Skip to content

New West Hospice Society wants to normalize conversations about death, dying, grief

Four-day Dialogue on Death and Dialogue includes poetry, prose, performances and information
Rani MacInnes and Yuri Larsson, from left, of the New West Hospice Society.

The New West Hospice Society is hard at work on initiatives aimed at normalizing conversations about death and dying.

The society – named New Westminster’s Not-For-Profit of the Year at the 2017 Platinum Awards – was created in 2016. Its ultimate goal is to create a physical hospice in New Westminster.

“We're one of the only cities that does not have a physical hospice,” said Rani MacInnes, the society’s volunteer program manager. “Currently, people that are living in our community of New Westminster, they have to leave their community and have to go somewhere else.”

Not only do New West residents in need of hospice care have to go to facilities in other cities, but their family and friends have to travel to those communities to visit them.

“It's better to serve our own community with a hospice,” MacInnes said.

People go into hospice care on the recommendation of a physician or palliative team.

“It's set up completely for people who are end-of-life,” MacInnes said. “When you go to hospice, you don't know how long you're going to be there; you could be there for months. So it's like being in your own space, and having people come to visit you. Plus they have medical staff that are there who would administer any kind of medical attention that they would need.”

The New West Hospice Society is hard at work on doing more events and programs, after losing some traction with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lot of people in the community don't really know that we are here,” MacInnes said. “There are a lot of people 'Oh, wow, we have a hospice?' No, we don't have a physical hospice, we have a hospice society – this is what we do.”

Aside from the ultimate goal of creating a hospice in New West, the society aims to normalize discussions around death and dying, grief and bereavement.

“Right now, it's a bit of a taboo subject. People don't normally want to talk about death, or they're kind of uncomfortable about it,” MacInnes said. “It's one of our missions to actually talk about it and to demystify it, to make it more of a thing that you don't have to be fearful or afraid of. We can actually talk about death, dying and grief and bereavement.”

That’s just what’s happening at the Dialogue on Death and Dying event being presented by the New West Hospice Society and Century House from Nov. 2 to 5. It features a variety of daytime and nighttime events at Century House.

“This is really just to let people know more about who we are,” MacInnes said. “It's free. Totally free.”

Events at the Dialogue on Death and Dying include:

* Poetry Night, featuring New West poet laureate Elliott Slinn, poet laureate emeritus Candice James and open mic from the Royal City Literary Arts Society. It’s on Wednesday, Nov. 2 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

* PEACH Night, featuring a presentation by Dr. Naheed Dosani, a palliative care physician and founder of the Palliative Education and Care for the Homeless (PEACH). Dosani will join the in-person audience via Zoom. It’s on Thursday, Nov. 3 from 7 to 9 p.m. Free but register at (search for PEACH).

* Performance Night, featuring Elliott Slinn, Jane Slemon and Friends, and The Cat Murphy Band with Kaitlyn Deavy, who will being singing and reflect about death and dying with words and music. It’s on Friday, Nov. 4 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

* Prose Night will have Dr. Susan Breiddal reading from her book, In the Shadows of Angels. Local seniors will share their stories on death and dying, and audience members will be given an opportunity to discuss their reactions to the readings. It’s on Saturday, Nov. 5 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

* Daytime events taking place at Century House will include assorted topics: advance care planning; MAID – medical assistance in dying; the 38-minute film Dance to the End of Love; death-care options and planning; death conversation starters; volunteer with the New West Hospice Society and the Century House Association; and what is an end-of-life doula?

For more information, contact [email protected] or call Century House at 604-519-1066.

Plenty of programs

New West Hospice is currently running a number of community programs – and working on others.

MacInnes said the programs are intended to support the community, raise awareness about the society and help in its goal of creating a hospice.

“A compassionate community is about helping each other,” she said. “And how do we help each other? Well, we do it through all these different types of events. They're all free.”

Compassionate City Crew

Because New Westminster does not have a physical hospice, the New West Hospice Society developed the Compassionate City Crew. Created in conjunction with Fraser Health, the program trains volunteers to go into people’s homes and help them with certain tasks, including meals, laundry, light housekeeping, gardening and companionship.

“Our volunteers are trained. They go through an eight-week comprehensive program, and they go into the person's home and they help them out,” MacInnes said. “So the idea is to help them stay in their homes longer.”

Fraser Health’s palliative care team refers clients to the New West Hospice Society for the Compassionate City Crew.

Compassionate Café

This monthly fundraiser takes place on a Sunday afternoon at Begbie’s pub, where musicians will be performing and 50/50 tickets will be sold or raffles held.

“It's free to come, so there isn't anything at the door or anything like that,” MacInnes said. “But of course, we're encouraging donations and that kind of thing.”

Upcoming Compassionate Café events are taking place at Begbie’s pub, 609 Columbia St., on Sunday, Nov. 27 and Dec. 18 from 3 to 5 p.m.

Good Grief Upcycle Store

The New West Hospice Society is raising funds for its endeavours through the Good Grief Upcycle Store, a kiosk inside River Market. The volunteer-run store accepts donations from the community that can be upcycled and sold in the store.

“Most hospices and hospitals have a thrift store attached to them,” MacInnes noted. “It's a great fundraising arm. So this is something that the hospice society has wanted to start for many years.”

Storefronts are costly, so the society has started out by offering a kiosk space at River Market. Good Grief Upcycle Store carries a selection of curated items that have been donated, including jewelry, small antique items and housewares.

The shop is currently operating on a pop-up basis. Volunteers, who would go through a two-hour training session, are needed.

Walk & Talk – a bereavement walking group

This is an eight-week walking program, led by a facilitator, that takes place on Saturday mornings.  Participants meet by the Tin Solider on the waterfront and go for a walk together to the end of the boardwalk and sit down afterwards and have a gentle discussion about the different stages of grieving.

“People can participate or not, they can listen to the facilitator and just listen. They don't have to stay for the talk. They can just leave. It's very flexible and gentle. It's kind,” MacInnes said. “It's a place where people can be with other like-minded people, because often, grieving can be isolating.”

Many hospice societies have walking groups, MacInnes said, but this one includes a discussion component for those who want to talk about grief.

“It doesn't have to be recent. It can be years old,” she said. “There is no timeline for grief.”

Bereavement art therapy

A bereavement art therapy program for children and families in New West is in the planning stages and will be launched in 2023.

“The idea is to support children and their families and adults through their grief and bereavement using art, so expressing their grief through art,” MacInnes said. “So it's not counselling in the traditional sense of counselling, it's more of expressing yourself through art.”

Book Club

The New West Hospice Society is working on plans to launch a “book club” in late 2022 or early 2023. Led by a facilitator, participants (who don’t have to have lost someone to participate) will meet monthly to discuss topics around death, dying and grief in all forms of literature and film.

“It is talking about topics around death, dying and grief — they're not all going to be heavy and grim,” MacInnes said. “And we'll have other things, like we'll have like kids’ books, poetry. Maybe there'll be like movies, and that kind of thing.

Voice for the Vulnerable

Underway for about a year or so, Voice for the Vulnerable is an advance care planning program (ACP) for people in New Westminster who are experiencing homelessness. It will help them get a personal health number (PHN) and fill out advance care forms.

“So, if anything happens to any of these people and they end up in the hospital, their information is now in the system. Currently, if they do, there's no information about anything about the person, and often they don't have a PHN. So it's doing double duty, helping them with the personal health number, and helping them with their ACP,” MacInnes said. “It benefits them by helping support them in their wishes and needs when they end up in the hospital.”

For information about New West Hospice Society programs or volunteer, contact [email protected].