Hospice staff recharge in reflection room

When Shauna Taylor is having a rough day, she goes into a quiet room at work, sits down next to a meditation table with a sand bowl and prays to Creator.

Shauna is an LPN Clinical Co-ordinator at Dulcina Hospice at St. Marguerite Manor. Working in a hospice is rewarding but difficult, with caregivers experiencing intense emotions as they journey with residents and families through their grief, joy, anger, frustration and loss. 

“The work that we do in hospice can be very heavy at times. And if your cup is empty, there’s really not much to pour into anybody else,” says Shauna.

Recognizing the need to provide a quiet space for staff and residents’ families, Dulcina Hospice has set aside a small reflection room where people can go to pause, meditate or pray. For Shauna, it’s an opportunity to practice her Métis traditions.

“I get a real calm and peace and purpose and encouragement from nature and from my Creator. For me to be able to sit on the ground and put my hands in some sand and tell Creator, ‘You’re going to have to help me through this one because I’m not quite sure how I’m going to do this’—spending that five minutes makes a huge difference for me.”

Built in 2017, the reflection room features comfortable chairs, soft light, relaxing music, an electric fireplace, flameless candles and a sand bowl.

“The room is like a sanctuary,” says Gio Di Vincenzo, Chaplain at Dulcina Hospice. It’s a welcoming environment for people of all faiths and cultures. 

The bookshelf holds a Qur'an, a New Testament and a Book of Mormon along with reflective reading material. Some Muslim families use it for their daily prayers. The room is available to all families but it is most commonly used by staff.

“The work we do here is intense,” says Gio. “You need to be able to walk with awareness and deliberation and also be able to let go of what happened in one room with one family before you enter another one.”

Those reflection breaks may be brief, but they make a big difference, says Lorelei Sawchuk, Nurse Practitioner and Education Lead with Covenant Health’s Palliative Institute

“It allows you that protected space to recharge, catch your breath, re-energize.”

Lorelei has worked in palliative care for 26 years. She says evidence shows that mindfulness practices, meditation and yoga are healthy strategies for caregivers.

“Compassion fatigue will build with time and with intensity. So it’s helpful if you have an opportunity to step away for a few moments. And maybe stepping away not just by yourself, but with someone else who might be experiencing the same thing.”

Lorelei says when designing a reflection room, it’s helpful to appeal to as many of the five senses as possible. Soothing decor and relaxing music engage the visual and auditory senses. And touching the sand, sitting on comfortable furniture or kneeling to pray on pillows provides a tactile element.

The reflection room has become part of the culture at St. Marguerite Manor. Shauna says if staff notice someone having a challenging day, they will suggest the person head to the room for a break.

“As caregivers, we’re not really good at self-care, so we remind each other.”

In the last 18 months, Shauna has lost her adoptive father, her mother-in-law and her birth grandfather. Working with grieving families while also dealing with personal family loss is difficult, but she finds space and time to process in the reflection room.

“I find that creativity helps me in those moments where it’s kind of tough,” says Shauna, who takes her adult colouring book into the reflection room on her lunch break. “I’ve found that creativity sparks something in me and fans that flame a little bit and also fills my cup again so that I can be ready for what happens next.”

Shauna feels most connected to Creator when she’s outdoors. But when it’s cold or she doesn’t have time to go outside, she finds a similar connection in sitting on the ground next to the meditation table with the sand nearby.

“You get reminded of the fact that you’re human and that you’re made up of mind, body and spirit,” says Shauna. “And asking Creator to give you a touch of those areas so you can go back and do what you’re supposed to is key for me.”

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