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Seniors home finds way to give residents dignified final send-off

'They exit through the front lobby, the same way they came in,' says official at IOOF facility in Barrie
Peggy Sauve, assistant director of resident care at the IOOF Home in Barrie, displays the dignity quilts that were donated by the Elmvale Presbyterian Church craft group.

It’s such a simple thing.

But the volume of respect it signifies is unimaginable.

The impact it has on surviving family members, equally so.

It’s called ‘code dove’ and it’s a special paging phrase that has been introduced at the IOOF Seniors Homes as part of the homes’ new palliative care program.

When a ‘code dove’ is announced, staff and residents join the family of the deceased as they gather at the front entrance to say goodbye as the resident leaves the home for the last time.

“When our residents are leaving, they exit through the front lobby, the same way they came in,” said Peggy Sauve, assistant director of resident care at the IOOF on Brooks Street in Barrie. “It’s all about respect for the individual and their family. 

“We hold flameless candles, play their favourite music and take one last chance to say goodbye,” she added.

Prior to the new program being implemented, residents who passed on were quietly and without fanfare, taken from the home via a backdoor to a waiting hearse.

According to Sauve, the first time the home held a ‘code dove’ it was life altering, something she’ll remember forever.

“It was incredibly moving,” Sauve said. “To see the appreciation that the family has, knowing how their loved one was cared for when they were here.

“It’s almost like having a celebration of life at that moment when they’re leaving, to say ‘thank you’ for enlightening us with your presence here,” she added.

As the resident leaves the home for the last time, their body is covered with a dignity quilt, designed and handmade by members of the Elmvale Presbyterian Church Craft group.

An ensemble of a dozen or so, the members of the group have been getting together to create handmade original items for the past eight to 10 years. They recently donated three dignity quilts to the IOOF Home, their third donation over the past seven years.

“One of our first projects was for a local nursing home in Elmvale,” said Marlene Lambie, a retired nurse and member of the craft group. 

“They were looking for a dignity quilt. After we did the first one for the nursing home in Elmvale, June Ritchie, from our church, who is heavily involved in IOOF Home, wondered if we could do something for them," she added. 

Lambie said making the quilts for IOOF was an easy decision. She has first-hand experience with the impact the quilts make on the family of the deceased.

“My brother-in-law was one of the first to use the dignity quilt in Elmvale,” she said. “It was quite emotional for me as it was shortly after we donated it.”

That first dignity quilt has, quite literally, taken on a life of its own.

Her husband’s cousin, who works for a local funeral home, keeps tabs on the quilt and lets her know when he sees it being used.

“He’ll call and tell me that they’ve used it for so-and-so,” she said. “It happens more often than you think.”

The quilts themselves are little jewels of love. Each one is unique and custom designed. The themes range from horses to flowers and virtually everything in between. 

Sauve said the dignity quilts offer enough diversity in their design that they connect with most residents, albeit for different reasons.

“We do a life profile when people get here,” Sauve said. “We talk about their life, their hobbies, their favourite music, what they liked and what they did.

“We want to know who that person is as a human being.”

Who they were, Sauve said, directly impacts how they go out. She said residents play a vital role in crafting their final farewell. 

Sauve encourages everyone, at that stage of life or not, to have that conversation with family — let them know how you want to be remembered. She says it’s worth the time and effort.

“I think the most memorable goodbye was a resident who loved Elvis, his favourite musician,” she said. “We played Elvis loud. We were all singing and dancing and the family was thrilled.

"We had tears streaming down our faces, but we were still living in that moment," Sauve added. “That chance to say goodbye, knowing it’s the last time you’re going to see or touch that person, I think is just really important.”

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Wayne Doyle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Wayne Doyle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Wayne Doyle covers the townships of Springwater, Oro-Medonte and Essa for BarrieToday under the Local Journalism Initiative (LJI), which is funded by the Government of Canada
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