The Sharon Carstairs Caring Community Award is the first of its kind to recognize community-based efforts in palliative and end-of-life care with a $1,500 gift.
This year's recipient is Plum Coulee resident, Amanda Nickel, founder of the Raelyn Nickel Memorial Book program, a project inspired by her infant daughter.
"She was my first daughter. She was born here at Boundary Trails (Health Centre). After birth, we found out that something's not quite right. So she got sent to the NICU (Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit) in Winnipeg, and then we found out, things are a little bit more serious and she is terminal. Once we found that out, the process began to start planning the palliative care journey. That's when we transitioned back home. So we were blessed with three months, just shy of three months."
After receiving similar books from Winnipeg during their time in palliative care, Nickel recognized the need for this type of support in this region. She sought help from Shannon Samatte-Folkett, Executive Director of the Boundary Trails Health Centre Foundation (BTHCF).
"I take no credit for this award or program as a whole," said Samatte-Folkett. "I met Amanda at a darker time in her life. She came to my office to discuss donations made in memory of her late daughter, and how best those dollars could be used. We bonded over a shared experience of losing a child. We wept together, and have since developed a partnership as well as a friendship. She thoughtfully researched books that she felt would be great tools for families, especially young children, experiencing loss and grief. The goal is to add more options for different age groups. And with winning this award, it will help. I believe she deserves all the recognition, I'm just happy to be able to help in some small way."
Nickel says the program is intended to provide families with books to help them talk about death, dying, and in particular, their loved one.
"So much of what we do in palliative care concentrates on the patient, and that's right and proper," said Carstairs prior to announcing this year's recipient. "But the family is left, following the death of this loved one, with a terrible bereavement, a terrible lack of understanding of why it's happened to them. Nowhere is this particularly so grievous as with a child. And that's why I think this book award, the Raelyn Memorial Book Program, is so special. It recognizes that a mother understood that she wasn't the only one going through this, that there were many families experiencing similar grief. She reached out and said, "what can I do to make this better?"
Nickel describes the program as a small project with a huge impact on grieving families.
"The program is providing literature," said Carstairs. "But I suspect it goes beyond the literature. I suspect the books are just a small part of what's going on here. Because in the exchange of books, you exchange friendship. That is what is so critical."
The $1,500 award will fund the purchase of another 38 book packages to be given to families with members in palliative care at BTHC.