HHA 2018 Changemaker of the Year Nominee:
Written and Submitted by Terri-Viola Wilson
Can advocating for end-of-life rights and choices become contagious? That is what Kayla Moryoussef is hoping will happen through her Home Hospice Association volunteer roles as a Death Café facilitator in the downtown Toronto area and Project Manager for all of HHA’s Death Café’s. Furthermore, her mission is to help create a society that recognizes that everyone has a right to a dignified and good death, however they define that and regardless of where they call ‘home’.
Kayla came to HHA after volunteering as an in-home palliative care provider. During her six years in this position, she had seen how those dealing with the impending death of a loved one often saw pets as a burden. Then someone told her about the Bello Project. And so began her volunteer journey with Home Hospice Association, a charity with which she has found a common vision. This is not just about pets and owners. It’s about providing the dying person with end of life choices. It’s about acknowledging death and how a person wants to die.
While Kayla serves in various ways with Home Hospice Association, such as the Volunteer Engagement Committee, what she describes as her ‘main project’ with HHA is as a Death Café Project Manager. Kayla is able to nurture dialogue and cultivate caring communities by hosting open forum discussions about dying and death. She has discovered that every Death Café session is different and that the dialogues are as “infinitely diverse” as the people participating in them. She feels that talking about death is “just talking about life and living” and that framing it in this way makes it less scary for the participants. There seems to be a movement towards a greater acceptance of dialoguing about death in public forums and Kayla is excited to be among others at the forefront of that movement through her volunteer work with HHA.
For inspiration in her life, Kayla need look no further than her hospice clients. Reflecting on her first client, she explains that he “single-handedly inspired me to pursue a career committed to end of life care.” Every week, when she arrived at his home, her client smiled at her and asked how she was doing. He genuinely cared about her life, though facing the end of his own. And when, one night, Kayla glimpsed the little coat of one of his children thrown on the back of a kitchen chair, she felt the profound loss this man would be for his child. She became overwhelmed and humbled and she began to realize what a privilege it was to be “invited into his home, his life, and his family at such an intimate and vulnerable time.”
Whether participating with people as they
encounter death through dialoguing at Café’s or
sitting bedside with a dying client, Kayla feels
privileged. Kayla acknowledges that working with
others in these ways has enhanced her capacity
to care for her loved ones at the end of life. She
feels better equipped to access the appropriate
resources, when the time comes, and to “act as a
liaison to ensure that everybody is appropriately
involved” as per the wishes of her dying loved one.
With volunteering being crucial to the
wellbeing of individuals and therefore, the
communities in which they live, caring for
volunteers becomes very important as well. Kayla’s describes her experience with HHA in this way: “I sincerely feel that I am a part of a family, where everyone is included, everyone is uniquely important, and everyone is appreciated. HHA has been the most truly collaborative community I’ve ever been a part of.”
Kayla plans on continuing to be a part of the proliferation of Death Cafés and hopes to see a growing number of caring communities that nurture dialogue and advocate for the rights for end-of-life choices. Ultimately, Kayla says that she is lucky to live in Canada where “the space and support for agencies (such as HHA) with such an important mission, exist.”