Comforting Companions

Comforting Companions

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Contributors:

Mina Atia
Communication Coordinator

Living with a progressive illness can be isolating not only for those living with it but also for their friends and family. They try to provide support to let their loved ones know that they’re not alone, but it’s often difficult and the type of care they require is beyond their skillsets. For those who don’t live close and whose loved ones are not able to use the phone, they’re unable to stay in touch. And for others, it’s not that they don’t want to visit. It’s that they don’t always know how to communicate with their loved ones during a visit, as their abilities change.

Having watched her brother slowly lose his abilities to Multiple Sclerosis, Yvette Gagnon started to realize a new calling. After his illness became life altering and he entered a facility for much-needed around-the-clock care and assistance, Yvette left her 14-year career to start Comforting Companions. Its vision is to help families provide companionship support for their loved ones through a very isolating and emotional time, a time Yvette has herself experienced. For her, it is about meeting their loved ones where they are living, both physically and mentally.

“I started Comforting Companions to help families care for those they love,” she says. “So they would know there was support out there from people who truly understood their challenges and wanted to spend time with their loved ones. To bring joy to their days and help them in any way they needed.”

Comforting Companions Care Providers Inc. focuses on the emotional and social wellbeing of loved ones. Whether they live at home, in a retirement community or a long-term care setting, they are provided with consistent companion support that caters to their diverse needs.

“Equally our services are focused on the families who love them and hire us, and I think that is part of our success,” says Yvette. “Families want to know someone is there for them, so we stay in regular contact with every family, so they know that their needs and wants are gently mixed into our visits with their loved ones.”

The focus of comforting companions is not on physical care but more on providing emotional care depending on where they are in life. Whether a client is starting to have difficulty with daily tasks at home or is more advanced in their illness and is unable to move and speak, the companions find comforting ways to engage them. They adapt by learning as much as they can from families and friends to create a sense of wellbeing.

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As Yvette's brother's disease progressed, she looked for other ways and other people to keep him company in between their family visits-finding comforting companions

Family history of needing comfort

Early on in her life, Yvette’s mother had experienced undiagnosed symptoms of MS for years. Within a few short years of her diagnosis, Yvette’s younger brother was experiencing similar symptoms, discovering he too had MS. With a very aggressive form of MS in his early 30s, he moved into a long-term care facility after only three years.

“I had no idea what this journey of MS was about to take, and it resulted in affecting me in a profound way by now doing what I know is meaningful work,” says Yvette. “I was working at the time with a very demanding job but always found time to be there for my brother and help support him in ways that mattered to him.”

“The dark reality of long-term care is that you know things will get worse as disease progresses for your loved one, but you have to force yourself to stay in the moment and not look too far ahead but at the same time ‘plan’ ahead.”

Over the years, Yvette continued visiting her brother regularly. They shared their days listening to music and finding reasons to laugh. However, living in care was not kind to him as Yvette watched his abilities slowly deteriorate to the point where he was unable to move or even talk. “My heart ached for him, but I couldn’t let him see it,” she says. “Instead, I chose to stay focused on what I could do to help him laugh and smile every day so he wouldn’t feel alone on his journey.”

Yvette and her brother spent precious time together focusing on what he was able to do and found ways for him to give back to others. She would think of gift ideas and would put them together for him– –from him to others. As his disease progressed, she looked for other ways and other people to keep him company in between their family visits. “I realized how important it was for his wellbeing to know he mattered, was loved and cared about by those who loved him,” she says.

“People often think that because my brother was 47 when he passed and living in long term care since the age of 33, that my story is different than theirs because most of our clients are 65 plus and often living with dementia,” says Yvette. “But families soon recognize that age has no bearing on wanting the best for those you love.”

Providing purpose-driven comfort and companionship

Families and friends of loved ones living with progressive illnesses are continuously challenged. It can be a very emotionally charged and long journey for them, so building a team of support early on can help them take the time they need to care for themselves.

“Our visits can be passive or active, quiet or fun, social or one-on-one. And while the activities or experiences may be different, the way we communicate is always based on where clients are, so they feel like they have purpose and meaning to their days.”

Most of Comforting Companions’ clients live with some level of dementia– –some newly diagnosed and some who require 24/7 care. “Our role, however, is the same: to be a caring and kind presence,” says Yvette.

Yvette pursued a certification as a Certified Dementia Practitioner received in December 2019 from International Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners. The certification helped her better understand dementia, learn and teach how to communicate effectively with clients experiencing changes to their brain functions. “I believe that many dementia-care skills and training can be used widely and not necessarily just for those living with it,” she says.

Prior to that, Yvette also received certification as a Positive Approach to Care Trainer. The PAC training, support and education focus on a relationship approach to dementia care and help others see dementia from the other side by using hands-on skills instead of telling.

“I had lots of help along the way growing Comforting Companions and feel truly blessed that we can help other families in such a heartfelt way on their journey,” says Yvette. “I could not have done it without the wonderful team of fabulously kind, committed companions who are so caring and sensitive to their clients’ wellbeing, and I receive emails regularly from families telling me how wonderful they are.”

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Comforting Companions share daily reports with families, who are offered a real sense of how time was spent with their loved ones -- showing families the moments of the visit the can only come from the heart

Comforting a loved-one’s family across the country

Operating since 2013 and incorporated in September 2020, Comforting Companions boasts having the best caring and thoughtful companions who are making a difference in their client’s days. They share daily reports with families, who are offered a real sense of how time was spent with their loved ones– –showing families the moments of the visit that can only come from the heart.

“I felt Yvette’s caring touch in our first telephone conversation, and my family and I agreed that we would set the service up and see how mom responded,” says Shelley Dix, who had enlisted Yvette as a comforting companion. “While our intent was providing the companionship for our mother, what we experienced was that we all benefited from the services.”

After moving her mother to a nursing home to improve her safety and quality of life, Shelley found the transition very difficult while living in Ontario during the pandemic. Isolation, restrictions and limited support became real for her and extremely difficult for her mother living with Alzheimer’s. After asking the nursing home’s social worker asking about other options, Shelley was referred to Yvette and Comforting Companions.

“What I found particularly helpful was the written reports Yvette provided after each visit,” says Shelley. “They were detailed and helped us understand how our mother was doing, and it was obvious to all of us that she had better days when Yvette visited. Even in mom’s final days of life, Yvette was there for us providing comfort to mom plus support and guidance to our family.”

“Our family was united in that Comforting Companions was the best decision we made in our pursuit for mom’s care plan, and our only regret was not having found them earlier.”

Following her mother’s death, Shelley and her family wanted to show their appreciation to Yvette and how much they valued the work she and her companions continue to do. “We thought the best way for us to demonstrate this is to leverage the power of a Chamber membership,” says Shelley.

“It was a small gesture of our family’s appreciation to provide her with an annual membership to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, as I know the value of its membership and hope it helps connect families in need with Yvette and her team.”

Comforting Companions Care Providers Inc. continues offering their caring companionship services even during the pandemic. It’s also planning to expand by offering communities and businesses information sessions to understand dementia, because it affects everyone– –more than 402,000 seniors (65 years and older) are living with dementia in Canada.

“Having a greater understanding of what may be happening, and how to best support someone having a difficult time, is our responsibility as a caring member of society,” says Yvette. “We all want the same things for our loved ones no matter their illness or age: to feel joy, connection, love and laughter. Because in the end, that’s really all the matters.”

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Comforting Companions is planning to expand by offering communities and businesses information sessions to understand dementia, because it affects everyone

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