Branching out beyond hospice: End of Life Coalition encompasses grief and healing

Nov. 20—Hospice has long been known as a source of comfort and solace for those facing the end of life, and now the newly formed Haywood End of Life Coalition is re-envisioning the model to expand the support network for families and loved ones during their time of grief.

"We're talking about community grief services that are outside of the scope of what a hospice organization can do," said Peter Constantian, chaplain for Haywood Hospice and Palliative Care. "They provide care for people who are dying in the form of skilled nursing, chaplain visits, and social workers. But what happens after someone dies? We're looking at the bigger picture of grief."

The Haywood End of Life Coalition's vision is to aid Haywood County in being a community where "No one dies alone, no one grieves alone and where caregivers are supported and valued."

The coalition has already begun the groundwork in building their vision — offering programs for both adults and youth who are grieving and creating safe spaces for those in hospice care, their caregivers and families.

"There's not a lot of places that are providing these kinds of resources, providing this kind of care to the community," Constantian told a gathering of the coalition during a luncheon this week.

Constantian noted his experiences as a pastor following the flood of August 2021, and with the natural disaster came a different grief — one outside the realm of hospice.

"We want to create programs that are available to the larger community. For anybody who's grieving, whatever they're grieving, so that they can have a community where they feel supported," Constantian said.

When people make donations in their loved one's memory to Haywood Hospice, it has been deposited with the Haywood Healthcare Foundation, and then directed toward community programs for end-of-life care.

This past summer, a sizable anonymous donation for end-of-life care doubled the available fund to nearly $500,000.

Now, getting feedback from the community is imperative to steer how these funds are allocated. The coalition invites community leaders to attend a luncheon on Tuesday, Nov. 28, to open dialogue on the best way to utilize the money.

In the next year, the coalition hopes to take the necessary steps to form a nonprofit to make its vision a success.

"We really want to reach community leaders who have a stake in this kind of work. Because grieving, I believe, is how we heal from trauma. And we're living in a community and in a society where there's a lot of trauma," Constantian said.

Partners with the Haywood End of Life Coalition have already begun implementing ideas for a broader network of grief support and healing. There's a monthly grief gathering at the Coffee Cup Cafe at 3:30 p.m. the second Wednesday of the month, a mindful movement classes for grief and loss at Grace Episcopal Church, and creative healing workshops hosted by local jewelry artist Sherri Burch.

The coalition is expanding into youth support programs, with plans already finalized for a children's grief Equine Camp next spring.

The group hopes to gather more ideas for programs and services at the upcoming luncheon.

"Help lean into the complexity of this dialogue," said Patrick Davis, chaplain at Haywood Hospice & Palliative Care. "The more people we bring to the table, the more wisdom and knowledge we'll have as we decide how to invest these funds into the future of end-of-life care."

Constantian is working to craft a proposal for the community that incorporates recommendations and ideas that have emerged in the last year.

The to-do list

The coalition is also contemplating the formation of a nonprofit arm for Haywood Hospice to manage philanthropic donations, Davis said. While the Haywood Healthcare Foundation has served in that role, having a nonprofit specifically oriented to end-of-life care is a best practice — one that was shared at this week's gathering by a guest speaker with an end-of-life nonprofit in Tennessee.

Having venues to openly express and embody their grief are crucial in the care and support of the community — especially in light of the Homestead closing. The Homestead was a hospice house where patient could stay and receive hospice care during their final days and was constructed thanks to a community fundraising campaign.

However, after Duke LifePoint purchased Haywood Regional Medical Center, it closed the Homestead and began using the building as a wound care and infusion center. Haywood Hospice now provides hospice care within the hospital or patients' homes.

"We're all grievers," Constantian said at Tuesday's luncheon. "And one of the griefs I have noticed that this community is carrying is related to the Homestead house. From what I have learned from conversations with many of you, is that it was a beautiful space with a beautiful vision. In a way, I feel like that was taken from our community, and I just want to acknowledge the weight of that loss."

Davis said a physical space to house hospice patients is a void, and hopes the coalition can explore the idea of creating comfort homes where two or three people stay at a time.

Dr. Michael Pass, who led the volunteer movement that evolved into Haywood Hospice, also addressed the loss of the Homestead. Not having a homey setting to comfortably receive hospice patients has certainly been a loss to a lot of the community.

"Just having the possibility of similar care at end-of-life being back in the community is exciting," Pass said.

Community partners interested in attending the Nov. 28 luncheon can call Haywood Hospice & Palliative Care at 828-452-5039.