I had the pleasure of spending time with Patti in action and am proud to call her a friend. Patti has graciously shared her time and experience with us in this interview. I hope you find it as enlightening and uplifting as I do.
Patti Walker smiles, shows up and makes a difference everyday. Patti’s official title is the Regional Bereavement Coordinator at the Lois Hole Hospital for Women. This is one of many roles Patti holds within a typical week. She is an avid card maker (Stampin' Up), a life long volunteer for Girl Guides, and a leader of ParentCare. You may also find her on the streets of Calgary teaching square dancing during Stampede, where she has been a volunteer for 30 years. Her huge heart also makes a home for her darling animals, dog (Hermes) a senior cat (Jasmine), and a brat cat (Minerva).
Patti works with bereaved families at the hospitals of Edmonton during the day and connects with these families through ParentCare, online communities and associations by night. Countless grieving families in Edmonton know Patti as a gentle, talented and compassionate caregiver. What some might not know is that Patti’s path to supporting others has been paved with multiple tragic losses, both of the families she supports and of her own.
A busy mom with a passion for helping other’s Patti has had her heart broken open by the devastating loss of three children. Patti’s first pregnancy ended in loss at 15 weeks where their family said goodbye to Ernie Walker. One year later, in a life threatening delivery, Patti and her family suffered another great loss when she delivered Perry Walker stillborn at 30 weeks 5 days. In 1995, Patti welcomed her beautiful daughter Anastasia (Ana) Walker. Ana and her elder half-sister Suzanne spent 5 glorious years together with their parents. On a summer holiday in June 2000, tragedy stuck again as their precious daughter Suzanne was taken at the age of 18 in a pedestrian accident. No matter the distance and time Patti, Cam and Ana continue to cherish the lives of their lost loves, remembering and honouring them always.
Walk us through the your professional path to supporting other's on a daily basis? I was a public health nurse - and absolutely loved it!. I was drawn towards supporting the families that had had a loss, partly because of my personal experience. I have been in my current role (it does not seem like a job) for 10 years. I have facilitated ParentCare (one of Edmonton and areas pregnancy loss support groups ) for 20 years. I have my Death and Grief certificate from Dr Alan Wolfelt. Recent certificate in Holding Space for Pregnancy Loss from Amy Wright Glenn. I organize our hospital burial program and the Annual May Memorial. Chair AHS and Covenant Health Pregnancy and Infant Loss program. Organize (with the help of my other facilitators) ParentCare's annual candlelight service at Christmas time.
Having personally lived through multiple sides of grief, what are some of the key learnings you have experienced over the years? I have learned that each story is unique. It is my honour to witness the story , but each parent is the driver of their story. It is important to care but not carry someone else's story. And the biggest thing I have learned is to breath in and breath out
When working with families dealing with a recent loss of a child, what are some of the common messages that resonate with you? What I feel is the unconditional love. How much each child is wanted, and missed and loved. Even though this is not the story anyone wanted for their baby, they continue to be that baby's parents for the rest of their lives.
What are some healing practices that you have found along your journey? One experience that I often reflect on - I was supporting a family during a medical procedure and the baby died. I was devastated (obviously not as devastated as the family). I came home in (mega) tears. My wise husband asked me (without knowing the specific details) Did you influence that family's decision? I replied - I don't think so, I think I supported their decision. Then he asked me if I made a difference being there? My reply was yes. So now I often ask myself for each family I meet - Am I making a difference for that family and in that experience?
The importance of self care - and to do things TOTALLY different from grief (for example, card making, Girl Guides and Square dancing)
Also the importance of sharing. This work can be too heavy to do alone. I work with great colleagues that always are there to support.
What are some of the ways you carry your lost precious ones with you? I think of the losses in my life everyday. Sometimes with a heavy heart, most often with reflection. (November 2016 I lost my dad, Bill Cunningham- who was my mirror to life). I wear a heart shaped locket with photos of Suzanne and Perry. I have a Pandora bracelet with charms. In my front entrance I have a wall for my dad. With all his Stampede pins (he received his 50 year pins before he died) - see photo
How do you mentor or coach other health care professionals to support grieving families? I do a lot of staff education as well as nursing students about how to support families at the time of a loss. I am present to staff if they need to debrief. I invite students to attend Parentcare. And a lot is lead by example.
What three words would you use to summarize a day in the life of Patti?
Heart filling, Rewarding, Eclectic
What closing remarks you would like to share?
To quote Dr Alan Wolfelt - "Find your passion, not your pension”. And I believe I have
Forever grateful. Thank you Patti!
To learn more about Patti’s story see her feature article in the Wanted Chosen Planned Community https://www.wantedchosenplanned.com/my-life-line-guest-blog-by-patti-walker/