“I like the sense of community here, having been in so many other communities and this is where I chose to set up. I just like the people,” Sue Skeates, 69, said.
Skeates is the board chair, volunteer coordinator and educator for the Terrace Hospice Society, and she isn’t kidding about having lived in so many other places.
Originally from Ontario, Skeates took her registered nurse exam in Vancouver and stuck around in the province doing more courses and eventually finding herself helping to build Indigenous housing in the northwest.
“I came to Moricetown and anyhow, there was a bar, there was a man, and sure enough thereafter I was married to the guy who built the Shoe House in Smithers,” she said.
“He became a teacher and I was in nursing, so we traveled to a lot of places, to the Arctic and Middle East and Guatemala and different places working and living and it was a great life.”
Skeates is the type of person that needs to move, experience new places and can’t be confined in one spot for too long. Skeates enjoyed spells in Kuwait, China, New Zealand and more, even coming close to a stop in Antarctica.
She and her husband Toby discovered a research project about living in isolation. In the summer, Toby was a fire lookout and fit the bill, so the couple was good to go.
But then, unfortunately, the ship that was supposed to take them to the continent caught fire and “that was the end of the adventure before it began.”
It is difficult for Skeates to pick a favourite place.
“The favourite place for easy and friendly was Oman in the Middle East, my favourite place for challenging my assumptions was China, my favourite place for feeling Canadian was in the Arctic. I mean, every place we went, there was some kind of favourite.”
Eventually, Skeates took a job teaching nursing at the University of Northern B.C. in Terrace. Then, an accident changed her life and the Terrace Hospice Society gave her a chance to recover.
One day when she was on sabbatical in 2012, Skeates was struck by a car and lost the ability to do some of the things she used to.
“Going to hospice because my nursing background, I thought ‘easy peasy’ and it wasn’t. I couldn’t read, I couldn’t write. I said, ‘well, yeah, sure, I’ll be chair of the board, oh, yeah, sure I’ll be the coordinator and then the reality of not being able to read and write settled in a little bit,” she said.
Two years later Skeates was still working on her rehab, and now she is able to read again. The hospice society was a part of that journey.
“Nothing but good people to work with, [it was] good, because it gave me purpose in life, it was a good place to regrow.”
The main reason that Skeates joined the hospice society was to help with the difficult task of setting up a dedicated hospice house in Terrace. Currently, the closest facility is in Prince George.
To start a hospice house, the society needs both land and an operational plan, two things it is currently without. So for now, Skeates and the society are focused on building relationships in the city and region.
“We’ve been working on developing the community so that the community understands that we’re not their enemy. We’re not the Grim Reaper,” she said.
“Whereas really, we’re quite supportive. We have a really good team of people that do amazing stuff, and come to liberate a lot of people in a funny sort of way, you know, this is the end of life and I want it to be the best end of life I can provide.”
Not having a hospice house means that the society needs to support people in several different ways, such as with peer support groups, programs for caregivers, information, home care, grieving programs, workshops and others.
One of the more interesting initiatives the Terrace Hospice Society is a part of is the Death Cafe — a virtual meeting place to have a directed discussion about death. Another is AssistList, an online marketplace for used medical equipment in northwest B.C.
Each of those programs are important, but for Skeates, a hospice house in Terrace is far and away the most important goal.
“Hospice house is our dream … and we all kind of know it’s impossible, but on the other hand, who wants to say it’s impossible? Because it’s such a gift to the community and it’s really vitally important.”