Hospice has been instrumental in Colleen Burns's massive grieving process.
So when Ridge Meadows Hospice Society needed help wrapping gifts to raise money this Christmas, Burns quickly put up her hand to volunteer.
The 44-year-old Maple Ridge woman lost two of her loved ones in less than two years: her husband and her mother.
"You just don't know how you're going to cope until you're faced with it," Burns told The TIMES, admitting she thought she was well prepared being a funeral representative with Ocean View Cemetery.
But nothing prepared her to lose her husband, Enzo Perina, in a horrific motorcycle crash after only two years, one month, and one day of marriage.
And she admittedly hadn't even really began processing her grief when she learned her mother, Ceola Burns, living in Cornwall, Ont., had been diagnosed with fatal bone cancer in advanced stage, and given only a month to live.
With relatives taking one-month blocks of holidays to care for the matriarch - first at her home and the last three months in hospice care - she beat the odds and lived an extra 11 months, passing "peacefully" in April at age 83.
"Somehow, hospice helped out with a lot more than just her physical needs," Colleen said. "They were just incredible."
That had been Colleen's first real encounter with hospice, and she couldn't stop raving about the facilities and care, as well as the patients and volunteers who made a potentially tragic experience a little more positive.
"Hospice has been a lifesaver in more ways than one," Colleen said, explaining that, since her mother's death, she's connected with the local organization and has begun participating in a number of support groups and programs, including a complex grief group designed for people dealing with the loss of more than one person.
After months of surviving on little more than tea and toast, being abandoned by many of her "couple" friends, and subsequently isolating herself from the world - and, she hoped, from more pain - she connected with hospice, realized she wasn't alone, and began down the road to grief recovery.
"They've offered a lot of healthy and helpful services to get through this sanely. For that, I'm just so grateful," she said.
The only good thing to come out of all this loss, Colleen added, has been her connection to hospice. And now she has the opportunity to give back.
Colleen and her friend Bonnie Martin both volunteered for the Christmas gift-wrapping booth at Haney Place Mall leading up to the holidays. Colleen described it as fun and a good excuse to get out of the house.
"Sitting at home, thinking too much, that can be dangerous," she said. And while she found it a little hard at first, Colleen said she quickly realized people coming to the wrapping booth didn't need or want to know why she was there.
Instead, most wanted to share their connection with hospice, and why it was important to them, while helping to raise money for the cause.
It was such a rewarding experience that Colleen has concluded it's just the beginning for her.
She's anxious to get more involved, to help out - maybe on the fundraising end.
And now she hopes that by sharing her own story she can help educate people about what Ridge Meadows Hospice Society has to offer in the way of programs and outreach support services.
She also wants to educate the community about what it can do to keep the hospice going for others in need.
Raising money and awareness:
For the third year in a row, Ridge Meadows Hospice Society spent six days leading up to Christmas at Haney Place Mall, wrapping gifts in exchange for donations. More than 50 people volunteered their time, working more than 140 hours to raise between $1,000 and $1,200 for the local hospice. While hospice raised less money than in past years, organizer Kristina Murray said people are now expecting hospice to be there, and brought shopping carts full of gifts for wrapping - even some oddly shaped and sized gifts that, while challenging, made the days fun.
With all supplies donated this year, Murray said, 100 per cent of the money raised will go to hospice programs.
And while this is not one of the largest fundraisers of the year, the gift wrapping booth is an integral part of their public awareness efforts.