On a cold winter day, 91-year-old Ed Wilson waited for the signal that it was time for his wife to leave their home.
“Mrs Wilson is leaving the building for the last time,” came a voice over the intercom.
The simple statement was a powerful message to everyone who heard it. It let Ed, fellow residents, family and staff know they could gather at Youville Home’s entrance to say farewell. Ed’s wife, Jean, a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, died at Youville Home on Jan. 22 at age 87. The announcement was part of her Honour Guard. It occurs when a resident is being transferred to a funeral home. A brief but meaningful show of respect, the Honour Guard acknowledges the resident’s life and time at the home, and is shared by all who can attend.
“I loved Jean,” says Ed. “The Honour Guard meant the world to me.”
Ed and Jean Wilson were married for 36 years and spent their last years together at Youville Home in St. Albert. Living on different units due to the level of care each needed, the couple was able to spend time together.
Over the years Jean’s dementia progressed, but Ed says she remembered him until the end.
"Jean was a beautiful lady," says Ed. "I look forward to being together with her again."
Cecilia Marion, Senior Director of Operations for Youville Home, says the Honour Guard is important as it honours the person who has died, provides an opportunity to comfort family members who are present and supports staff who are also grieving.
“The Honour Guard is about supporting people. For the person who died, it honours their life and it keeps the dignity of that person up front and centre until they leave the building for the last time.”
“We honour the person who has died. It's a real expression of gratitude because as you see this person leaving, you think of all the best stories, the best memories and what a gift this person has been in your life,” says Chaplain Marieta Paul.
The Honour Guard started at Youville in 2018, after Registered Nurse Karen Pliska shared that she’d experienced it at a different facility when her father had died and how much it meant to her.
Youville staff decided that since people move in through the front door, they should leave the same way. To provide the resident with dignity, Volunteer Co-ordinator Monica McFadden arranged with volunteers to make quilts to cover the resident as they leave.
“The quilts are beautiful,” says Marieta. “They're comfortable and homey, rather than institutional.”
The Honour Guard is also an important opportunity for staff, who care for residents and experience loss, says Cecilia.
Marieta says the Honour Guard draws many people each time it takes place.
“Perhaps it was just the right thing, or how it was presented, but it's really been supported and there doesn't seem to be a feeling of awkwardness at all,” she says. “There's sadness and tears because you know it's the final goodbye.”