Walking the end-of-life path with those transitioning to the “other side” has become Cindy Bertrand Larson’s life calling.
In particular, the Vernon woman now helps seniors, whose biggest worries are about being a burden to others and dying in pain—alone.
To that end, she helps replace those fears with feelings of warmth, welcoming and the joy of a new beginning, as well as showing them how to get the most out of their life now, based on the simple premise: you’re never too old.
Bertrand Larson, 60, a former Los Angeles model and actress—with what she says are the scars to prove it—has shared her love with countless people through her palliative work and a little puppet show she put together for seniors she calls, Growing Old Ain’t for Sissies.
“I tell them (seniors) you’re not going to die in pain alone because there are people who love you. We’re here to be your support and at that time the people who have no families burst into tears because they know there really is someone who loves them,” said Bertrand Larson, who travels throughout the Okanagan to deliver her message of hope, including a stop last week at The Hamlets at Penticton.
“I tell them that you don’t need to be afraid, you’re in good hands, that you are in loving hands.
“I think what I really do, is I’m a facilitator where people become comfortable with those end-of-life fears and common complaints because they know they’re not alone.”
In the past two decades Bertrand Larson, who is also the author of the book, End of Life Stories: Tips and tools for the soul’s journey home, has spent the final moments with many people who have departed, including her dad.
“When my father was passing away, we could feel his essence, what we would call his soul or spirit or whatever it is, we could feel it lifting off his body. We could feel it, all of us,” she recalled of that time.
“It was moving, it didn’t leave quickly but it knew where it was going.”
She has also spoken with many people about their near-death experiences, which she has also written about and shared at her workshops.
That included one 94-year-old man who had those experiences not once but twice, both times on the operating table.
“The first time he said it was such a beautiful experience. He said ‘something loving is coming for me,’ so there is something loving out there after we leave our body,” said Bertrand Larson.
The second time was shortly after the man got married at the age of 90 and when his heart once again stopped during surgery.
“He was not a particularly religious fellow but he said God was coming for him and the love was so beautiful and that ‘all I (wanted) to do (was) fall into it and become part of it,’” she said.
When Bertrand Larson asked him why he didn’t, the man replied that he could hear his wife in the waiting room praying and he turned around.
Often, as in the case of a recent workshop at The Hamlets, there are people who speak up afterwards about having similar experiences.
The puppets, Grandpa, who is wearing his incontinence underwear on the outside of his clothes and his wife Grandma, help break the ice about what can be sensitive, embarrassing and hurtful subjects.
“People laugh because they are looking at their grandparents, not themselves, and they make them laugh,” said Bertrand Larson.
“They see that child-like spark of innocence and it takes the worry away and we then have access to their subconscious minds and we can plant the seeds that, you don’t need to be afraid, you’re in loving hands.”
Her years of work have taught Bertrand Larson some very valuable life lessons of her own.
“As we live, we develop so many layers but we’re happiest when we love one another. We’re happiest when we’re in a state of appreciation for what we have and those are the basic things like food shelter and belonging,” she said.
“What this has taught us is that at the end of life the thing people want most is the simple joys, seeing a hummingbird, the sun shining in a certain way, the raindrops on a window. And I’ve stopped wanting.
“I don’t fear death now, and I will be caring for people until the end of my own time.”