Grief as Transformation: a mother’s story (by Eileen Beaudine)

On March 16 Jan Adler and I shared some experiences of grief.   I told the story of my son Joshua, his tragic death, and mostly I focused on the ways I experienced grief in the years that followed his death.

Joshua’s father called me from Portland to tell me our son Josh had died by suicide.  Suicide attempts were not uncommon for Josh, as he had multiple mental diagnoses.  His first attempt was when he was in 5th grade, and throughout his 26 years attempts were frequent.  He would call me or another friend to be rescued after overdoses.  One week before his death, he was hospitalized for an attempt with pills.  He left the hospital against Dr.’s orders, disappeared for a few days, came back to his family, and then he told his brother by telephone he was going to hitch-hike to San Francisco to get away from things for a while.   He left, and the next day the coroner was at his Dad’s door that cold, December morning.

If you had met him, even for a brief time, you would remember his kindness, creativity, commitment to social justice, his limitless curiosity, loyalty to his friends and how much he loved his mum.  He faced a life of almost continuous turmoil within himself and in his life.  Early drug treatment was somewhat effective, and when he turned 18 he chose not to take medication very often.  Despite his illness, he found some satisfaction in some of his jobs.  He wrote stories and poetry. We loved to watch birds, and we enjoyed the Portland Trailblazers as often as we could.  He is missed, and if I could have taken his place so he could have lived, I would have done so without hesitation.

Living past my son’s death became a place of isolation and pain unlike any other I had ever experienced.  I couldn’t stand that the world was still rotating on its axis, that the sun would rise, that in mornings all over the world millions of people were opening their eyes.  But not Josh.  I wanted to crawl back to the past to where he last breathed so I could bring him along with me into the future.  I searched for him from my most primitive and maternal subconscious, testing for his scent everywhere I went.  I didn’t make up my mind to do this: it is how my body reacted to his death. 

I was pulled between living life alive and moving through life deeply shrouded.  My experience of grief encompasses both my love for Josh and the pain of his death, side-by-side, sometimes consuming me, other times the pain lessened by the strength of a memory. The earliness and manner of his death was foreshadowed in his childhood.  However this knowledge did nothing to lessen the impact of his death or the grief that followed.

Thinking, reasoning, straight research did not help me.  I read every book I could find on bereavement.  Nothing resonated with me.  My head did not find the new way.  I decided to start doing something physical.  In February several months after Joshua’s death, I came alone to our newly purchased-unimproved lot on Galiano where we had parked a small trailer.  Mission: pull broom until collapse.  Then at night write in a journal until sleep forces itself upon me.  Repeat. Repeat.  Repeat.  I cleared broom.  The piles were taller than me, the broom itself often of tree-status.  I found undiscovered trees, mainly arbutus that were being out-competed by the broom.  Already Spring was near, and certain bushes were beginning to leaf out.  Each day I cleared, I could see the success—broom removed and a more natural habitat revealed.  Each day I could see slightly incremental increases in the greening for spring.  I cleared in the rain, the wind, the cold.  I had only one goal—to find physical exhaustion.  In that state, I could write without inhibitions.  The words came unbidden.  The most essential, the most vulnerable parts of me surfaced and beheld the grief.  Cautiously I explored this new geography of my life, usually a small step at a time.  Not always forward progress, but side-to-side, backwards, to and fro. 

This experience was the first time I put the whole of me into the grief that now is part of me.  Since then, I have initiated survivor support groups in Vancouver to talk to others who have lost a loved one to suicide.  I have thoroughly investigated the details of his death, examined erroneous processes and held those systems up to scrutiny. I have worked on ways to commemorate his life—like burning the 24-hour candle, the Jahrzeit candle, on his birthday and on the anniversary of his death.   Some of his friends found me—some even through Google and Facebook— and shared great gifts—new stories of him.  I have written journals that describe and document the pain and also the breakthroughs back to life.  I have figured out what to do with his things through action.  I learned to live (by living, by doing) on this new planet without him.  I like to bird-watch with his eyes sometimes.  I listen to music he loved with his brand of joy.  As I go through my days, I often observe that Josh would have loved this or that.  And, of course, I continue to pull broom.

I was changed by his death and am transformed by the grief.  The process will probably not end.  Grief and I will continually and infinitely transform each other, keening in the pleasure and pain of memories, and discovering today and tomorrow, sometimes with tears, sometimes with joy, and, now, always with life.

Nothing was simple or obvious.  Most every step was risky—and I was scared.  Yet with each step, I move with life.  Sensitivity to the smallest of things—like the color of the sky, the leaf that falls, the human voice—are the things that guide my map to life and living.  This is not the person I would have chosen to be—the mother of a dead son.  Yet here I am, hardly alone in this situation.  Each day the grief is transformed yet again, life is full, the sun comes up, and I see stars at night.  Everything changed and continues to change.  He would like it that way.

Goodbye to Kimberly/ Welcome back Alex!

We are saying goodbye to Medical Office Assistant Kimberly, who is leaving us this week for new frontiers.  We wish Kim the best of luck and it was wonderful to have you work for the Galiano Health Care Society.  Alex  is returning to us from maternity leave, and will be back at the front desk starting April 4th.  Lori and Jackie will also staff the desk, so please have a smile for these women who work very hard for all the patients at the clinic.

Exciting Needle News!

Quilt - New York BeautyThis beautiful New York Beauty Quilt is 66” x 76” and has been created by the Galiano Needle Guild. Raffle tickets went on sale on April 15 and the draw took place on August 13th. This was to raise money for the Galiano Health Care Society.

Bonnie Robson won the quilt. Bonnie has been a supporter of the Galiano Health Care Society for many years. Congratulations Bonnie and thank you to all who bought tickets to support your local health care.

Galiano’s Got Talent- It Sure Does!

Cast of Galiano's Got Talent

Cast of Galiano's Got Talent

I hope you were one of the people in the two sold out shows on the 12th and 13th of February that witnessed the fantastic and often hilarious talent Galiano islanders offered to the community as a fundraiser for the Galiano Health Care Society and Centre. The diversity of acts was impressive. We were at Studio 54 with Ginga’s original electro-funk, a smoky jazz bar with Genny Laronde, stand-up at Yuk-Yuk’s with an autobiographical genius version of her new life as Trustee with Sandy Pottle, and getting a glimpse into the underbelly of Galiano’s social life with Speed Dating Galiano Style.

These are just a few of the wonderful acts that came out to support health care on Galiano and gratitude is what we feel for their efforts to entertain and support us all.

The Health Care Society would like to thank the organizing dream team of Sylvie Beauregard, Jackie Bowers, Margaret Howell and Johanna Newmoon who ensured we saw a quality show from start to finish. We would also like to thank the following individuals and businesses for their support and hard work, without which all this fun and fundraising would not have been possible:

Ed Bejtovic, Shelley Gruendler, Christina Stechishin, Suzanne Laughlin, Paul Leblond, Dave Hutton,
Diona Davies, Ian Maday, Dan Elmes, Kenna Fair, Judy Parrack, Allan Forget, Susan Mackey, Yvonne Coletta, Patti our wonderful bar-keep, Sheila Midgely, Bill Ripley, Sanda Dolph, Board Members of the GHCS, Daystar Market and staff, Mike and Jenny at the Garage, Jim, Lee and staff at Galiano Island Books, and of course all the performers.

We raised a little over $3000 for health care, quite an achievement. Thanks to all who attended, and enjoy these photos of the show provided by Henny Schnare with much thanks.

 

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News January 2011

As noted in last month’s Active Page article, medical care on Galiano before the 1980s was carried out  by visiting doctors  from other islands or by semi-retired resident doctors working out of their own homes.  Whether your illness or accident coincided with the presence of a doctor on island was a matter of luck.  In 1984, a group of residents organized themselves with the aim of creating a more permanent location for the delivery of health care here, and finally in 1991, after much energetic fundraising and leaping through of bureaucratic hoops, the present Health Care Centre was opened.

As the early organizers had hoped, the building has over the years been used by a variety of health care professionals, including the doctor, locums whenever a doctor was unavailable, the nurse practitioner, the lab technician, and also by a dentist, hygienist, chiropractor, podiatrist, massage therapist, and a physiotherapist.  A fully equipped emergency room and a helipad are maintained at the clinic; the  latter has made it possible to get severely injured or ill patients to big-city hospitals in a fraction of the time it would otherwise take.
Money to support the running of the Health Centre has come from rents paid by health care providers, by gifts, bequests and society membership fees, and by various fundraising events, including the annual wine festival. In the early years enough money was raised to construct and equip the clinic, and also to create a small reserve against a rainy day.  As years went by, greater demands were placed on the Society’s means as uses of the space multiplied (increasing wear and tear) at the same time that  the building began to require more maintenance because of its age.  Also, there are new Health Department requirements for medical clinics,  making new equipment and more staff hours necessary,  increasing costs. Furthermore, as residents struggle with the present economic situation, donations have dropped.

Supporting the successful running and maintenance of the clinic and other educational and community programs, as well as the purchasing of medical and dental equipment (expensive stuff) on the Society’s slender income was always an ambitious undertaking.  In recent times a series of events  have created greater financial demands and  made coping increasingly difficult.

Dr. Beaver’s departure did not create the crisis, but it did render the precarious nature of the situation suddenly very evident.  Dr. Beaver  paid rent, and also the costs of a pager, fax, telephone, and salary and benefits for the Medical Office Assistants.  The Society suddenly not only did not have the rent coming in (Locums, by VIHA regulations, cannot be charged rent), but, since MOAs and telephones and so on are still required to run a clinic, the Society has had no choice but to pick up these expenses except for the one day of MOA salary subsidized by VIHA when the nurse practitioner is present.   Furthermore, the dental hygienist has retired, and the dentist has been on sick leave, so that rental income is consequently very much reduced.

What has the Health Society been doing about this? A committee of the board have been in negotiations with VIHA for several months in an effort to have VIHA cover some of these costs which have been created in the absence of rental income from a  resident doctor..  After considerable correspondence VIHA indicated that they would do so,  more paperwork has been signed, processed and filed, and hopefully a cheque will arrive sometime before the Health Society’s finances hit the wall.
The Board has also discussed with the CRD the possibility of having a levy added to property taxes to pay for basic operational and upkeep expenses at the Centre.  Up to this time the GHCS has  been entirely community-supported, never receiving any tax or other government funding.  The process of  acquiring tax support is lengthy.  First a request, with much supporting documentation, is made to the  CRD, which will then conduct a study;  if deemed reasonable, the matter could go to referendum to be voted on by residents of Galiano, in this case probably next November.  Should the referendum pass, no funds would be raised until the following year ( late 2012).  Future boards would be able to function with the certainty of being able to meet some of their basic costs, and focus their fundraising proceeds on purchasing and replacing equipment, improvements to the structure, and delivering educational and  community programs.  Mayne Island, with a similar population to Galiano’s and a Health Centre built a few years before ours, has had tax support for the maintenance of their Centre since 2007.

The other matter of which the public needs to be aware  is when there is medical care available on the island, and when there is not..  I’ve heard people say that they haven’t gone to the clinic because they don’t know whether there will be a doctor.  In fact there has been almost complete coverage by locums at the clinic since Dr. Beaver’s departure.  Presently,  locum coverage has been booked  till March 4.  The rural locum program is administered by the province, and through VIHA renews coverage every three months.

Evening and weekend coverage is a somewhat different story. The locums provide evening coverage on the weekdays that they are here (except Friday  evening). Two weekends a month, there is a nurse  but no physician on call on weekends.  In February the weekends covered by nurses are February 4/5/6 and 18/19/20. This means that there are two full weekends, including Friday evenings, when we do not have local emergency coverage. This has to do with the way  that rural emergency coverage is administered . When Doctor Beaver was here, he, together with the Mayne and Pender doctors, formed a group which shared the funding allotted to provide this coverage, Dr. Beaver providing his share of it on Galiano.  Since we presently don’t have a doctor, we also do not have any Galiano-based funding for an emergency physician.  When we do find a doctor, presumably a similar arrangement to Dr. Beaver’s will be reached with him or her.

What all this means is that unless the cavalry come riding up very soon, the Society will be starting to live off its financial reserves; it has been saved from having to do this so far only by the assistance of a couple of other Island organizations and by a private bequest.  When the Society is no longer able to cover salaries and running costs, the Health Centre will be obliged to cut services.  In view of the Ministry of Healths’ increasingly stringent regulations, it is unlikely that medical practitioners would be operating out of private homes as they did in the old days, and a modern  emergency room under those circumstances would be an impossibility.

What can the public do?

First, use the clinic. Last summer, VIHA attempted to reduce the Galiano doctor’s position to part-time with the rationale that the clinic was underused.  To find out what services are available at any time, phone the Centre at 3230; even when the clinic is closed, clear directions as to your alternatives will be left on the answering machine. Current information has now been posted on availability of services on the island’s public bulletin boards, and will be updated regularly.  Soon this information should also be available online.
Support the Society.  Become a member.  Attend fundraisers.  Write letters.  Many battles have been fought and many, many volunteer hours have gone into the effort to provide excellent and consistent  health care for you here on Galiano.

If the matter of tax funding supporting the medical centre does come to a referendum, think seriously about what the services provided to this community by the Health Centre mean to you, your family, your visitors, and perhaps to your business. The amount added to the average property tax bill  would scarcely buy you lunch for one at the pub…once a year!

To end on a positive note, there has been some interest in the position shown, and at present VIHA is in discussion with a serious applicant.