We are here for the journey — offering counselling and bereavement services to families when and where they need it
“Grief is how we love after loss, and if we love deeply, we grieve deeply,” says Canuck Place Counsellor, Deborah Davison.
When Jessica and Chris Sui were expecting their second daughter Charlotte, they didn’t expect to be introduced to Canuck Place, BC and the Yukon’s pediatric palliative care provider. Charlotte, the bright light in the Sui family — their one in a million — was diagnosed with several abnormalities, including a heart defect so rare that only one other family in the world was medically documented. Charlotte was terminal and lived for 97 days.
“The introduction to Canuck Place is never easy,” says Deborah, the Canuck Place Counsellor who spent time with the Sui family. “It means recognizing that Charlotte’s story was taking them in a direction no one wanted to go.”
This is a common response for families on our program. While the program includes end-of-life care, pain and symptom management, and a 24-hour clinical care line, our team of specialized pediatric palliative care professionals takes a holistic approach, including counselling and bereavement support.
“Deborah came alongside us in the darkest days of our lives,” says Jessica. “She provided practical help on what to expect after Charlotte’s passing, but more importantly, she allowed us to express our grief.”
Surviving loss is complex. The ever-changing emotional, spiritual, and psychosocial needs can seem overwhelming to families, but it is a needed service for the over 800 children and families on our program. In 2020/21, we saw a 56% increase in counselling sessions. Amid the pandemic, we pivoted to support families via phone and virtual counselling sessions in addition to home visits when it was safe to do so.
We take a client-centered approach to counselling and bereavement services, respecting the families’ wishes and building on innate strengths to help them adjust to each stage of illness and beyond.
Ongoing counselling support allowed the Suis to begin to learn how to heal. They attended various events organized by Canuck Place recreation therapists, including a holiday celebration that allowed their youngest daughter Willow to create shared memories of her sister Charlotte and the annual Remembering Our Children service, a special event that honours the lives of children who have passed.
“Part of the pain in losing a child is the loneliness of holding such an experience by ourselves,” says Jessica. “Canuck Place reminded us that we are not alone in our experience, that others walk similar journeys and that our hurts, doubts, questions, and even guilt, were validated.”
From diagnosis to end-of-life and beyond, Canuck Place is there when and where a family needs complex care. Families will face daily challenges and uncertainties, but our counselling team prepares them with unique care plans and coping skills to support their ongoing losses, and to help them find hope in the midst of despair. Grief support doesn’t take away the pain, but it helps families lessen discomforts, learn to express their grief and continue to live with it.
“Integrating such an important story into their family narrative is critical to their grief journey, and no one should walk this path alone,” Deborah notes.
Grief is not linear, it is a highly individual experience and often a long and difficult journey. On average, a child is in Canuck Place care for seven years, and their family on the bereavement program for three years. Our counselling team is committed to presence and companionship to hold space and validate a family’s experience. Their child matters, their family matters, their love matters. Even though Charlotte’s 97 days were short, her days were filled deeply with love, and that deep love creates traumatic grief after passing. But Charlotte’s light shines on through continued support from Canuck Place.
“Just as Charlotte’s mementos and photos grace the Sui family home, her presence graces their hearts.”
For 26 years, we have helped families find their way through the dark tunnel of grief, but not without donor support. You can ensure Charlotte’s light shines on and that families like the Suis receive counselling and bereavement support. Light a life this holiday season for children like Charlotte and the families who love them.