Her Excellency’s Address on the Occasion of The Vita’s House Hospice Afternoon Tea Party

Her Excellency Mrs Reema Carmona Address on the Occasion of The Vita’s House Hospice Afternoon Tea Party at The Hyatt Regency Hotel – May 1, 2016

The purpose for this communal gathering this afternoon is celebratory as it is sobering. It not only encompasses the subject matters of illness and death but also signals to all, that physical suffering has a human palliative in the form of dignity, respect and genuine care.  I lost my beloved father to the ravages of brain cancer and I recall, with every operation, his independence, his mobility and most of all, his sense of self diminished.  I therefore have a full comprehension of what a terminal diagnosed person experiences; the depth of his/her emotion, the sense of resignation, and the complexity of eventual acceptance.  I have walked that emotional gauntlet.  As your Patron, I know the helplessness, the hopelessness and the pull and thug at the family fabric.  It made me realize, that it is not the quantum of years in our lives that really matters, but rather the quality of life in our years, more so, in those final moments.

Focus we must, this evening on the purpose of our advocacy, to remember those we have lost, as well as raising a greater sense of awareness, for those who are still fighting the fight, and those who have won.  Of course, we must not and cannot forget the families, and caregivers, and I refer to actual family members and those strangers who, in the struggle, become family members.  They are all required to manage financially, emotionally and mentally, the physical pain and emotional distress that both their loved ones and adopted loved ones face.  Nothing is more trying than seeing someone you love and adore, suffering and in pain.

Personally, I have to thank the Vitas Hospice for assisting without hesitation, a dear family friend, Alfred Tang Ming, who has since died but I can attest to the sense of peace and comfort, that the Hospice not only brought to the deceased but to his beloved family.  Their gratitude is immense and beyond words.

I recall being told of the experience of a woman, a Ms Hadeed, whose father was diagnosed with cancer.  Her finances did not afford for the requisite medication and she was referred to a doctor for assistance.  Upon their arrival at the office, her terribly sick father had to stand in line and wait his turn.  This working woman called her boss to explain her situation, that she would be late for work.  He held no genuine concern or empathy for her dilemma and his attitude was, ‘isn’t he going to die anyway?’  His only concern was his business and it opening on time.  He displayed no compassion mainly because such ‘insignificant’ things do not affect him or rather has not YET affected him, and the Vita’s House Hospice is there to remind us in real terms that there must be greater understanding and empathy by all, especially those bosses in the work place when a staff member’s relative is at death’s door.  An event like this sensitizes those, who don’t know better.

The father of Ms. Hadeed is gone but she is with us here today, giving support and reassurance.  Her lesson is a simple one and it is a message that lives eternal.  She did not allow the fight for dignity, to die with her loved one.  Never allow your advocacy efforts to waiver, even after your loss. In that regard, I do recall Ms Sharon Inglefield who lost her son in a car crash and, much to her credit and sense of humanity, she stated in so many words, that when she lost her son, she made up her mind that this must not happen to another mother, and his death must not be in vain and she formed the organization, Arrive Alive.  Through her advocacy, and her organization’s advocacy, she has raised the bar as it relates to one’s responsibility as a driver and the authorities role, in ensuring that breaches, will result in the appropriate legal sanctions.  Vitas House.  In like manner, has an exceptional philosophy of care and service, that is proving to be transformational, and I wish to acknowledge publicly every single board member:

Madam Chair Dr. Jacqueline Sabga
General Manager, Mrs. Lila Mootoo
Mr. Anthony Aboud
Justice Humphry Stollmeyer  ( Retired)
Mr. Mark Laquis
Dr. Sanjay Pooran
Mrs Pat Stollmeyer
Mrs Paula Moses
Mrs Lisa Hadad
Mrs Donna Stone

I cannot and will not forget the sterling service and contribution of Dr George Laquis, your founding father.  I salute you Dr. George Laquis and all the stakeholders for a job well done and your unstinting commitment to service.  Continue to be a light in people’s dark hours.

With so much focus being placed on subventions from governments, and the charitable acts of corporate society, it becomes easy to overlook the phenomenal power, we as individuals and as communities, can bring to the table.  We have the power to change the unchangeable; we have the power to deliver dignity to the dying.  Yes, collectively, as advocates, we have the power to make a difference in the lives of those, who have already received their final number, and this afternoon’s event, is evidence and ample proof not only of what we can do but what others can do as well.

Many of our citizens have a skewed view of the Vita’s House Hospice.  It is not a place to die but rather a place of transition, to live quality time before you die.  The Vitas House Hospice is a place for terminally ill cancer patients who have been given a diagnosis ranging from mere days to a few months to live, and not die or exist.  As its name suggests Vita – meaning life and Hos – meaning shelter, they seek to provide their patients with a place of compassionate refuge and relief; a place where they can find peace, and come to terms with and resolve their internal conflicts; a place where palliative care is provided, and dignity is preserved through unrivalled service.  We commend the volunteers and staff at Vita’s House Hospice for their strength and courage.  They too face the constant tough realities of life and death daily, and the physical and emotional wear and tear that comes with such mortal loss, cannot be underestimated.  Their only solace, lies in the act and service of helping others, providing care and kindness with a deep sensitivity, always enshrouding their charges with a sense of peace.  With the inadequate assets available to them, and the limited medication provided in Trinidad and Tobago, they press forward in this battle of life and death, firm in their belief, that each life is valuable, to the very last breath.  There are no shortcuts for the patients at the Hospice.  They are allowed the right to retain their sense dignity and self-respect.  The Vitas House Hospice is a magnanimous demonstration of the power of humanity in action.

Penultimately, my humble suggestion, is that we need to expand and spread our message of care, respect and service. Life and death are imponderables that go beyond status, wealth, position, ethnicity or religion.  There is a need however to improve and augment institutional capacities for those in their last hours throughout the country and we need to aggressively source funding from individuals and corporate entities in various demographics where the need arises.  Why not have a Vitas House in South  Trinidad supported and funded by the business communities located there and likewise a Vitas House in Tobago with similar support and with the same international standards that exist in Port of Spain.  After we have done this in Trinidad and Tobago, we can possibly spread this message of care, hope and service throughout the Caribbean, possibly getting assistance from the Caribbean Development Bank and even the United Nations as possibly part of the UNDP programme.  In my humble view, you have created an international brand, the Vitas House Hospice with international benchmark standards.  In passing, it is indeed regrettable, through no fault of their own, that The Vita’s House Hospice has been unable to formally register as a legitimate NGO, as they are indeed legitimate.  With registration, they would be able to reap the benefits of such registration by way of funding and other institutional and corporate assistance and support.  I give you the assurance that you have my unstinting support to effect same.

His Excellency the President awaits the requisite documents for his signature with bated breath!

As your Patron, I urge you to safeguard and maintain your vision and tenacity. Let us all continue to advocate and support, an environment that affords for a dignified death, and allows for that transcendent hope into the lives of those, who have the unfortunate destiny of looking on, as their loved ones drift away with every passing day.  Vita’s House, your fight is a good blessed and Godly fight because you “Enhance the quality of life and dignify its terminal stages, through your special care, respect and service.”

I thank you.