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COLUMN: Linda Kozina, the face of hospice care, retires

At the end of this month, a woman who was responsible for introducing a new idea into our community will retire. On June 30, Linda Kozina will retire as hospice manager for Crossroads Hospice at Inlet Centre in Port Moody.

At the end of this month, a woman who was responsible for introducing a new idea into our community will retire. On June 30, Linda Kozina will retire as hospice manager for Crossroads Hospice at Inlet Centre in Port Moody.

Today, we accept the need for hospice care and feel great pride in this beautiful resource in our community. This was not always the case.

It wasn't that long ago that the idea of hospice care and providing services to the dying were taboo topics. But during Linda's tenure as hospice volunteer, then executive director and finally as hospice manager, our ideas and receptivity to hospice care changed dramatically.

While hospice care has been Linda's primary focus for the last 19 years, it wasn't always the centre of her world. Linda had a life before hospice, a very different life.

Linda worked as a customer service representative with Canada Trust. In her spare time, she volunteered with a fledgling organization known as Crossroads Hospice Society. Crossroads worked out of a small space in the basement of Eagle Ridge Hospital and provided support services to individuals and their families who were dealing with end-of-life matters. At that time, individuals with a terminal condition were dispersed through out the hospital, their location determined by their affliction. Crossroads volunteers would roam the hospital day and night offering support, information, assistance and refreshments to those in their final days.

Linda's passion was ignited in 1992 by the desire to assist families of young children with a parent who was near death. Linda would assist the family in creating a "memory album" that contained the images, thoughts and memories of a soon-to-be-deceased parent. Using her scrap-booking talents, Linda would craft beautiful works of art to assist children to remember their parents. It was this exposure to hospice care that captured Linda's heart.

When Crossroads put out a call in 1999 for its first executive director to help lead the young organization, Linda answered. Of all the applicants, Linda was the least experienced in administration and fundraising, two of the skills deemed essential for the position, but what she lacked in skills she more than made up in passion. Her unwavering enthusiasm and belief in the need for hospice care persuaded the hiring committee that she was the person for the job. Linda left her safe and secure position in banking and moved courageously into the world of not-for-profit societies.

Still, the community was not ready to embrace hospice care. Many of Linda's initial requests to speak to service clubs, business organizations and other potential sources of funding were refused. "No one wants to hear about dying people," was the common response.

Linda persisted. Patiently, passionately and persuasively, she shared the stories and dreams of hospice care. She was even bold enough to dream about a free-standing hospice that would move the dying from the chaos of the hospital environment and place them in as home-like environment as possible. The harsh reality at the time was that 90% of people died on a hospital ward with only a curtain to separate them from other patients undergoing treatment. Linda wanted her family, friends and fellow citizens to die with more dignity, more choice, and more compassion.

Over the next few years, Linda became the face of Crossroads and, with her generous spirit and gregarious nature, built relationships with the community. Eventually, Linda's dream and passion ignited a fire within the community. In 2003, Crossroads garnered enough support to build this region's first free-standing hospice at the corner of Ungless Way and Noon's Creek Drive in Port Moody. When the hospice opened, the need existed for a hospice manager. Linda stepped aside as executive director and filled this new role with courage and commitment.

Today, Crossroads has become a high-profile resource in our community. Hundreds of our family, friends and neighbours have taken their final breaths while nestled in the comfort of the hospice and surrounded by their loved ones.

We are fortunate to have this beautiful resource in our community. Many who are familiar with the quality of hospice care in other communities have remarked that the Tri-Cities has one of the most beautiful facilities in all of Canada. This is due in no small measure to the effort, dedication and heart of Linda Kozina.

Happy retirement, Linda, and thank you for this gift of choice, dignity, and compassionate care you have brought to our community.

Ted Kuntz is a Coquitlam author and psychotherapist; his website is