Volunteers helping patients ease their final days on Earth.

United Way-supported Palliative Manitoba helps people at the end of their journey, and the people who grieve for them.

By Jessica Botelho-Urbanski for the Winnipeg Free Press. 

When people near the end of their lives, Irvine Hildebrand helps them knock items off their bucket list.

Hildebrand, 73, has volunteered with Palliative Manitoba since 1997, helping terminally ill people live their final days comfortably, whether in home or in hospital.

Irvine Hildebrand has been volunteering with Palliative Manitoba for nearly 20 years. JESSICA BOTELHO-URBANSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Irvine Hildebrand has been volunteering with Palliative Manitoba for nearly 20 years. JESSICA BOTELHO-URBANSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

He’s been matched with more than 25 people over the years and helped them accomplish things others might consider mundane, such as going for lunch at a food court.

“Another chap I remember, we would go out just about on every visit… we would take off to a shopping centre, St. Vital Centre or Polo Park or somewhere for lunch. His background was that he’d been in sales and he wanted to see what the customers were still doing in the stores. It was as if he’d gone back to work. He just loved it,” Hildebrand remembered.

He told another touching story about a man he took care of who wanted to visit his wife in her personal-care home. She had Alzheimer’s.

“They just sat there together holding hands,” Hildebrand said. “They sat the same way and I swear they never spoke two words that whole afternoon. But going home, he couldn’t stop thanking me for that phenomenal visit he had.”

Helping people fulfil small wishes such as these has also been rewarding for Hildebrand.

He started volunteering with Palliative Manitoba after he retired and was looking for a new purpose.

The sad reality is many people don’t make time for caring for the ailing or elderly anymore, Hildebrand said. So now he has time to lend a hand, he does so regularly.

“That’s the main reason we get involved. Family just doesn’t have the time. It’s not that they don’t want to (care for their relative). In North American society now, the priority is work,” Hildebrand said.

Palliative Manitoba also offers bereavement services, on top of one-to-one care where volunteers are matched with patients to visit.

The organization keeps afloat thanks to donations from United Way Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and fundraising efforts, notably the Memory Tree placed at St. Vital Shopping Centre during the holidays (The Memory Tree is actually a bereavement service rather than a fundraiser. Up to December 24 people can write a message on a beautiful card to place on the tree to acknowledge and remember lost loved ones.)

United Way has provided core funding to Palliative Manitoba since 1992 and, through agencies like this one, hopes to help thousands of more Winnipeggers struggling with unexpected tragedy, disability, or physical and mental-health issues.

Hildebrand will help with the Memory Tree starting next month. He’s also waiting for a new person to start visiting — his last companion died a few weeks ago.

He’s ready to listen and visit again. It’s the best gift he — or anyone — can provide someone in their final days, he said.

If you would to help Palliative Manitoba with a donation to United Way Winnipeg, visit www.unitedwaywinnipeg.ca/give or call 204-477-UWAY (8929).

Republished with permission from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 24, 2015.