On October 4, all carers (past and present) – and friends of Amitayus – will be celebrating 20 years of serving our Byron Shire community. Those of us who work as volunteers with Amitayus often comment that the ‘gift’ of service is a gift that flows both ways: a shared relationship. And that’s the real heart of our celebration: the privilege of serving our clients at such an important time in their lives.
Byron’s Hospice Service is a charitable, non-profit NGO whose trained carers offer compassionate support to people who are dying – or living with a life-threatening illness – and who choose to be cared for at home among family and friends. We work completely free of charge, and our trained carers are all volunteers. Our organisation is funded solely by donations.
In early 1994, a group of friends decided to help their friend Marcus – who knew he was dying – to spend his last days at home, in his own place, on his own terms, and with his close friends, all of whom had agreed to care for his practical and personal needs.
Inspired by their experience of caring for their friend, a few of his friends called a public meeting on October 22 at St John’s Hall in Mullumbimby.
Over 100 people attended and a working committee was formed to begin the process of establishing Amitayus Hospice Service.
A Buddhist monk named Pende Hawter had been instrumental in setting up a service in Brisbane called Karuna Hospice Service. Pende’s help was invaluable in setting up a training program for carers, in determining that our service would provide in-home care only, and also in our calling ourselves Amitayus, which means ‘Buddha of Infinite Light’.
Amitayus was immediately very busy – for ten years or more – often with eight to ten clients at a time, with several carers per client, each doing one or two shifts per week for several weeks running. The coordinators were in constant need of new carers, which kept our team of trainer/facilitators very busy as well.
Recently our work has been equally shared between hands-on care and training. The provision of palliative care in Australia has improved in recent years owing to increased family awareness and support, as well as a welcome increase in the amount of care providers (public and private) working in the community.
In addition to providing support for over 200 clients and their primary carers over the last 20 years, Amitayus – Byron Hospice – has enabled hundreds of people in Byron Shire to better care for their own loved ones, family and friends.
Initially run as ACE courses, Amitayus now runs courses at Byron Community College.
Called Last Aid: Caring for the Dying at Home, courses are open to those wishing to explore the mystery of death and dying; the personal, emotional and practical aspects of serving a dying person at home; grief and loss; and to learn about funerals, wills, advance directives, etc.
The Last Aid course is also the first training required in applying to be a volunteer carer with Byron Hospice and is available online through Byron Community College: Term 4.
To contact Amitayus/Byron Hospice, call 6684 3808 or email [email protected].