Since 2015, a group of 17 volunteers have spent more than 1,800
hours sitting with people who are dying in Calgary hospitals.
No One Dies Alone (NODA) arranges for a volunteer to sit with
a dying person in the last hours of their life.
The program is geared toward patients who don’t have
family or friends available to be with them in this most complex
and profound time.
“Sometimes, a patient has outlived their family, they’re too
far away or they might be estranged,” says Diane Gow. She
has volunteered with NODA since it started in Calgary. The
volunteers get psychological supports, mentoring
“I’ve been with people who want your presence but they
don’t really want you that near. And I’ve been in other
situations where you’re right in there with them because they’re
in pain or scared, or whatever it is they’re feeling in their last
moments, they need you really close.”
“It’s such an honour for me to come in,” Gow says. “I’ve been
with people who are just so scared of death. You can’t answer the
big questions, but you can certainly be with them as they make
Roberta Saltvold volunteers with NODA in Red Deer. This
year, she won a President’s Excellence Award for lifetime
achievement for her volunteer work.
“I felt a calling to visit those who are sick and, in so doing,
be of service to others,” Saltvold says. “It’s very rewarding
— Jennifer Allford
Joe Old Woman knew he was dying, but the 68-year-old
husband, father, grandfather (and cowboy) had come to
terms with it. A Siksika Nation resident, Old Woman had
been looking forward to a celebration of life, which was being
organized by his family for him, and to thank his community
for their support during his illness.
The event was to take place at his home, but before it could
happen, his health took a turn for the worse. He was admitted
to the Bassano Health Centre and the ceremony was cancelled.
Site manager Simone Empson heard from Old Woman’s
family how disappointed he was over the cancellation of his
celebration. She and her team—including Chris Maloney, Helen
Stuart, Cindy Young and Sandy Halldorson—decided to help
them hold it at the hospital.
Health centre staff, the Town of Bassano and others rolled
up their sleeves right alongside Old Woman’s family to make
it happen. The Horn Society—one of seven societies within
the Siksika Tribe—put up Old Woman’s teepee on the hospital
lawn for a sweetgrass ceremony and smudging. The Siksika
Fire Department set up a tent beside the teepee, where a feast
for more than 70 people was served. The Town of Bassano
provided picnic tables.
Old Woman saw the teepee from his window every day after
that until he died two weeks later.
“He was so happy to be able to have his teepee so he could
go inside it one more time,” says his widow, Debbie Old
Woman. “It was such an honour, the way it all happened.”
— Sherri Gallant
No One Dies Alone (NODA) H Celebrating a life H
Patient- and Family-Centred Care Patient- and Family-Centred Care