When Bonnie Tompkins lost her fiancé Ian Clarke to colorectal cancer two years ago, initially she felt self-pity, questioning why she and Ian had been saddled with such a devastating journey.
It could have occupied her mind forever, except that she was determined something positive would come out of Ian’s death.
Now working part-time as Community Health Co-ordinator at Burlington’s Carpenter Hospice, Tompkins is co-operating with the City of Burlington to establish a Compassionate City Charter, educating residents to recognize that care for one another at times of crisis and loss is everyone’s responsibility.
Tompkins says it’s a community initiative to support people through all natural phases of life, and hopefully helping them become more comfortable with talking about death.
“The hope is that they will not feel so alone and are able to make more educated decisions about their end-of-life process,” she said. “The aim is to have fewer patients and caregivers not knowing where to turn. We want them to see that they have many options.”
The charter is a framework of 12 social changes that include placing guidance documents in schools and workplaces for dying, death loss and care as well as creating at least one dedicated group for End of Life (EOL) care in churches and temples.
Eliminating the increasing incidences of burnout by those caring for the dying is a major target and insitutions for the homeless and the imprisoned will be encouraged to have support plans in place for EOL care
It’s Mayor Rick Goldring’s goal to have the charter woven into the City’s 25-year strategic plan. The hospice also is planning to partner with the Knights of Columbus organization, which has made making sure nobody dies alone its new mandate.
Ian was diagnosed in 2009, but was able to continue working as manager of an auto dealership in Toronto until his condition worsened.
His preference then was to end his life in a medically assisted fashion.
“He was very scared of the process of dying,” Tompkins said. “He didn’t want to die at home and scar me. He felt he was a big burden to me.”
While Bonnie was sleeping, Ian would stay up at night at the computer making arrangements to travel to Switzerland, a country that allows euthanasia He also put aside enough money to purchase a one-way airline ticket for himself and a return for Bonnie.
“The idea was that he would be cremated over there and I would bring his ashes back to Canada,” she said.
Bonnie was initially opposed to the idea.
“It was such a foreign concept to me, I felt sideswept,” she said.
About 18 months after Ian’s diagnosis Bonnie started volunteering at the Carpenter Hospice. Her days were jam-packed, since she also was working as a personal trainer at a Burlington gym and attending Brock University in St. Catharines as a full-time student.
She suggested Ian consider the option of spending his final days at the hospice when the time came.
“He was dead-set against it,” she said. “He thought it was a bad place and would not enter it for two years. He wouldn’t join the exercise class either.”
Eventually, Ian went through a phase in which he became very angry.
“Between the two of us we decided he would go for counselling once a week,” Bonnie said. “The whole thing had been very hard on our relationship.”
The turning point in the decision-making came when Ian found out that if he did change his mind and enter the hospice, his yellow lab ‘Honey’ would be able to visit him.
“She had been like his little shadow,” Bonnie said. “Whenever he came home from chemo, she would never leave his side.”
Ian moved into the hospice in May of 2014 the day after Bonnie wrote her last exam in the third year of her public health studies.
“Honey came to see him every day,” she said. “She would run into his room and nuzzle his hand in the bed.”
Ian had been in the hospice for only six days when Bonnie noticed a sudden change in his breathing pattern and went to get a nurse. He passed away that day with she and ‘Honey’ by his side.
“The care at the hospice was great,” she said. “His parents and other members of his family could hang out in the common area and pop their head in from time to time.
“Ian had a lot of British friends he had emigrated with. Two days before he died we brought in a cake and a couple of bottles of champagne and had a party. The next day he fell unconscious.”
The Carpenter Hospice provides individuals who are dying, and their families, with free high quality palliative care in a home-like setting.
Since opening in May, 2002, it has served more than 2,000 residents who have ranged in age from 21 to 103 years.
Further information about the Compassionate City Charter initiative can be obtained by contacting Tompkins at the hospice at 905-631-9994, ext. 138 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by: Denis Gibbons