For the last 10 years, Hospice Renfrew has been normalizing the process of dying.

The agency offers much comfort to patients in their final days.

A piece of strawberry and vanilla cake sits on the table beside Robbie Kraft’s bed and she places her hand on a birdwatching book.

Maureen Sullivan-Bentz, Hospice Renfrew’s executive director, says this is the best room to birdwatch.

Kraft’s eyes light up and she seems full of life talking about the birds she has seen in her three-week stay away from her home in Pembroke.

“It’s been a rough road … here it reminds me of home,” said Kraft.

“If it gets any better, I just can’t explain it. I don’t have to lift a finger.”

So far she has seen two partridges, as identified by the book.

“I’ve got to make sure I am naming the right birds,” she says with a smile and a twinkle in her eye.

She said if she had the help at home it would be different, alluding to why she needed to come to hospice.

“Everything is good here, they will have me all fattened up,” she says with a chuckle. “It’s just beautiful, I am receiving phenomenal care and I just can’t explain how good it is here.”

Her husband chimes in.

“It’s so good she doesn’t want to go home,” Don added.

Living: it is what Hospice Renfrew is about.

“You come to hospice to live and not to die,” said Jim MacKillican, who went to his first meeting for hospice in 2005. He is now an advisor on the Hospice Renfrew board. “You come here to live in the best possible way.”

Connie Legg has been one of the driving forces behind Hospice Renfrew from its first meeting. She now sits as an advisor on the board.

Her proudest accomplishment over these 10 years is how they have normalized a little bit what a residential hospice is.

“It’s not a scary and dark place, it is quite the opposite,” said Legg who admits the process was a slow start because people did not know what a residential hospice was. “It was a really good idea and we were really passionate, but we had no guarantee that it would work. It was, ‘if we build it will they come?’ I think there was a little bit of a stigma about going to a place where people die … We have become part of the community and accepted into I think what people now realize is a really important part of health care in Renfrew County.”

The first rural hospice in Ontario will mark its 10th anniversary on Jan. 28, the first day it officially welcomed a patient.

Since then it has served about 1,000 families who have come to receive palliative care in their dying days.

The six-bed facility serves all of Renfrew County with all programs and services free of charge. However, Hospice Renfrew is required to fundraise half of the annual budget, which is $630,000.

All board members acknowledge the amazing community support.

“The fact is it’s just such a compassionate part of our community and we have volunteers that are helping to operate this facility,” said Legg of the 70 active volunteers who provide 7,000 volunteer hours of service each year. “We have community support that people are willing to give of both time and money to keep us a float.”

When it comes to marking the monumental anniversary, they decided to give back to the community.

“We wanted to thank the community for the financial support and engage the community,” said Sullivan-Bentz.

Some of the events are fundraisers and the others are more about awareness. Events include: Feb. 11 at the Arnprior Library: Children’s Super Hero Meet and Greet; April 6: Paint Night at Arnprior Library; May 6: Hike for Hospice; June 21: County Wide Longest Day of Golf; July 7: Secret Garden Tour; Aug. 17: Aikenhead’s Classic Golf Tournament; Sept. 23: Yoga Retreat; Nov. 10: Hoot Reboot; and in December the Holly Jolly Radiothon.

Another new initiative is the Power of 10 campaign, in which 10 family members or friends each raise $100 for a total of $1,000 (or for kids $10 each for a total of $100).

“Each $100 – that is one trip to the grocery store – and if 10 people raise $1,000 that pays the hydro bill for the month,” said Sullivan-Bentz. “We are really trying to show people what their dollar gets.”

Hospice is also partnering with St. Joseph’s Catholic High School, which has chosen Hospice Renfrew as its charity of choice for the next two years.

The students have toured the facility, raised funds via a walk, and even baked 30 tins of cookies for the residents over the holidays.

“It’s all about engaging the younger generation on what hospice and palliative care is all about,” said Sullivan-Bentz.

And as they look to fundraise and move forward into the next 10 years and beyond it is that next generation who is already showing they are up for the challenge.

by Tiffany Lepack
Tiffany Lepack is a reporter with the Renfrew Mercury. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.