Maybe it is because my mother and family benefited from the services of a hospice when she was dying that I feel sensitive about the controversy surrounding the proposed building of a hospice on UBC’s campus. The predominantly Chinese residents of a nearby condominium have strongly opposed the proposed site saying having death so near their homes will make it difficult for them to remain in their residence.
In January the university held an open house which gave residents the opportunity to publicly air their concerns. The controversy that ensued led to the postponement of the proposal until UBC had the opportunity to further evaluate and research the residents’ concerns. There was some speculation that residents’ concerns were based on the fear that a nearby hospice would topple their property value.
Subsequent research by the University has shown that property values in areas where hospices have been built have, in fact, increased significantly (Canuck Place Childrens’ Hospice and a hospice in the Downtown Eastside have both increased well over 100%) thereby debunking the notion that the development of the hospice would compromise people’s investments.
So how do we talk about this without the conversation devolving into cultural misunderstanding and hostility? So the only way I can talk about it is from my own experience in personal terms.
Prior to my own mother dying, death was a black hole of a topic. I had no experience with it and from what I understood or had witnessed it was largely something people went and did somewhere else. Dying to me was scary. But then one day to your shock you find out that someone you know and love is dying and it suddenly becomes a part of your life.
I became familiar with hospice services when we discovered that it was the very best place a person can be aside from their own home when they’re on their last journey in life. Hospice care is the most humane, loving, comfortable form of care a person with life ending illness can receive. It’s designed to allow a person to die with dignity while also accomm0dating the needs of their family. Hospices are often in beautiful locations that try as best as possible to recreate a home-like atmosphere. The volunteers and staff are trained to embrace the dying as a stage of life we will all pass through and not as a disease that separates us from the living.
One of the ironies of life is that I actually felt quite alive during my mom’s stay in the hospice. Since then I have come to understand that the fabric of life is in constant flux right up until we draw our last breath. When you understand time is short everything becomes electric and infused with meaning even the most mundane things. To have the honour to be able to have this part of a person’s life take place in an amazingly supportive, beautiful, gentle and yes, inspiring environment was something that I will remember for the rest of my life. My mother deserved this.
Death isn’t an easy thing. But my mother and the hospice taught me that it’s an integral part of life. I would never compare dying to cultural differences because dying is simply a stage in life. But it’s one that we’ve been taught to set apart. I think as a society we need to embrace the difficult and the different. If we always turn away or segregate differences then I don’t really believe we can function as a truly humane and civil society.
What if I said I didn’t want people with physical challenges to live near me? Or people who dressed differently than myself? I’m not sure where this leads us as a civil society. But I don’t think it’s good.