Helen Henderson couple surrounded by love as death nears

Breathing deeply from their hospital beds located a foot apart, Doreen and Colin Kotchapaw entered end-of-life care the first week of October at Helen Henderson Care Centre.

Acting quickly, staff placed the couple in the same room to allow them to die as they lived, devoted to each other, their family and faith.

“It’s a gift, really,” says their son Mark, 56, from a corner of the couple’s room that is bathed in soft light, relaxing music and fresh air. A bible with a bookmark sits on the nightstand, ready to be opened.

The youngest of the couple’s two children, Mark watched his parents transition to palliative care. 

“They are people of great faith, as we are,” he says, gesturing to his sister Colleen Edwards who arrived from Prince Edward Island six days ago. “They are transitioning to a better place.”

Watching as their parents die with dignity, the children seem at peace with the course of nature under way. Beneath the sadness of their impending loss is a beauty that will be treasured by the family as the couple’s last days together are remembered. 

Helping Mark and Colleen through this difficult period are friends and family who trickle in throughout the day to lend support and share fond memories. 

“All of the staff have been wonderful,” says Colleen, 58, who arrived at the home to find a staff member reading to her father. She smiles slightly when she reveals it was the staff member’s day-off.

“That was very touching,” she says thoughtfully. “We’ve had some special moments with dad here.”

“And mom,” adds Mark kindly.

“They had a life here. They had a community and relationships here. They had something to look forward to. They had love.”

Speaking on behalf of the home where Colin and Doreen lived for approximately two years, Assistant Director of Care Melissa Locke feels strongly people should die with dignity.

“Unfortunately, the stigma associated with long-term care is it’s a place to die,” she explains softly. “The truth is, our home is full of life. It is a place of laughter, love, family and community. Yes, with life, there is death. In these palliative situations, we support the resident, family and each other. The Helen Henderson family and the Kotchapaw family have come together to provide a loving, calm, peaceful space for Colin and Doreen to spend their last days with each other. It is a beautiful, comforting and tranquil place that is respecting Doreen’s and Colin’s dignity, as well as supporting the family surrounding them. This is the way palliative care is done.” 

A resident of Sydenham, Mark is relieved to have his parents comfortable and together. 

“It’s been a blessing,” he says gratefully.

Doreen and Colin died peacefully two-days apart; just three days after this article was written (October 2018). Helen Henderson Care Centre is keeping the Kotchapaw family in its thoughts and prayers.