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The Ethical Hustle

Vancouver's historic Hollywood Theatre vs. cultural taxidermy

Christabel Shaler
Dec 4th, 2013

Although our city is one of the youngest urban centres on our continent, we have some incredible pieces of multi-generational history.

As the oldest family-run theatre in North America, an evening at The Hollywood has always felt nostalgic. The excitement began while waiting in line to buy a ticket. My mitten-clad hands held onto my mothers coat as I listened to the buzzing murmur of conversations lingering in the cold damp Vancouver air. When we entered, the warmth wrapped around me with the smell of fresh popcorn. The deep red velvet curtains made me feel like we were going back in time. My favourite moments were when everyone laughed together during the films. There is something really amazing about laughing together.

Healing while living and dying in Vancouver

Christabel Shaler
Sep 23rd, 2013

In the world of end-of-life care in Vancouver BC, an interesting intersection exists between bureaucratic policies and New Age gurus selling answers to life’s heartaches.

Sue Hurd and Sue Wong have created this intersection between compassion, acceptance, and simply being. Hurd and Wong have spent over a decade with Vancouver's dying citizens, helping and supporting those who are leaving their lives behind. In the process, they have created a movement with the help of countless dedicated volunteers. This movement became The Vancouver Hospice Society

Through fundraising efforts over the past decade, the volunteers of The VHS have raised millions of dollars and built an innovative hospice that is designed as a home away from home. This hospice will be opening before the winter. 

Risks of senior isolation in British Columbia and new solutions

Christabel Shaler
Sep 4th, 2013

There are numerous innovative thought leaders, organizations, and entrepreneurs creating brilliant tools and resources to change the way we address aging. If we can collectively embrace technological innovations and new ways of staying connected, we will be able to support our aging population.

On August 28th, news reporters in British Columbia distributed the disturbing story of an elderly man who died after falling in his home. The man who fell was discovered by a concerned caretaker, who noticed a week’s worth of newspapers piling up on his front door. After spending an entire week on the floor, this 81-year-old man died in the hospital.

In a similar story, police found a 55-year-old man, who was likely on the floor for four to five days. His condition is unknown at this time.


Why aren't we having more conversations about the solutions?

It is important that these stories are raising awareness of the everyday risks associated with seniors in isolation. However, these stories can leave readers feeling concerned and upset without providing tangible options for taking action. We need to push this conversation forward.

Women Changemakers Recharge at Confluence Retreat

Christabel Shaler
Mar 28th, 2013

Lisa Gibson (left) Darcy Riddell (right) - Photo by Roland Rickus:

Lisa Gibson and Darcy Riddell understand that women working for change can be at risk of being over-extended and burnt out. This depletion can occur from working long hours while juggling motherhood, relationships, and care-giving of other kinds. 

In this world, it is often difficult for any of us to return to ourselves, our source of inspiration, and our life purpose.

Although everyone deserves a break from time to time, the Confluence Retreat is specifically tailored to women change makers who need to recharge and replenish their internal resources.

Photo by Roland Rickus:

Awesome local seniors and the importance of high tea

Christabel Shaler
Mar 6th, 2013

Intergenerational learning is a uniquely nourishing experience that you may not realize you are longing for.

“Now make sure that the tea isn’t anemic,” said Graeme as she plated fresh cookies from the bakery down the street. She looked elegant in a cool turquoise colour that matched the rest of her outfit beautifully. “It needs to steep for at least 5 minutes”, she explained.

It was about a year ago when I realized the importance of high tea. My mom’s friend Graeme had recently introduced me to the concept of pausing the chaos of a day to have high tea in the afternoon.

My mother sat up in her hospital bed in the living room of her apartment. I hung a floral scarf around my mom’s neck to enhance the beauty of the moment. She always lit up when Graeme came over…perhaps it was because of the tea and treats…or perhaps it was because this time offered an opportunity to become human again.

The tea would steep as chatter and jokes filled the room. The deep red colour seeped from within the tea bags and swirled throughout the transparent glass tea pot. In these moments, our reality shifted from symptom management and medication discussions to a time of colourful anecdotes, flavourful jokes and the most precious human commodity: storytelling.

Five tips for surviving caregiving in Canada

Christabel Shaler
Nov 28th, 2012

Donna Thomson and Christabel Shaler (Photo by Blair Smith)

When someone you love is suffering, it is easy to feel worn down, angry and defeated. As you confront the daunting walls of medical bureaucracy, it may seem impossible to go on. 

Remember that caregiving is ultimately a privilege, because it is an opportunity to love deeply, without ego, and to spell out that love in your actions.

Donna and her family

The first time I met Donna Thomson was in the pages of her book,The Four Walls of My FreedomDonna's book brings a strong and articulate voice to the millions of invisible caregivers across Canada. I also enjoy her blog, which includes a fantastic recent piece titled, How To Live Without Irony: Just Ask a Caregiver.

Better home support for dying patients in Vancouver would improve hospital wait times

Christabel Shaler
Nov 13th, 2012

Dorothy sits across from me at Calhoun’s on West Broadway in Vancouver, BC. Her eyes are bright and relentlessly honest. Although slight creases in her face suggest her age, she seems light. Her bouyancy suprises me when she shares anecdotes from working thirty years on the front lines of palliative home care.

“It is a privilege to connect with so many people and their families. Everyone has their own unique story and family dynamic. It is crucial to have the time to build connections with palliative home care patients. I don’t understand why we [nurses] are increasingly pressured to rush. Things have changed a lot over the past few years,” says Dorothy. “I hope that you can back-up my anecdotes with research.”

“I promise that I won’t write anything until I find research to back up what you are saying,” I reply.

The research

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has been following the “steep decline in home and community care services” since 2001 and their numbers indicate that home and community care services have declined by 14 per cent in the past decade.

Can a network health care tool prevent caregiver burnout and patient isolation?

Christabel Shaler
Oct 17th, 2012

The process of caregiving for a loved one in their final days is both precious and potentially traumatizing. When I first became a primary caregiver for my mother, I often became burnt out and isolated. I have also met many other caregivers who had similar experiences. 

On September 6th 2012, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson addressed the dangers of isolation in a story titled, Tackling isolation starts at home.

“The emotional burden of isolation is obvious. But there are additional costs we all have to bear. Isolation impacts people's physical and mental health, lowers productivity, breeds alienation and crime, and erases the contributions isolated people could be making to our city's daily life.” explained Robertson.

Shifting Vancouver to a Network Health Care Model

The city of Vancouver is overflowing with innovative ideas and groundbreaking technology. I know that we can repair the broken pieces of our palliative care system. I know that we can do better.

The truth about dying in Vancouver

Christabel Shaler
Oct 3rd, 2012

Eroca (left) and the author (right) in a Vancouver hospital.

Providing proper care for our dying loved ones should be a right, rather than a privilege. 

“In the U.S., there wouldn’t be anything,” the doctor told me.

“You wouldn’t have any home care support to help your mother with showering and personal care for an hour a day. You wouldn’t have a nurseline to call.”

“What happens if I get sick and there's nobody who can help me care for my dying mother after she's sent home?” I asked the doctors and nurses repeatedly. But I never got a clear answer. My mother had more than three months to live and there were no other options for her care. 

As we prepared for my mother to go  home from the hospital, I felt I was standing on a ledge with an abyss opening beneath my feet. It was like confronting a cold vast emptiness, while the hospital at least felt safe.

I'd lie down with my mother in her hospital bed and just hold her tight. With my arms around her, I felt I was keeping her back from the abyss with my strength, the only thing between her and the abyss. But I knew she would fall. I knew the abyss was yawning beside us, a cold wind blowing up from its depths. 

Local gifts create employment for Downtown Eastside women

Christabel Shaler
Mar 8th, 2012

Healing the lost city

Beyond Gastown, Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside becomes an unforgiving industrial landscape that has been referred to as the “Lost City”. Within this corridor of relentless cement, there are small businesses that have emerged like fierce antibodies. As these local businesses create jobs, green spaces and events, there is a sense of resuscitation and nourishment. 

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