Grief support group to be launched in March

John Borgwardt came to the Cayman Islands to retire but he’s found it’s hard to give up the working life when you love what you do.

The former funeral director and lay minister was asked to take over as manager of the palliative care provider after volunteering at Cayman HospiceCare for several months.

‘Once I got fully involved, I grew to love what I was doing,’ he said. ‘I enjoyed retirement but this is more fulfilling.’

The timing was unfortunate, to say the least. Borgwardt joined the non-profit organization – which provides free nursing care and support to people with life-threatening illnesses – shortly before Hurricane Ivan.

‘For the first four months I was doing disaster management not hospice management.’

Located just off Crewe Road, Hospice House sustained around $20,000 in damages from the storm. They operated out of temporary offices at the Cayman Islands Cancer Society headquarters while the building was being repaired, returning home about a month ago.

‘We’re slowly getting up to speed.’

With the worst now behind him, Borgwardt is looking ahead to boost the organization’s profile and bring additional programming to the community.

‘We really want to reach more people.’

In March, the centre will launch a grief support group and plans are in the works to put on several workshops and special events throughout the year. Among them are a community-wide remembrance service for those who have lost a loved one, a cancer survivor’s day and a workshop to help those experiencing their first Christmas after the death of a loved one.

‘We have a lot of (programming) going on to meet the needs of those who have experienced loss.’

Cayman HospiceCare is the only palliative care provider on the island, serving an average of 20 to 30 clients each month. Palliative care involves symptom management, pain control and emotional support to people with a life-threatening disease or injury to enhance their quality of life. In most cases, care is provided in the person’s home.

Other services include bereavement counselling, education and respite care. The organization is funded entirely through voluntary donations.

Along with Borgwardt, HospiceCare employs two nurses and two caregivers who work closely with doctors and other healthcare professionals in providing patient care.

Volunteers play an integral role as well by providing such services as transportation, household chores and support to both the patient and their family.

Borgwardt brings a vast array of experience to his new role. Before moving to Cayman five years ago, the Wisconsin native spent more than 25 years as a funeral director helping thousands of grieving families. He’s facilitated grief support groups, presented programmes on death, dying and grief to hundreds of groups and individuals and served as a consultant in such areas as service excellence and empathetic communication.

Borgwardt, who is a cancer survivor, saw an opportunity to use his experience and training to help others.

‘It seems I’ve come full circle,’ he said. ‘It was time to come home to this.’