Why Counselling Support matters - a mother's story

How do you put a value on counselling support? Consider this story.

“My mother in-law had a brand new doctor,” says Dale Simon. “It was almost literally: ‘Nice to meet you. You have cancer. There’s no treatment. There’s nothing we can do for you.’”

Dale’s daughters were eight and 10 at the time. She and her husband were running a retail business together, and Dale’s father-in-law – who was living with Dale’s family – grew up in a generation where men didn’t cook or do housework. No one would have blamed Dale and her family if they had tried to place her mother-in-law into a full-time care facility to help lessen the load. But that simply wasn’t an option for her family, says Dale. “She was lonely and sad [in the hospital], and she wasn’t a big burden,” Dale explains. “We weren’t asking for her to be someplace else. We felt we could take care of her needs, and that was important to us because my husband was an only child, so it was just us.”

Dale and her husband arranged for Home and Community Care through Island Health, and registered with Victoria Hospice. They rented special equipment to help with bathing and care. They called the childrens’ schools to inform them of the situation and to request updates in case the girls struggled. And they began the task of managing their now even more hectic lives.

“It was a very difficult time,” remembers Dale. Sadly, within a month, it got even worse.  “The Monday night of the Thanksgiving weekend, my daughter put a cord around her neck and said that she wanted to kill herself because she was so far behind in school,” says Dale, still shaking her head at the memory. “It just didn’t make any sense to me. I couldn’t think of how this had happened.”

The following morning, with extra family that had come for Thanksgiving still staying at her house, Dale made a call to the school to find out what was going on. But the administration was of little help. They simply told her to home school her daughter to help her catch up, an impossible option given the other challenges Dale and her family were dealing with.

“This was half-way through my mother-in-law’s illness,” says Dale. “I just felt like I couldn’t do this. I was livid with the school. I just kept asking myself, ‘What is supposed to be happening?’”

Fortunately, that’s when she got a call that made all the difference.

“There was this one counsellor from Victoria Hospice who would call us every week or so, just to check in and make sure we were okay,” says Dale. And that day, the timely intervention arrived at exactly the right moment. “It seemed like a sign. Just when I was at my lowest point and ready to choke somebody, the phone rang.”

After listening to her story, the counsellor made a call to school. It turned out the school’s guidance counsellor was a colleague, who was able to intervene  with the administration. Together, they ensured  that Dale’s daughter got the support she needed with her schoolwork.

“It was a lifeline for me,” says Dale. “Here I was trying to help my husband, my father-in-law, and my daughters through what was the toughest thing we’d ever faced. It gave me an outlet. And to have someone like that - who could step in and take something that I didn’t know how to deal with off my plate entirely - it was such a relief.”

Dale’s mother-in-law died at home just two months after receiving her diagnosis. Caring for her wasn’t easy, and there were definitely challenges along the way. But thanks to the help of Victoria Hospice’s community counsellors (in concert with other care providers, like the Palliative Response Team) Dale and her family got the support they needed to ensure her mother-in-law could spent her final days in a place she knew, surrounded by a loving family.

That’s the value of Victoria Hospice counselling support.

Quality palliative and end-of-life care for all: Our mission is to enhance the quality of life for those facing life-limiting illness, death and bereavement through patient and family centred care, education, research and advocacy.