolences to another for their loss.
It’s OK to bring up the name of someone after they’re gone.
It’s OK to ask another human being how they’re doing at the end of their life.
It’s OK for men to cry.
“It’s OK,” she said.