For the Hall family, learning to find hope in unimaginable circumstances was a difficult journey.
When Chris and Hollie Hall’s daughter Lily was 13 years old, she was diagnosed with a rare, malignant brain tumor. After many years of treatment, the Hall family found their way into Canuck Place care in 2017, when Lily was 16 years old.
Canuck Place supports families in holding hope, while facing the uncertainty and understanding that their child will live a short life. Canuck Place supports children with life-threatening illnesses and families like the Halls to navigate the complexities of grief, while cherishing the precious time they have left together.
“At first we were not happy to see Canuck Place staff because we knew they were a hospice for children to go to die,” Hollie explains. “It was scary and confusing. We had so much hope that Lily would recover.”
This is a common feeling of fear for families who are introduced to the Canuck Place program. Coming to terms with the understanding that their child’s illness is incurable, is devastating. Lily passed away at 19 years old on November 25, 2020.
Canuck Place Counsellor, Andrea Johnson, worked very closely with Lily. “Adolescents and young adults who are living with advanced disease are often navigating between wanting to live aspects of their life they lived prior to their disease and living with the changes in their life introduced by advanced disease,” says Andrea.
“Supporting families of children and youth living with life-threatening illnesses requires whole family care and attention to everyone’s needs. As the Canuck Place counselling team, we support young people living with disease and their parents and siblings who love and closely walk with them,” says Andrea.
On average, a child is part of the Canuck Place program for seven years and their parents and siblings remain on the bereavement program for an additional three years. This is an incredibly difficult and lengthy road to endure, but Canuck Place walks alongside families with complex pediatric palliative care and helps create a safe space to navigate their complex journey of grief. All at no cost to families.
“Canuck Place has offered continuous support that helps us walk through tender moments,” says Hollie. “The care at Canuck Place is unique because they take care of the entire family and nurture everyone in a holistic way.”
Canuck Place continues to support Chris and Hollie in their grief and loss of Lily. They meet regularly with Andrea and they attend a bereavement group with other Canuck Place families.
Andrea explains that the loss of a child introduces raw and sharp grief to the parents and family members who love them. “Living with grief is an intentional and effort-full process as families integrate their grief and loss of their child and create a different life informed by this integration.”
When faced with a life-threatening diagnosis, the complex and ever-changing emotional, spiritual, and psychosocial needs can seem overwhelming to children and the family members who love them. Canuck Place counsellors understand this and are trained to help families cope with raw grief and adjust to each stage of the illness and beyond. This past year alone, Canuck Place saw a 27% increase in grief and bereavement counselling sessions.
Canuck Place is there with love, care, and guidance when and where families like the Halls need it most. Grief support doesn’t take away the pain of losing a child, it helps families find coping mechanisms, learn to express their grief, and continue to live while holding their grief.
“To be witnessed and seen in grief, is extremely meaningful and can push back against the isolation that grief can impose,” Andrea notes. The Canuck Place counselling team journeys closely with families and supports them along this complex path.
Every gift received this holiday season, will support children like Lily and their families live fully with the time they have left together. With you, Canuck Place gives short lives the chance to shine. Light the way. Give today.
Donate by December 31 and your gift will be triple matched thanks to our generous sponsors.
A version of this story appeared in The Vancouver Sun on December 16, 2022.