When a lifetime is brief, the most significant moments we remember are often not what we imagine. For families at Canuck Place, it is often the tiniest moments that have lasting impact.
Parents Hollie and Chris Hall were apprehensive when they were first introduced to Canuck Place. They met the Canuck Place team at BC Children’s Hospital while their youngest daughter Lily was battling a rare, malignant brain tumour at just 16 years old.
“At first, we were not happy to see people at Canuck Place because we knew it was a hospice for children,” Hollie explains. “It was scary and confusing as we had so much hope that Lily would recover.”
But Hollie and Chris soon discovered hope and heartbreak live together at Canuck Place. While the second floor of the hospice is a medical facility, to care for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families, it is also a place filled with joy. A place where memories are made and families can be together while their child receives care.
Canuck Place is a sanctuary that nurtures the entire family in a holistic way.
Canuck Place is BC and the Yukon’s only pediatric palliative care provider and for over 28 years, it has cared for children with over 190 different diseases and conditions—as well as their families. Canuck Place provides complex palliative care for children ages 0-19 and families, which includes medical respite, pain and symptom management, and grief and bereavement counselling. The program also includes music therapy, art and education, recreation therapy and memory making, all focused on ensuring kids can be kids.
Recreation therapy is a key component to helping families live in the moment. Canuck Place recreation therapists, supported by family and peer volunteers, facilitate annual camps, community outings, and special events, all designed to ensure families can spend quality time with the time they have left together. In 2021-22 alone Canuck Place organized 546 virtual and in-person recreation therapy sessions for 2,477 children and families.
“Canuck Place children and families are risk takers,” Laura Fielding, the Recreation Therapy Manager at Canuck Place says.
“They’re fearless, funny, and most importantly, they show us how to live life to the fullest every day.”
The Canuck Place recreation therapy team moves mountains for children and families, attempting to make every moment memorable.
“They made Lily feel extra special,” Hollie recalls. “They went above and beyond to try and alleviate the anxiety and sadness she was experiencing with her diagnosis.”
The recreation therapy team arranged for Lily and her family to go on exciting excursions such as Vancouver Canucks games or the ballet. Tender memories were also made to bring surprise and delight to Lily in her final days.
Only a couple of days before Lily passed, Lily wished for a bath. A bath! Recreation Therapy Manager Laura made sure that bath was extra special and made a trip to buy Lily exuberant amounts of bath bombs.
“I will never forget how Laura made that trip,” Hollie notes. “Lily was loved and completely cared for.”
Facilitating memories that families can remember for a lifetime is just one of the ways Canuck Place supports families. Even after a child dies, Canuck Place walks alongside families, offering comfort, support, and precious mementos to cherish.
For children nearing end-of-life, the recreation therapy team creates memory-making keepsakes that serve as treasured items to keep families connected even after their child passes—a tangible memory of a life lived.
Once again, Laura and the Canuck Place recreation therapy team helped facilitate precious memories for the Hall family when they came to their home to make a family hand mold.
“It was a time for us as a family to laugh and feel connected—literally—during what really was an incredibly sad time,” Chris explains. “We got to escape the reality that our daughter was dying and have a joyous time.”
The team also created beautiful silver pendants with Lily’s fingerprint and name engraved on the back. Hollie wears hers every day.
At Canuck Place, every light is precious, no matter how long it shines. Although Lily passed away at just 19 years old, her bright light shines on thanks to the treasured memories the Hall family was able to create with the time they had left together.
In 2021-22, Canuck Place saw an 8% increase in infants, children, and youth on program needing complex, medical care. Canuck Place provides critical care support to families facing the most unimaginable circumstances. But not without donor support.
You can light a life for children like Lily this holiday season. Every gift received will light the journey for families facing unimaginable circumstances and help them create precious, tender memories to last a lifetime.
Light the way. Give today. Donate by December 31 and your gift will be triple matched.
A version of this story appeared in The Abbotsford News on November 21, 2022.