“I feel like I am forever linked to hospice and it is forever linked to me,” says Brock Nicholson, a co-founder and vice president of the New West Hospice Society (NWHS).
Brock was first introduced to hospice and palliative care when he was only eighteen years old, when his mom, Carrol, was diagnosed with end-stage lung and brain cancer.
“She was admitted into the palliative care unit at Peace Arch Hospital on New Year’s Eve 1993,” he says. “The care – the whole person care – she received, as well as the care shown to my dad and I, was amazing.”
Carrol died on February 16, 1994.
“I’ll always remember the nurses and volunteers who were there for her, and who then afterwards, provided bereavement support to myself and my father.”
Later that year, the pair was asked to take part in a short video produced by the BC Hospice Palliative Care Association. ‘Journeys’ was a film that featured various members of a palliative care team, including nurses, doctors, social workers and volunteers, and focused on introducing hospice and palliative care concepts and philosophy to the general public.
“The film actually ends on a photo of my mom,” Brock shares. “It’s a real legacy.”
The legacy of ‘Journeys’ followed Brock throughout his graduate work in the field of Gerontology – the study of the social, cultural, psychological, cognitive, and biological aspects of ageing.
At his orientation with Burnaby Hospice Society, he sat down and watched as they played the video.
“It was astonishing and emotional and seemingly meant to be,” he says. “That was twelve years ago, just as my career with hospice was beginning. And now I’ve been from Burnaby, to Crossroads Hospice Society, and now New West.”
For Brock however, no matter where he found himself, the foundational element to his hospice work has remained constant.
“I’ve never stopped trying to understand what each individual person and family I work with needs, and how I can best support them where they are at.”
This approach goes back to the person-centered care he witnessed and that was given to his mother, his father and himself.
“I have such a personal connection to this work, but I also see it as deeply human, universal, and compassion-based,” he says.
It’s also work he believes that also goes beyond the health care system.
“Dying, death, loss and grief are part of life and are there in all areas of our community – workplaces, schools, community centers,” he says. “Conversations about end-of-life and grief are important so people know what to say and do when these topics inevitably come up in life.”
Helping facilitate and normalize these discussions is partly what drove him to sign on as co-founder of NWHS and what drives his continued work with the board.
“I’ve been learning from the best in this work,” he says. “Including the other board members, staff, volunteers and the countless community leaders and organizations whom we’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with.”
He credits fellow co-founder Kay Johnson for promoting an ‘anything is possible’ mindset.
“We’ve done so many unique and incredible things so far,” says Brock. “Arts shows with the Arts Council, a festival around the theme of loss at City Hall, and now we’re working on advance care planning for homeless citizens.”
This work inspires him in both his career and personal life to take risks and advocate for initiatives that he believes in.
“It has also helped me learn what diversity and inclusion really means and how it needs to be part of the conversation surrounding dying, death, and grief from the outset – and not as an afterthought.”
It’s been equally energizing to see different individuals, of all ages and backgrounds, continue to get involved with NWHS
“There are many ways to get involved – it all depends on where your interests lie,” he says. Board member, Compassionate City Crew volunteer, fundraising, festivals, grief groups – any way you look at it, we’re all working to treat people with care and compassion every day.”
As Brock believes, there will always be inspiring and important work to take on with the hospice movement.
“It’s why I have devoted my career to it and why I wanted to start something extremely meaningful and amazing with New West Hospice Society. I really think the next chapter for New West Hospice Society will help us build a truly compassionate city.”
For Brock, it’s all a part of his mother’s continued legacy, and one that he sees living on with his young daughter, Lynn.
“I do this work to leave a legacy for my daughter, and intertwined in that, we share stories of the grandmother she didn’t get to meet. The impact of both, I know will live on for generations to come.”