Amy Durand has found a fulfilling career dealing with a topic that most people prefer to ignore: death and dying.
Durand is the executive director of Hospice and Palliative Care of Kodiak. She will soon step down from that role and start a new job as deputy director of the Kodiak Senior Center.
In a newsletter she wrote for the hospice organization, Durand provided examples of some of the things that hospice volunteers have seen in their line of work.
She described a wife sitting at the bedside of her dying husband, leaning over and telling him, “It’s OK. You can go now. We’ll be OK without you.”
He was unresponsive, but his wife knew that hearing was the last of the senses to go.
“You witness the comfort in her voice, hoping he’ll listen so that he no longer has to suffer with his end-of-life illness,” Durand wrote.
Another volunteer witnessed a daughter tell her father, “It’s time to go, Dad. We’ll be OK,” while choking back tears because she was losing her “first role model,” Durand wrote.
Durand knows that dealing with the death of a family member can be challenging, which is why people turn to HPCK. Funded through grants and donations, the nonmedical hospice offers clients the services of trained and experienced volunteers at no cost.
These life-changing volunteers offer comfort, respite care, light housekeeping and errand-running for people who are dying and their families. They also offer companionship, and can merely listen, give advice about what to expect at the end of life, and be present when a client takes their final breath.
“Pretty much anything that our clients and their family members need during that time, we are there for them,” Durand said.
Volunteers have their backgrounds and driving records checked, and also go through training from the fire department and the funeral director. They learn about the process that occurs after someone dies, grief and what to expect about the end of life.
Durand loves working in hospice where she can help people during their most difficult time.
“I think that joining that team (at HPCK), it just gives so much back to the community,” Durand said. “Being able to be there, educate and help people understand what is coming with their loved one who is passing away, I don't think there's anything more powerful than to help someone in their final hours.”
Durand accepted the role of executive director in the hospice field three years ago because she wanted to help people. She said that during her time there, she learned a simple yet powerful life motto: Life is short, you need to do the things that you want to do.
She also learned about the benefits of advanced health care planning, and talking to family members about what they want the dying process to look like.
“We all know that we are all going to die, we just don’t know when,” Durand said.
Advanced health care planning should include questions about whether someone wants to be cremated or buried, and whether they want to die in a hospital or at home.
Durand knows that the topic is often difficult to discuss, but it is so important.
She has seen how helpful it is for families to have those plans in place when a family member dies, and she has also seen how difficult it is for people whose family member has died without discussing their plans.
“I’ve seen where people who don't have their advanced planning, or have never talked to their family of death and dying — it's a really tough situation for families. Just having that conversation and normalizing it would be huge,” she said.
Durand said she has normalized the idea of death with her own children, and recently told her 10-year-old daughter that she wants to be cremated when she dies.
“I told her she could even get a little necklace and have my ashes in it. She got so excited,” Durand said.
Helping the community has been a passion for Durand ever since she was a child and helped take care of her grandparents, who lived in Hidden Basin, Ugak Bay — a remote area of Kodiak Island that is only accessible by boat and plane.
Her grandparents, Wayne and Lynne Murphy, built their own cabin and taught her to hunt when she was 10 years old. They also taught her how to fish and live off the land.
Durand was born and raised in Kodiak. After graduating high school in 2005, she wanted “nothing more than to be off this island,” so she moved to Boston, Massachusetts. and earned a bachelor’s degree in visual communications from Sanford-Brown College in Boston.
She reconnected with her middle-school sweetheart. They got married and she moved with him to North Carolina, where he was stationed in the military.
In 2013, she earned a second bachelor’s degree, this one in healthcare administration through Purdue University Global, an accredited online university.
She and her husband, whose Coast Guard family had been stationed in Kodiak when he was younger, decided to move back to Kodiak to raise their family.
Durand was hired at the Kodiak Area Native Association as the health grants coordinator, where she managed the Health Resources and Services Administration health programs.
In 2018, she was hired at Hospice and Palliative Care of Kodiak as the executive director.
Although she is changing jobs, Durand is not leaving HPCK completely behind — she will still serve the hospice as the direct care volunteer.
Durand said she is thrilled about the future.
“I am so excited to serve the Kodiak Senior Center. I love being around people and hearing stories. I think that the Senior Center is going to be a great place to work and serve our seniors,” she said.
The search has already begun for someone to fill Durand’s shoes at the hospice center. They are looking for someone who is patient and kind to become the organization’s new executive director.
“It’s an absolutely wonderful organization to work for,” Durand said.