FRIENDLY FACES: Tweed Palliative Support's  Deirdre Stewart,   Philip Wilson, Tracey Lindberg and Meredith Dennis celebrate 20 years of service to the community from the balcony of Wedgetail Retreat.
FRIENDLY FACES: Tweed Palliative Support's Deirdre Stewart, Philip Wilson, Tracey Lindberg and Meredith Dennis celebrate 20 years of service to the community from the balcony of Wedgetail Retreat. Richard Mamando

Vital palliative care service celebrates big milestone

THE final weeks of anyone's life can be tough to deal with, whether you're the patient or their family.

Working tirelessly to ensure those going through the unfamiliar territory of dying are cared for in the final weeks of their life, Tweed Palliative Support (TPS) will this weekend mark its 20th anniversary of service.

A core group of volunteers and registered nurses dedicated to looking after the community, including both patients and family members coming to terms with their loved one's passing, have been an integral part of how TPS operates.

TPS president Meredith Dennis said the past 20 years had been extremely rewarding for many of the volunteers who were determined to provide extra care to those dying.

"Some of us have been there since day dot, which shows the commitment to palliative care,” Ms Dennis said.

The volunteer-based, not-for-profit group was started in Murwillumbah 20 years ago after a similar group from Byron Bay held a public meeting.

Palliative care patients can spend their final days in the comforts of Wedgetail Retreat hospice.
Palliative care patients can spend their final days in the comforts of Wedgetail Retreat hospice. Richard Mamando

Starting out as a small group interested in providing much-needed care for terminal patients and their families, Ms Dennis said the way the world viewed death had changed, with more people willing to talk about it.

"A lot of people didn't know what palliative care was 20 years ago,” she said.

"When we started we were given a box of books from a local palliative care nurse and an office by a local solicitor in Murwillumbah. The first few years was about education and getting people talking about death. It's about having those conversations and it's been happening more recently with the euthanasia debate, which we don't get into, but people are talking about it more.”

In 2015, TPS opened Wedgetail Retreat in Dulguigan to provide a hospice service for those who can't manage staying at home any more.

"There was a certain percentage who couldn't stay in their home, whether it was that they didn't have a primary carer or their medical needs were too high but they didn't want to go to hospital,” Ms Dennis said.

"A lot of people are scared about dying but when you know that you're going to be looked after and your pain is looked after and you have control at the end of your life, then that's when the fear is taken away.

"Wedgetail Retreat is basically a big house with nurses in a beautiful rainforest setting.

"The youngest person we've had here was 40 and we had a lady the other day who was 99 but she didn't want to die in a nursing home. This way, you're surrounded by your friends and family in a natural environment with the medical assistance, it's the way it should be.”

HELPING: Meredith Dennis inside Wedgetail Retreat.
HELPING: Meredith Dennis inside Wedgetail Retreat. Nolan Verheij-full

TPS has trained more than 400 volunteers over the years to provide transport, respite and palliative care.

But it's the support from the community that has ensured TPS, which receives no government funding, continues to provide value to those in their final moments.

"I feel like crying sometimes because of the support we have in the community, they're so generous,” Ms Dennis said.

"Groups like Rotary, Apex, Lions, the fishing clubs and bowling clubs, they all raise so much money for us.

"It's amazing how people think of us. We spend $500,000 in wages per year, it's expensive. But we have incredible community support and our op shops bring in 45 per cent of our nurses' wages.”

Tweed Palliative Support is inviting the community to celebrate 20 years of providing much-needed care.

  • When: 2-5pm Saturday, September 15
  • Where: Jessie McMillan Hall, Wollumbin St, Murwillumbah.
  • Cost: $15.
  • Phone: 0266728459 to help plan catering


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