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Many Catholic cultures have a requiem Mass in memory of the deceased about a month after they have died. After the Mass, family and close friends gather for a meal together. We did this for my mum, dad and for my brother who all believed in the Catholic tradition. However, since Loris was not religious, it did not seem appropriate so instead, I went back to the hospice where he died and made a donation in his memory.
Kensington Hospice was once an Anglican chapel called St. John the Divine. Built in 1888, it was associated with an adjacent hospital, St. John’s Surgical Hospital for Women which provided care to impoverished and destitute women in Toronto. After several transformations, it was converted into a 10 bed palliative care hospice in 2011. When Loris was admitted there at the end of January, we were told very clearly that their goal was to neither prolong nor to shorten life but to provide comfort up to the end in whatever way a person might need.
For us, it was the next best thing to being at home which was not possible given Loris’ condition. His room didn’t have much of a view but was nicely furnished and we brought in flowering plants to make it cheerful. In addition to having a TV, Netflix and an I-pod dock, there was also a small fridge where we could keep things he might have liked to eat.
The nave of the chapel has been converted into a common lounge area where residents and family can sit or eat. Two nurses are on the premises round the clock and a doctor does rounds every day. There is a social worker who deals with concerns not only of the residents but also of family members. The kitchen staff are pretty much all volunteers and are happy to make specific things that the residents might like at any time of day. Family members are welcomed if they want to stay overnight and the staff didn’t bat an eyelid when I would stroll into the lounge in my pyjamas in the morning for coffee when I slept there. Every single member of staff was caring, cheerful and patient. I just don’t know how they sustain their ability to care when they have to face the death of one or more people every single week.
Apart from caring for Loris in a warm and personal way, I was struck by how they dealt with his death. After he died, they gave me as much time as I wanted with him, then the nurse came, washed him with tremendous respect and changed his clothes. When the funeral home came to pick up his body, the hospice covered the stretcher with a ceremonial patchwork quilt, and the entire staff who were present at that time formed a procession and had a few moments of silence and prayer before his body was moved into the van. Then they lit a candle and left it burning in the window all night. It was truly an unforgettable and moving ritual and left me with a memory of beauty in death. When I went back to visit, Loris’ name and date of death had been put in an album with a pressed flower next to it as you can see above. For me visiting the hospice was a personal Month’s Mind and a fitting way to commemorate his death. To all the staff and volunteers at Kensington Hospice, words are not enough to thank you. Thank you also to my readers for your messages of condolence, forgive me for not replying to each individually.