Kamloops seniors home says goodbye to deceased residents with honour guard

A Kamloops, B.C., seniors home is taking a unique approach to saying farewell to deceased residents through a special ceremony and gathering. 

When a Pine Grove Care Centre resident passes away, the staff and fellow residents gather in the lobby to pay homage to their lost friend with an honour guard. 

These ceremonies began in December 2018 when Park Place Seniors Living, which owns and operates Pine Grove, learned, through focus groups with residents and their families, about how their facilities could improve and help during the death and dying process. 

Prior to their first honour guard, recreation manager Wendy Romanowski spoke with families about their plans going forward. One woman in particular was strongly against such a public farewell. Her husband passed away shortly after that initial conversation, and Romanowski approached her with the idea again. She agreed, and the whole family participated. 

"They felt it was the best thing that we could have done," Romanowski said. "She phoned me that night and said that was the most amazing, amazing thing that could have happened."

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Before honour guards became commonplace at Pine Grove, residents were distracted and staff would take the deceased person out the back door. No one would know their neighbour had passed away, until they weren't sitting at the breakfast table the next day. 

"It was like we were trying to protect our residents here, and you can't protect them," Romanowski said. "We all know that's part of life."

"It was sneaking them out the back door which was not respectful."

To the best of Romanowski's knowledge, Pine Grove is the only seniors home that hosts a ceremony like this for its residents. 

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The ceremony begins with the family spending time with their loved one in a special room. When they're ready, one of the local funeral homes is there to wheel the individual out as the family follows behind.

As they walk through the halls, music is played and staff and neighbours stand to attention as the family goes by. The procession heads out the front door, where the deceased is loaded into a van to be taken to the funeral home. 

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Pine Grove resident Riley Wight has seen 30 honour guard ceremonies in the three years he's lived in the centre. 

"We're in here as a big family," he said. "So when you lose a family member,  you like to remember them. This just really honors them."

"We put the wings on them, so that [they] can fly higher."