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Nothing else matters when somebody you love is dying

Jay MacGillivray

“When you love somebody and they’re dying, you need a community that can raise that final moment to a state of grace,” said Jay MacGillivray, to members and guests attending the Hospice Prince Edward annual general meeting. “That is why Hospice Prince Edward is so essential. This is why the work you (volunteers) do is so noble. It is incredibly important work.”
MacGillivray, who calls Prince Edward County home, was honoured with a prestigious Casey Award earlier this year for her 30 years work in Toronto providing care to people living with HIV.
“All our expertise became irrelevant,” MacGillivray said, when her friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer. They had worked together over 30 years and they grieved together, over the three year period before she died, through visits, phone calls, letters and emails. They talked about how they felt about the fact that they were going to be separated.
MacGillivray shared her side of the conversation in a heart-warming, humourous and touching talk on ‘Living Well Whilst Dying…A Conversation Between Friends’.
“The first email was three-and-a-half years before she died. It was the day she was diagnosed. She had phoned me first and there was a curious excitement in her voice. We had helped so many people over the years but somehow now it was really personal.”
The first email spoke of a dawning sense of immense loss, a reflection of changes in their lives and offered continued support and love.
“I will be whoever you need me to be… I will be honoured to walk you to the door, but can we talk along the way?”
And talk they did – about tattoos, kittens, solitary journeys, pain, sheltering others from details, offers of help and arranging affairs and lists of things that need to be done “before… before… before”.
They asked questions, they spoke of their impending loneliness without each other, but they also shared good times in joyous meetings and recollections and maintained their humour through the seriousness, but in the end, her friend wasn’t able to stay in her home and ended up in hospital.
“We were surrounded by the most loving, caring, compassionate group of people who did exactly what you people do,” MacGillivray told the Hospice Prince Edward volunteers. “They did it with such grace, such nobility we were able to grieve properly and her death was a thing of easement as opposed to a torturous, horrible moment. It was made beautiful by the people who helped us help her.”
The Prince Edward Hospice board also honoured those who have helped others through the years with elegant trophies, plaques and a framed photograph of the lighthouse embraced by Hospice in its logo.

Hospice PE executive director thanks Ruby Young, of Picton.

Executive director Nancy Parks said she feels privileged, every day, to hear stories about the difference the organization makes through Audrey Whitney and her volunteers.
“Our volunteers, whether it is doing palliative support, grief support or fundraising are the bright lights, like that found in lighthouses. They provide bright beams, and really make a difference for our community members and their families. Tonight we celebrate, honour and thank you. I heard an analogy the other day that Hospice volunteers are like mast lights of boats, keeping clients and their families company at sea so that they know they are not alone. Further to that, I reference the lighthouse, which is our logo, which speaks to our staff and board who are the keepers of that light.”

Hospice Prince Edward's Audrey Whitney, right, honours Phyllis Mabee for 20 years of volunteeering.

Honoured for five years of service were: Margaret Creighton, Patricia Dye, Gladys Mullins and Margaret Stoddard. For 10 years: Moira Creighton and Mark Larratt-Smith and for 15 years: Jean Algar, Marion Creasy, Birgit Langswich and Nancy Watson. Phyllis Mabee was presented a framed lighthouse photograph in honour of 20 years of service to Hospice Prince Edward. Ruby Young was also honoured in thanks for her donations of artwork used on note cards and posters to help Hospice in fundraising.
In the coming year, the focus of HPE will involve the planning of a residential hospice centre. While a site is not confirmed, the board, partnering with the Rotary Club of Picton, is considering the benefits of using Benson Hall, at Benson Park, Picton.
“But Hospice isn’t just a service or facility,” said Linda Jackson, past-president. “It’s about caring for individuals and their families. That’s what we’re all about. Loving care and companionship is where Hospice Prince Edward will flourish with the support of the community.”
The HPE board for the coming year includes new members Linda Middleton and Beth Piper, and returning members, Joscelyn Matthewman, Debbie MacDonald Moynes, Linda Jackson and Stacey Hatch under the leadership of new president, Birgit Langswisch.
For information about Hospice Prince Edward, its services, and how to contribute, or to volunteer, visit

Hospice Prince Edward volunteers were honoured for long-time service.

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