Meet Pam Lappin, Eastern Zone’s Hospice Palliative Care Bereavement Coordinator
A native of Sydney, Pam Lappin obtained her Bachelor of Arts at the University College of Cape Breton, then moved to Halifax where she worked as a youth worker while studying for her Bachelor of Social Work at Dalhousie. She decided to return to her studies at age 40 and was admitted to the Master of Social Work program at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.
Over the years, Lappin has worked in a variety of settings. “I’ve bounced around,” she says in a lighthearted tone. “Whenever something came up that was interesting to me, I’d think, I want to try that!” Two jobs in particular come to mind when she considers their impact on her approach to grief counselling and support.
For ten 10 years, Lappin worked for the Mik’maq Family and Children’s Services of Nova Scotia and Wagmatcook First Nation, supporting adults, children in care and foster families. Reflecting on that experience, she acknowledges, “I learned firsthand the importance of relationship, compassionate communities and rituals in the grieving process.”
In early 2008, Lappin joined Nova Scotia Health. Over the past 15 years, she has worked in a variety of settings including inpatient and outpatient mental health, emergency crisis, as a team member of Sydney’s Island Family Health Care, a collaborative family practice and, since August 2022, in her current position with hospice/ palliative care. According to Pam, “Nova Scotia Health has been a great place to both practice social work and make invaluable connections to community groups working in tandem with Nova Scotia Health programs.”
As Eastern Zone’s Hospice Palliative Care Bereavement Coordinator, Pam embraces the model of grief support which takes the lead from the grievers themselves, wherever they happen to be in their unique process. “Throughout the palliative care journey and after the death of their loved one, we offer various forms of support, which can be accessed by referrals from staff or self-referral. Family members also receive a mail-out of community resources, to let them know they can reach out to us for support. The service is available to them any time in their grief process, if they choose to utilize it.”
“Sometimes the person will simply want periodic supportive phone calls,” said Lappin. “Others will want in-person visits, it’s really as unique as the individual. At Hospice Cape Breton, we offer a safe space for folks to come and spend some time in silence if they wish. They can choose to express themselves in writing and post it in the Reflection Room, to share with others.”
She adds, “That way of connecting goes to the heart of what we, the staff and volunteers, offer folks who come to us for support in the grieving process. We meet them where they’re at, knowing everyone grieves at their own pace, in their own way.”
In addition to Lappin, who does grief counselling and the volunteers who make the supportive phone calls, the Eastern Zone is fortunate to have a music therapist who is completing a practicum as part of her Registered Clinical Therapist master’s program. She has extensive grief work experience and is facilitating grief groups and engaging participants in creating grief songs. Recognizing the power of music to process difficult emotions, Lappin hopes supports like this will continue to grow in the rural areas.
As an example of the invaluable connections made with community groups, Pam highlights Bereaved Families of Nova Scotia, a not-for-profit organization that’s been in operation in Cape Breton for 30 years. Their monthly walk-in support and share sessions are open to anyone in the community 18 years and older who is grieving the death of a loved one. The organization’s up to date Facebook page lists each month’s activities taking place in Sydney and other locations in Nova Scotia, including Antigonish, Shelburne and Yarmouth.
When asked what is the most important message, she would like to convey on this third Tuesday in November, Canada’s National Grief and Bereavement Day, Lappin replied: “Grieving is a normal human experience that is as individual as each griever. There’s no timeline and no set way to grieve and we carry our losses throughout life. However, doing the work of grief allows us to integrate our loss and engage back into life. The more we can normalize death and grief as a part of life, the more we can free ourselves from judgments about what grief should look like. By creating compassionate spaces in our communities, we can reduce the isolation many grievers feel.”
She adds, “Research tells us that 60 per cent of grievers are able to process grief by relying on their own resources and 30 per cent need additional support, such as grief groups or supportive counselling. About 10 per cent benefit from clinical therapy to reduce adverse physical and mental health outcomes.”
As a caregiver herself, Lappin knows from firsthand experience the importance of replenishing one’s energy by participating in activities that bring joy. For Lappin, it’s attending as many music concerts and performances as she possibly can, anywhere. “My husband and I love attending Stanfest each summer and we got to see Billy Joel this year! But my all-time favourite was Bruce Springsteen.”
Who’s still on her bucket list? Who else but Lady Gaga!
Photo of Pam Lappin,