Something special happens when people come together, sit down, and share a meal (just ask Laura Coatsworth and Nicole Jackson).
Laura, a Counsellor at Sage Centre (a division of Hospice Calgary), and Nicole, Policy and Strategy Coordinator for Accessible Housing, have dedicated most of their lives to helping those in need. Through their work and volunteer initiatives they have proven to be caring, compassionate agents of change who devote their time helping others regain strength and independence to become whole again.
With both of them coming from not-for-profit organizations, shared meals are a common occurrence. Colleagues come together to collaborate, share ideas, and enjoy a brief escape from the hectic pace of their (often) unpredictable day.
Around the table, regardless of the food being served, the world slows down for a little while, the stresses of the day melt away, simple comments turn into discussions, and nods can turn into smiles and laughter. If we take a moment and reflect, some of our fondest memories involve holidays, special occasions, and a gathering of dishes shared with family, friends, and colleagues.
A BEAUTIFUL DINNER – HONOURING MOTHERS FACING SPOUSAL LOSS
In the spring of 2015, Laura noticed a common theme in the stream of clients coming to see her at Sage Centre … a significant portion were mothers who had recently lost their spouse. In addition, they had voiced similar thoughts, fears, and concerns pertaining to their traumatic experience. Similar to sharing a meal with her colleagues, discussing topics the group could understand and relate to, Laura wanted to bring these women together in hopes of providing another medium of support beyond Hospice Calgary.
Knowing this task would require careful planning and facilitation, necessary funding, and the help of others inspired to make a difference in the lives of these women, Laura reached out to her close circle of friends. Without hesitation, Nicole volunteered her beautiful set of classic china and put her love of entertaining to good use!
With a deep understanding of each other’s work, where there is never enough specialized help or physical resources to meet the demand, Laura and Nicole wanted to “create a more efficient intervention to reach more people, alleviating the pressure caused by scarcity”. In addition, they wanted to honour the participants with an experience that made them feel special, cared for, and beautiful again. They believed each participant should have a reason to dress up and put on mascara, possibly for the first time since the loss of their spouse.
Their desire was to create a connection between the participants by engaging them in meaningful conversation about adjusting to life after loss and the challenges of suddenly becoming a single parent. Great care and consideration was put into the selection of participants, cultivating the right group dynamic, and creating comfort as each mother (hopefully) shared thoughts about their own experiences.
Just a few months later, with the support of Hospice Calgary, “A Beautiful Dinner” became a reality as nine women found the courage to step out of their comfort zone, dress up, and share a meal with others in a non-judgemental and safe space. Bravery and optimism filled the room as each participant found comfort in the carefully facilitated discussion, opening up about their loss, and sharing their experiences as they took things one day at a time.
With Laura’s knowledge and expertise, voices within the group gradually grew in number as participants became more at ease with one another. This was the first time many of these women had the courage to share their most intimate thoughts, without fear of ridicule or judgement. This was also the first time they heard the words, “Me too!”, as they openly discussed the loss of their spouse and life as a single parent.
What started out as a room full of strangers seated around a dinner table has since evolved into long-term connections with women who can openly speak about, and understand, their spousal loss. “It has truly been a hope fulfilled” as friendships have been cultivated as a result of this first event, and continue to this day. Laura has also observed positive changes in some of the participants that far exceeded her expectations!
THE LEGACY CONTINUES
Although “A Beautiful Dinner” was developed to further support those already seeking assistance through Hospice Calgary, it is beyond the scope of what the organization can afford on a continual basis. As an organization providing highly specialized professionals and infrastructure to help people cope with grief, it could only allocate funds for the initial event.
Luckily, with the generosity and support of local businesses and charitable organizations, Laura and Nicole have since coordinated two more events, the most recent being at the newly renovated Deane House in Inglewood. With intentions of continuing this tradition for many years to come, including expanding these dinner events to other groups experiencing grief, these two remarkable women are hard at work planning the next one!
In the end, the ultimate goals if for their efforts to go beyond these beautifully planned events. The hope is for families to engage in discussions about personal loss and grief around every dinner table … long before they are necessary.
With the holidays just around the corner, this time of year can be especially hard for families who have lost a spouse (and parent). Laura and Nicole encourage readers to visit the Hospice Calgary website (www.hospicecalgary.ca) and visit the Children’s Grief Awareness Day website (www.childrensgriefawarenessday.org) for more information and resources.
ABOUT HOSPICE CALGARY
Hospice Calgary is a not-for-profit organization offering highly specialized services at both Sage Centre – Child + Family Grief Services and Rosedale Hospice. Fundraising efforts are essential to its ability to provide support for parents, families, patients, professionals, and volunteers. For more information, visit www.hospicecalgary.ca.
About DOTE Magazine
This article was published in Issue Seven (Fall/Winter 2017) and available on newsstands on October 7, 2017. Contact DOTE Magazine for more information.