Category Archives: Patient Stories

In Memoriam: A Loving Tribute to Our Beloved Board Member

Karle Epple (February 10, 1932 – August 28, 2017) was an amazing individual who helped so many in the community.  He was a tireless and unassuming advocate for the charitable causes he believed in.  For over 21 years, he volunteered his time as a Board Member for Regional Hospice, and in that time he helped build Regional Hospice to where it is today.  He died peacefully on August 28th in the Center for Comfort Care and Healing, the very Center that he was so instrumental in building.

Karl’s rosy cheeks, big smile and love and devotion to his family and dogs was known to all who knew him.  He will truly be missed by all in our community.

His granddaughter, Karli, shares this touching tribute to her adoring Papa:


For those I haven’t met or for those who were hoping for name tags at the door, my name is Karli (Karl plus the i) Erickson. I am the first granddaughter after four boys and it’s always been an honor to be named after Papa. One special memory for me was naming our second daughter, Inge Epple, after him and having Papa present at Immanuel Lutheran to witness her being baptized in the same baptismal font as he was.

I feel privileged to have grown up with my grandparents 15 minutes away, 12 if Papa was in a hurry. Saturday nights in high school were spent making brownies or shattering glass pans with attempted lemon bars in Papa and Ommie’s kitchen, followed by some NCIS or a Hallmark movie. And though perhaps I longed for a few girlfriends to spend some time with, the truth is there are no better companions than Ommie and Papa.

With that in mind, here’s my top 5 reasons why grandparents make the best friends, and Ommie and Papa in particular.

First, they’re supposed to like you. This makes the getting along process much easier.

Second, you can help one another. In third grade Papa helped me make a simple machine. It was an M&M dispenser out of a half-gallon of milk. I still have no idea how “we” did it. My junior year of high school “we” made an abacus. On the other hand, there’s over a decade of Meserve powerpoints “we” created and it is no accident that my volunteer activities in high school took place at Regional Hospice and Danbury Hospital.

The third reason Ommie and Papa have been my best friends is a shared love of food. Whether we are eating it or discussing it, we undoubtedly love it. Our running joke was “You’re going to the grocery store again?” yet for Papa there was always a lemon crumb cake, or “just the top” of a blueberry muffin to be tried, though we long settled on tea times of irish soda bread, of which my cousin Emily and I have nobly taken on the task of trying to find the perfect recipe.

Fourth, grandparents always answer your phone call. Partially, this is because Ommie and Papa took a really long time to get caller-id, but even after, Papa still answered my calls often as I interrupted his standard lunch of soup and a salad with blue cheese that had a bit more blue than it really ought to have had, thanks to his tendency for frugality in the fridge.

We spoke nearly every day for the past decade, mostly about what many would consider the mundane–the last time we showered (usually less was more), our hair styles (his was surprisingly prone to sticking out), his food diary of the day (complete with a frozen waffle and syrup for second breakfast), and the news of all the cousins.

I can still hear him telling me about KK and Mark visiting Ben and Laura at BC or heading to Notre Dame to see Brendan and Julie in both of those marching bands. I remember the first time an Epple boy had a serious girlfriend (big news!) and all the skiing and bicycling trip pictures described to me one by one that included Matt, Erik, and Tim. Or more recently, his joy in watching videos of one of his great-granddaughters, Emery, dancing like her Mom, Katie, and thankfully, not like her Grandpa Gary.

My brothers Max and Christian, with his wife Lily, never ceased to have an endless array of shenanigans at which you could hear Papa shaking his head at over the phone. Though to be fair, he couldn’t quite fathom why I let my girls, Astri and Inge, stomp in mud puddles either. Thank goodness baby Josie (the 4th great granddaughter) seems to be such a model baby and of course my Mom, despite living just up the road mostly managed to evade our news cycle.

This brings us to our fifth and final reason why grandparents make the best friends. It’s because they are family. Each and every day Papa and I shared the ups and the downs of the entire Epple clan and his community. With him on the East coast and me on the West, we drank our tea, ate our irish soda bread, and cherished family near and far.

And if there was any doubt, if you have any affiliation with Heli-Coil, Danbury Savings Bank, Danbury Hospital, the Meserve Fund, Regional Hospice, or Immanuel Lutheran, among others, you too are family.

Thank you all for being here. And please, never hesitate to add a little bit more whip cream to your hot chocolate or spring for a full calorie packet of Swiss Miss over the diet kind in his honor. Thank you.”

Sal Raises a Glass to the Great Life He’s Led

The house sits next to a frozen pond, home to a few geese, and a weathered clay pony stands guard at the foot of the driveway. Sal stands a little unsteady in the living room, hand outstretched but the reserve showing on his face. “What’s this all about?” he asks as he sits down in an easy chair next to a bowling trophy—a painted pin from 1980 commemorating a perfect 300 game. Crispin and I are there volunteering with Regional Hospice to help gather people’s stories and see if there are new ways to help people in end-of-life situations. We’ve been interviewing people intermittently for nearly a year, and Sal is the first person we’re talking to today after driving up from the city.

Sal shows off his bowling trophy

He’s tentative at first, not sure if we’re going to break into a sales pitch or try to “get him involved in something.” But he warms up from the sitting and talking, and he tells us a bit about being in the army at the Battle of the Bulge. He’s anxious about his medication and keeps breaking off to consult with his social worker, but as the hour progresses he settles more deeply into the conversation and begins cracking jokes and eyeing the wine bottle on the floor by my feet. He offers me a glass but it’s 11:30am and we decline, telling him we’ll raise a glass in his honor later that night. Then something interesting happens as he starts talking about the years when he was a competitive bowler in the local leagues—the stories prompt a memory from my time in graduate school about the importance of people building connections with one another.

In the mid-1990s, Harvard Political Scientist Robert Putnam published a groundbreaking study of civic participation in America entitled “Bowling Alone,” in which he examined decades worth of data regarding patterns of involvement in voluntary associations such as the Elks, PTA, or the Boy Scouts. He found that levels of participation have been declining since the 1960s, and he seized on the progressive disappearance of bowling leagues as a bellweather example. Apparently, in the 1970s bowling leagues were widely popular, but in just a single generation they began to disappear.

Putnam thinks this is a problem, and not because he’s a fan of bowling. It turns out that civic participation is a critical element in socializing ourselves for modern life. The experience of attending meetings of civic organizations or volunteering for the public good appears to be linked to the development of trust in others. People who attend more events tend to trust their neighbors, believe that we can work together to solve problems, and participate in the kind of give-and-take activities that form the basis of modern democratic politics. Putnam calls this “social capital,” and he believes it is linked to the health or sickness of our democratic polity. The decline of associations such as bowling leagues turns out to correlate neatly with the decline of trust and the polarization of our political and social landscape. Putnam’s article gave a name to the idea of social capital, and it is considered a classic in the field of political science.

Sal and his family

When Sal began talking, he brought Putnam’s work alive for me in a powerful way. He talked about meeting his wife at a bowling alley, and how their initial bond formed into a great and lasting love. When she got sick and entered a nursing home he brought her lunch every day for three years until she passed away. Sal joined a bowling team and competed all over the New York area for many years. There were so many leagues that even a small town like New Rochelle was able to support five bowling alleys operating simultaneously. This was in an era when newspapers published results from the bowling leagues each week. Sal showed us the clippings showing he had the best scores among dozens of competitors, averaging around 200 points per game. After a night at the alley, his team would go out to dinner at the sponsor’s restaurant in Mamaroneck, with everyone enjoying free food and companionship. One time Sal bowled a 299, missing only the last pin in the last frame to upset his perfect game. He still wears a thick gold signet ring as a remembrance of that night. “I used to go down to the city and compete at Bowlmor, and the pros would show up and we would watch them bowl,” he said. Bowlmor, which just a few years ago was a destination for hipsters and New School students on first dates, is now a rectangular crater awaiting development into another condominium block.

Somehow, with his end of life so near, Sal’s stories take on new urgency and freshness, and I could easily imagine the clatter of bowling pins echoing as he recounted the nights of an era long passed. We sat rapt as he shared his recollections, and it struck me that I was lucky to be meeting one of the last of a generation of civic Americans, people who made our way of life what it is today, through simple acts like sporting a sponsor’s shirt at the alley, caring for their loved ones, and of course defending our nation in times of crisis. I suspect that Sal and his friends added a lot more to the social capital of our society than they took out. He has a strong appreciation for people who are generous; in one story, he recounted how a black family that moved in next to them in Mamaroneck brought over food one night when his dad was sick in the hospital. “I’ll never forget what those people did that night, and how touched my mother was when they came over with the dishes,” he said.

We asked Sal how we might be able to help him or people in his situation, and the strongest theme that emerged from the conversation was the challenge of feeling like a burden to his daughters who are caring for him. He served heroically as a caregiver but is uncomfortable when he has to rely on his family for support. It occurred to us that some kind of program where patients could get recognition for the people caring for them—maybe a certificate or a pin—would help improve their quality of life through enabling people to say “thank you” in another way.

Tom Kamber toasts Sal later that night

We loved talking to Sal, hearing his off-color comments and jokes, and getting a window into a world that existed just a few miles away, but is forever altered and opaque. We found ourselves inspired by Sal to renew our own enthusiasm for volunteer work. Calling someone a “great guy” seems so casual, but with Sal somehow it fits and carries a certain importance.

On the way out of the driveway, we noticed the weather-beaten pony statue looked a bit like part of an honor guard, there standing at attention during Sal’s last days, and somehow that seemed fitting.

Written by Tom Kamber for Regional Hospice and Palliative Care

Cathy Hickey-Williams – Her Passion is Her Gift

Cathy’s story is one of impressive education, remarkable career accomplishments, dedication to her family, deep faith in God, and selfless service to her students and her church.

An Accomplished Professor

Jack and Cathy Hickey-Williams

Cathy is an intelligent, educated woman who studied microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania in the mid sixties earning her PhD, when science was not the conventional career path for women.  She speaks lovingly of her years at UPENN, where she met her devoted husband of forty-two years Jack and enjoyed her studies.  After graduation, Cathy spent ten years as a researcher for the federal government in Washington, D.C.  Although she enjoyed this work, Cathy felt compelled to trade her research careerto pursue the world of academia.  While in D.C., she began teaching at the college level.  Cathy enjoyed it so much that when she and Jack moved to Connecticut, she was eager to accept a position at Western Connecticut State University where she taught chemistry for the duration of her twenty-eight-year career.  Cathy found this work joyous and fulfilling, teaching chemistry to aspiring nursing students and other undergraduates.  While her love of chemistry led her to this work, she was most rewarded by her work with students.  Jack speaks with pride of the gifts that she often received from her students in appreciation of her mentorship and the lasting friendships that she has made with her faculty colleagues.

A Loving Wife, Sister and Aunt

Cathy and Jack’s love is evident in the way that they look after each other.Their marriage is one of warmth and genrousity.  Jack studied ministry at the University of Pennsylvania and, like his wife, has devoted his life to serving others.  They speak to one another kindly and gently, continuously checking in with each other to make sure theyare doing okay.  Throughout their marriage they have had many adventures together, from their memorable vacations to the precious time spent with their many siblings, nieces and nephews.  Together they have visited Cape Cod, New Hampshire, Alaska, Ireland and the Jersey Shore.

Cathy and Jack adore their many siblings (Cathy has two sisters, Jack has five siblings) and speak with love about their many nieces and nephews.  Their families are important to them, and it is clear that they are important to their family members.  Cathy’s sister organized Christmas this year so the whole family would gather at Cathy and Jack’s house – complete with a pre-made dinner – to make sure they were included in the festivities.  Cathy’s eyes smile as she speaks about how humbled she was by the generosity and love her family members showed as they brought the entire meal to their house and continue to visit in droves since the new year to help out.


Leading Her Life by Example

Cathy is a faith-filled person and both she and Jack are active members of Saint Rose of Lima parish in Newtown.  She is a Eucharistic minister and a member of the Women’s Club and speaks warmly of the many wonderful friends she made through her involvement in the church.  Over the past few months, she has received baskets full of cards from these friends showing their support.  These cards mean so much to her.  She and Jack consider their trip to Italy with other Saint Rose parishioners as one of the highlights of their lives.  They fondly remember seeing the Pope, enjoying a beautiful party thrown for the Saint Rose group and touring the countryside.

Cathy lives her life with passion and enthusiasm and Jack jokes about the fact that she was never one to sit in front of the television.  When not volunteering at church or visiting with family and friends, Cathy also enjoys hiking, being outside, and reading a good mystery book.  She is not afraid to try new things and has recently taking up crocheting for the first time.  Cathy leads by example: she does not observe from the sidelines, but continues to live her life with passion, vitality, generosity and fearlessness.  She pauses and smiles when thinking about how blessed she is.  After getting to know this incredible woman, I am sure that all who know her have been blessed in return.

Written by Regional Hospice Volunteer Debbie Bodie

Joyce Roberson – Accomplished Scientist, Gentle Lady

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Joyce Roberson

Standing at Joyce Roberson’s door, even before she extended her hand in welcome, I could already sense what she calls “her glow.” Indeed, there is an aura that surrounds this lady of accomplishment and great faith. Dressed in a lovely silk turquoise and purple robe, hair wrapped in magenta lace, Joyce beckoned me to join her. I’d already heard from staff and volunteers about this remarkable woman, and I was eager to record her life story. That first day I sat next to Joyce―in between the arrival of visitors, phone calls from friends, and a bouquet of flowers―she began to tell of her adventures. It was clear that her past has informed her path in life, and that her successes are due to her determination and intelligence. “I base my approach to life on Maya Angelou’s poem, ‘Still I Rise,'” Joyce said. No matter what obstacles might have appeared in her way, Joyce Roberson, again and again, has triumphed.

A Close, Supportive Family

St. Paul Baptist Church

St. Paul Baptist Church

Born on January 27, 1952 in Sylvannia, a small segregated town in Georgia, Joyce Roberson was the youngest of eight children. When the midwife declared “it’s a girl.” Joyce’s father, Mimsie Roberson, Sr., delighted to have another daughter after six sons, decided that her name must be Joyce, for joy. And her childhood was, for the most part, joyful. Her dad was a resourceful and generous man, a Deacon at St. Paul Baptist Church, owner of his own janitorial company, and president of the “black school’s” PTA. While he made sure Joyce’s brothers helped out after school, Joyce was encouraged to spend time learning to read and write; when she entered first grade she was already ahead of her class. She recalls her dad telling her, “Your job is homework!” Joyce’s mom, Annie Mae, taught her how to make tea cakes when she was four and, raised in a faith-filled family, Joyce joined the church one summer when she was nine. Inside the safety and love of her family, Joyce believed what her parents taught: that if she gave respect to all, respect would come back to her. “We are all the same,” Joyce told me. “The same color blood runs in our veins.”

Learning about Ugliness

In the racially divided town of Sylvannia, Joyce saw people treated differently because of the color of their skin. But, experiencing love in her family, “I didn’t dwell on difference.” Then her dad developed diabetes, and she overheard her parents worrying late at night. Medical care for blacks was hard to come by. Joyce learned that her father had to wait in the clinic until all the white patients were cared for―and, if the doctor left, the black patients simply had to try again some other time. Joyce watched her father’s health slowly deteriorate. She was beginning to realize that there was ugliness in the world as well as love.

Called to a Vocation

Seeing her dad suffer because of the inequality of health care, Joyce vowed, at age nine, to pursue a career in the medical sciences. She made God a promise that she would find a way to help care for her people. “In Junior high I was valedictorian, so interested in science that I read everything about medicine I could get my hands on,” Joyce said. By tenth grade, her dad was seriously ill. Without easy access to specialized care, he died in 1969 when Joyce was seventeen. “I was both elated because he had his wish of going to God, and heartbroken as he was my father.” His death reinforced the strength of her decision to dedicate her life to saving others.

A Difficult Path

Joyce obtained a one-year merit scholarship to Savannah State where she lived off campus to save money, worked part time, and majored in pre-med. It seemed she was well on her way until her mom suffered a massive stroke when Joyce was in her junior year. She managed to graduate, but her career path took a new turn. Before obtaining a master’s degree, Joyce again had to work to earn money, pumping gas and working as a phone solicitor until she found employment at Emory University’s Grady Hospital in Atlanta. There she worked as a research assistant in the department of rheumatology and immunology. Eventually, grateful for a fellowship from the National Institutes of Health, she returned to school for her master’s degree at Tuskegee University in Alabama. “I was thrilled to do research in the same lab where George Washington Carver once worked!” After graduating from Tuskegee with an MA in 1986 (where she had done graduate work as well at the University of Illinois and the Catholic University in Washington, DC), Joyce moved to New York and accepted a grant research associate position at Mt. Sinai Hospital in the Neurology department, where she worked with monoclonal antibodies, her field of expertise.

Turning Disrespect into Respect and Praise

“In order to see the good, we have to experience the bad,” Joyce tells me. Today she is dressed in a red, silky robe with tassels, her hair loose in curls. Her nails are manicured and, as we talk, she lotions her hands. Again, I am struck by both the humility and authority of this lady. “I’m assertive,” she laughs, “like my dad.” That assertiveness served her well through a variety of difficult times. Her next position was in a company in Massachusetts, a long commute from New York where she continued to care for her mother. In her research position, Joyce developed five antibodies that still carry her initials, JR, as part of their designated names. Moving closer to home, she accepted a position in New Jersey in 1989; two days later, her mother died. “A man’s word is his bond,” Joyce’s father taught her, and so she fulfilled her work agreement in spite of being confronted there with persistent and overt racism―unfortunately not the first time she had endured such treatment from colleagues. “This job showed me the ugliness possible in this world,” she tells me.

Boehringer IngleheimIn 1995 she left, “discouraged but not beaten,” and in 1996 accepted a position in Connecticut at Boehringer Ingelheim, eventually finding a scientific home in Product Development where she worked with great collegial support until 2004. Friendships that grew there remain to this day, and her long list of accomplishments are well known in the scientific community. The little girl from Georgia has more than fulfilled her pledge to help others. “If you want something bad enough you will make sacrifices,” Joyce says, another mantra she lives by.

The Importance of Sharing

Still I Rise, Maya Angelou

Joyce entered Regional Hospice and Palliative Care on Sunday, November 13, 2016, and immediately enchanted staff and volunteers. One of her requests was that she have the opportunity to share her unique story. When I asked why, she replied “We learn how to live from one another. I suffered a lot of evil and meanness, but I survived.” She hopes that her determination, her love for her family, her dedication to her vocation, her unshakable faith, and her remarkable life might influence and guide others. Joyce and I concluded recording her life story just before Christmas 2016. Before turning off the recorder, I asked Joyce how it was for her now, being here at Regional Hospice. Closing her eyes for a moment, then turning to me with a smile―her “glow” that truly lights up the room―she said, “I am the most blessed individual in this space and time.”

Written by Regional Hospice Volunteer and Author, Cortney Davis

 

 

Jane Powell Smith – The Much-Loved Lady Jane

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Don and Jane SmithSome people just have a knack for caring for others, for loving people unconditionally and welcoming them into their hearts and homes. Jane Powell Smith had such a gift that she shared with others. In the way she cared for her family, raised funds for the community, and fulfilled her important role as a devoted military wife, there was always much love given and received.

Always a Lady

In a beautiful and fitting tribute to his beloved wife of 43 years, delivered at the prestigious Old Cadet Chapel at West Point Cemetery, Donald Smith, Putnam County Sheriff and U.S. Army Brigadier General (Ret.) explained the many graces that made Jane so very special. Graces that ultimately led Don’s Mother to bestow her with a title of fitting admiration, “Lady Jane.” Jane was, as Don recollected, “a wonderful, loving wife, and incredible mother, a terrific grandmother, loving daughter and granddaughter, a sister extraordinaire and an aunt, niece, and cousin whom everyone not only loved, but respected, and wanted to be around as often as they could.”

A Loving Start

Jane Powell SmithJane was born January 15, 1951 to very loving parents, William Powell and Eleanor Powell. According to Don, Jane’s mother was her greatest role model. She too bore a title of respect and honor – that of “Saint Eleanor.” As a girl Jane loved to spend time with family at Pleasant Lake in Elkins, New Hampshire where her love for crafting and cooking grew through the nurturing of her maternal grandmother, Ruth Holcomb.

Preparing for Flight

William Powell was a teacher and a coach at private schools. As such, his children were provided with a strong educational foundation at Saint Bernard’s in Gladstone, NJ; St. Paul’s School in Garden City, NY; and Trinity Pawling School in Pawling, NY. Following high school, Jane went on to study Fashion at Virginia Intermont College. Upon graduation, Jane applied to become a stewardess. She was accepted into the Delta Airlines training program which was scheduled to begin a few months later in January of 1972.

A Love Meant to Be

While waiting for the training program to begin, Jane lived with her parents in Pawling and worked as a hostess at Birch Hill Inn of Patterson. Don recalled the night they met, “As fate would have it, or as I believe, the Holy Spirit, Jane just happened to be working the night of my welcome home party from Vietnam.” Don was so taken by Jane’s beauty and grace that he asked the Inn’s owner for her number. Nervously, he called to ask her out. Their first date was to the movie “Lovers and Other Strangers.”

As Don explained, “I didn’t really care where we went or what the movie was – I just wanted to be with her.” Their love grew quickly. “It was just meant to be, and we both were so sad after the holidays when she went to Atlanta, Georgia and I traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky to assume my new [military] assignment.”

Love Grows Long Distance

Although the couple had to be apart, their love continued to grow, fueled by long distance calls and trips, courtesy of Jane’s position with Delta. On one of those visits Jane helped Don organize a party for the Armor School. Attendees were wowed by Jane’s attention to detail and many senior officers advised Don not to let her get away. “To this day people still comment on how Lady Jane was an excellent entertainer and hostess,” Don explained. While Don was also impressed and appreciative he stressed, “My reasons for liking and loving Jane had absolutely nothing to do with her ability to host a good social function.”

A Family Is Born

In April of 1972, Don asked Jane for her hand in marriage. The following June the two were married at Holy Trinity Church in Pawling. Their first dance was to the Carpenters’ song, “For all we know” – from that first fateful movie, “Lovers and Other Strangers”.

A few years later, the couple was blessed with the birth of their first child, Christopher. Their daughter Cherilynne Whitney arrived three years after. Don stressed that, “Jane was an incredible mother. Her real passion in life was taking care of our family and raising our children.” As time went on the couple welcomed 8 precious grandchildren to their loving family: Jonathan, Ellie, Riley, Lindsie, Mitchell, Lillian, Benjamin and Asher Jeremiah.Jane Smith

A Special Way

While raising her family, Jane sometimes served as both mother and father since Don had to be away fulfilling his military duties. Jane was in many ways as committed to caring for fellow military families as she was for her own. During Desert Shield and Desert Storm, she established a Family Action Care Team (FACT) aimed at offering information, support and a sense of normalcy for Army family members. As Don’s career advanced, Jane was always by his side. Once he had retired from the military and later assumed the role of Putnam County Sheriff, Jane continued to shine. “Jane had a very special way about her that made other people feel good about themselves,” said Don. This endearing characteristic made her, “An exceptional Commander’s wife and First Lady of the Sheriff’s Office who was loved by the Sheriffs and their ladies throughout New York State.”

Dedicated to Giving

Jane always looked out for others, and was driven to support many charitable causes. She made a quilt every year for the American Heart Association and crocheted over 80 caps in the form of flowers and animals for the children at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital. Even after becoming ill with cancer and suffering from a stroke, she raised over $6,000 in the “Scare Away Cancer Scarecrow Campaign.”

Gracious Until the End

Jane and Don Smith

Jane enjoyed visits from our Pet Partners during her stay at the Center.

Jane battled illness with great strength, and still, “Counted her blessings and looked for the bright side of every situation.” That positive energy and strong spirit was evident as she made her final home at the Center for Comfort Care & Healing (a journey that Don bravely detailed in a speech delivered at the New Fairfield/Sherman Giving Circle’s Breakfast). Her room was a reflection of her love-filled life with family photos, balloons and lovingly-crafted quilts. In her final moments, Don recalls how Jane mouthed “Thank you” to those who were attending to her care, just before passing away peacefully at 4:00 am on December 5th – a Lady until the end.

Chris Murphy with Jane and Don Smith

Cynthia E. Roy, President & CEO of RH; Senator Chris Murphy; Jane P. Smith; Donald Smith, Putnam County Sheriff; and Paul Sirois, COO of RH

The Longest Ride

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by Jason A. Thomas (JT)

jtandmom500

JT as a baby with his beloved mother, Caryl Ford

A year ago today my mother and I departed from New York-Presbyterian/Weill Hospital in New York City in an ambulance bound for Regional Hospice and Palliative Care in Danbury, Connecticut. It was the longest drive of our lives together, and her last.

The decision to transition from her Manhattan hospital room overlooking the East River was, of course, among the most difficult decisions to make, and one that I, having been with her for many dire weeks, was tormented to make.

But by all accounts – including hers – it was time.

The many teams of doctors – surgeons and oncologists of all nuanced specialties – explored a myriads of strategies. And then, alas, all interventive efforts were deemed harmful and retreated, exasperated.

It was then that the palliative team re-emerged gracefully from the wings to consult me in the hospitals’ quietest hours as my mom slept beside my chairs, her mercurial breathing patterns shifting in rhythms unfamiliar in mortality.

By mid-morning, the decision had been made, the room was secured at hospice and the ambulance summoned.

Before departing from the hospital, we had to be sure my mom had an ample dosage of morphine and fentanyl in her system to prepare her for what was certain to be an excruciating ride, physically and, of course, emotionally.

It was the Friday leading into the Labor Day weekend and the mass exodus from Manhattan was surging outwardly toward the boroughs and beaches. Pulling onto the FDR Highway, located several stories beneath the hospital room where we had spent the previous two traumatic and exhausting weeks, we immediately found ourselves in tangled gridlock alongside the East River, flowing serenely beside us in the opposite direction.

I sat on the bench seat next to the rear ambulance door so I could hold her bare foot with one hand and her hand with my other. I stared at her as she stared out the small square window at the sunlit urban jungle, silent and with eyes calm but wide, reflecting on this next chapter arcing poignantly before us.

The previous 72 hours were pain-filled, angst-ridden and brutal, filled with repetitive and thunderous indications that her body was failing.

My mother’s care – even the attentive palliative care availed to her at the hospital – had crossed a stark threshold and we, the nurses and I, collectively recognized that our deepest attention and best intentions fell shy of what my mother truly needed at this junction; an unintelligible threshold that is only distinguishable once you are actively moving through it into unknown terrain.

I gripped her toes and beach-toughened foot and squeezed her hands. I slid upwards along the ambulance bench seat so that I could stroke her forehead and smooth back her silver hair, which just days before was lovingly detangled, washed, brushed and braided by a compassionate hairdresser named Wedlyn from the “glam squad.” It was profoundly comforting process for my mom, one that took more than 7 attentive hours while a fray of doctors and nurses made their hurried entrances and exits.

By the time Wedlyn had finished unknotting my mom’s hair, there was a mere palm-full of locks, testament to the care given to preserve one of my mother’s most iconic features.

As I sat there in the rear of the ambulance petting her forehead, I could feel a peace emerge in her increasingly relaxed brow –  a sign that the road ahead was, perhaps, softening in ways that only she knew…and one that I would have to start to find acceptance with in the inevitable and improbable minutes…or days…or months before us.

Nearly 3 hours later the driver navigated us off of the main expressways and onto the familiar windy, maple and hickory-shaded back roads of Connecticut, just a few dozen miles from the towns where my mother was raised and where she raised me.

We were again in the woods of her and my youth, and that alone was a mollifying landmark in this bitter journey.

After wending through the mottled light of those familiar New England roads, we finally arrived in the parking lot of the hospice center. Her pain had not escalated, and that was a welcome relief for both her and I, even as we simultaneously felt the ballast of arriving at a place defined by finality.

I cannot remember if any members of my family had arrived before us. But the hospice staff was waiting for us en masse outside the front doors and actively received us authentically, doting on my mom and I equally; offering both of us hands and embraces akin to those that my mom and I had just shared throughout the migration from city to country.

“Tell me about your mom,” said Ed, the Social Worker who greeted me.

“The morphine and fentanyl she’s on seemed to be enough to make the long ride tolerable,” I explained.

“No,” said Ed. “Tell me about the person who your mom is. Not the patient she was at the hospital.”

At that, the duty of advocating for my mom – for the first time in many weeks –  was replaced with the freedom to share in my mother’s humanity in the present tense.

Ed’s simple directives shifted my attention from the abstract clinical to the robust and rich reality that my mom – still vital in mind and spirit – was still with us on terra firma.

For me, it was a welcome opportunity to fully collapse into my own emotionally exhausted self.

Release.

Release for Mom.

Release for me.

Release for the both of us.

From that moment, the arc toward her last breaths on the night of September 9th, were mostly unlabored and pain-free breaths. Family and friends came and went, some toting babies and others with flowers and fresh sun dresses. There was even a nip of old smoky scotch shared among all of us, with my mom taking small finger licks of the elixir when she lifted a mischievous smile our way.

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Mom’s eyes and smiles rose and fell like the ocean tides she loved so deeply. And the scent of her preferred perfume, Obsession, filled the room whenever one of her dear friends came in to primp her.

When my mom passed at precisely 11:11 p.m. – the blue digital numbers the clock’s numerical projections illuminated on the ceiling inside –  she did so with her bare toes pointed into the air outside on the deck of her hospice room, gesturing to the stars above. Moments later a veil of clouds washed over the forest and eclipsed the stars, opening up into a cathartic downpour at 11:13 p.m.

I was there alone with her, again stroking her soft silver hair as the rain came down on her exposed toes. As she went silent I wailed and roared and laughed and spat tears away from my shaking lips as the storm thundered on.

After enduring so much struggle and pain in the previous two months, my mom was now at peace beneath the wet canopy of the rain-soaked forest of her youth, a dignified, victory of solace at the most profound transitions.

Peace Mom.

I miss and love you, always.

Jason A. Thomas (JT), your son.


Jason (JT) shared this beautiful, heartfelt story about his mother, Caryl N. Ford’s experience at the Center for Comfort Care & Healing. We are so grateful to have supported Caryl, JT and their family.

Stephen Bergeron – Embracing Life’s Gifts

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He was beginning the 2nd semester of his junior year at Champlain College in Vermont when he got the devastating diagnosis – cancer. While it may have derailed his plans, 20-year-old Stephen Bergeron didn’t let it dim his spirit. Stephen continues to embrace life, living by the philosophy, “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.”

A Leap of Faith

When Stephen told his Regional Hospice Social Worker, Ed Schwartz, that he had always wanted to go skydiving, Regional Hospice worked to make that dream a reality. On a clear day in September, Stephen experienced the world from 10,000 feet. From that breathtaking vantage point, he could see as far as Providence and Boston.

Stephen Bergeron Skydiving

“It’s a Rush!”

Bergeron’s eyes lit up as he explained the rush of being able to skydive.I had always wanted to do it – my entire life.” Still, he admitted, “I was terrified.” Contrary to what he imagined, it got easier the closer he came to jumping. “I was most calm right before the jump…The feeling of falling is just indescribable. Everything was so fast…You wear goggles. So I was just trying to look around and see as much as I could. Everything looked so small. It was incredible,” Stephen recalled with great joy.  “At the landing you keep your feet out and you slide a bit. When we were on land again I thought, ‘I’m alive. That was awesome!’

A Team Player – Boston’s Biggest Fan

Born and raised a Boston sports fan, Bergeron recently had the opportunity, thanks to a generous Regional Hospice supporter, to attend a New England Patriots game and sit on the field with his father and uncle.  Reflecting on the experience of being able to watch the team warm up, Stephen said with a laugh, “The guys are so big! I mean, they are massive.” Stephen enjoys the strategy involved in sports. He is grateful to have witnessed the last game of the 2016 World Series explaining, “It was a privilege to watch, since the Cubs haven’t won a series in 108 years…They deserved it.” His appreciation for teamwork and a well-played game comes from years of sportsmanship – first as a little leaguer, then as a wrestler at Cheshire High School, and finally as a scrum half on his college’s rugby team. “I have always been on a team,” Stephen explained. He enjoys the comradery, with some of his greatest friendships developing through sports.

A Hard Worker, Wise Beyond His Years

That sense of teamwork extended into his work. While on summer break from college, Stephen was on a construction and demolition crew for a new building in New Haven. The work was hard, with long days and challenging hours, particularly for a 19-year-old. He often woke at 2:30 a.m. for a 4:00 a.m start and put in 50-hour weeks. Still, Stephen never missed a day, and was never late. Although his crew members were much older, they told him that they enjoyed communicating with him because he was such a level-headed person.

A Gentleman and A Scholar

The maturity his co-workers observed is readily apparent. Stephen is a logical, practical thinker with impeccable manners. He is quick to credit his father, Tom, for raising him to be such a gracious young man. “He’s a really good guy,” Stephen noted with admiration, “My Mom passed away when I was 5.” Careful to choose his words, Bergeron tends to, “Rough draft things in my head before I say them.” However, when asked if there is anything he would like to say to his Dad, with little hesitation, he replied, “I would just say, ‘I love you.’”

Still Young at Heart Stephen Bergeron

Stephen’s maturity is teamed with a beautiful balance of playfulness. Known by his family as the “Lego Kid,” he always enjoyed building something new. Set to turn 21 on Thanksgiving Day, he recently received an anonymous early birthday gift of a Lego architecture set.

Effortless Inspiration

Stephen’s story is one that has touched many of us at Regional Hospice as it is such a powerful reminder to embrace life with courage and reverence. Bergeron doesn’t see himself as inspirational, as his commitment to living life fully is just his natural inclination. He genuinely appreciates all that he has been able to do in his young life, recollecting stories of whitewater rafting, a camping excursion with friends which led to several bear sightings, and over 20 Boston sporting events. He is very grateful for those experiences and cherishes the friends and family who have made them a reality, stating, “I couldn’t do anything without them.” He especially adores his girlfriend, Mimi, whom he met at college. The two text daily and see each other as much as possible.

Grateful for His Regional Team

With regards to his clinical support team with Regional Hospice, Stephen says, “I am so thankful for everything they do. Whether it is coming in and checking on me, or things like Ed helping me to go skydiving.” Such gratitude is mutual as Stephen Bergeron is a pleasure to spend time with.

When asked if there was anything else he would like to share, he closed with, “Happy to be here.”  Simple words we could all live by.

 

Nancy Stevenson – An Artist, Adventurer and Friend

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by Regional Hospice and Home Care Volunteer, Debbie Bodie

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A postcard painted by Nancy Stevenson

Walking through the halls of Regional Hospice and Home Care’s Center for Comfort Care and Healing on the way to visit Nancy Stevenson, I quickly got a sense of the incredible human being I was about to meet. Volunteers and staff had bright smiles across their faces when asked about Nancy. It was clear that her genuine warmth, positive outlook and grace-filled spirit touch the lives of everyone she encounters.

Creator and World Traveler

Nancy Stevenson is a creative woman with the heart of an artist and the soul of an adventurer. As an artist and illustrator, she has a passion for children’s literature and nonprofit educational organizations. She has worked for Sesame Street in various roles since 1978, as well as illustrating children’s books for Disney and The Magic School Bus among others. She has been painting and writing for most of her adult life, passions she continues to pursue. Even from her hospice room, Nancy has immersed herself with painting watercolors and mailing them as thank you notes to loved ones. An avid traveler, Nancy loves to seize the opportunity for adventure. She has a love of sailing and traveling. Some of her favorite memories include sailing off the coast of Belize, exploring Italy, touring Ireland, Turkey, Guyana, being captivated by the beauty of the South of France, and chartering a catamaran with 8-10 of her closest friends.

Beloved by Family and Friends

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Nancy surrounded by friends.

Nancy reminisces with joy and happiness about her many wonderful family memories. These include big family reunions in Florida she attended in the summers when Nancy and her brother-in-law turned the garage into a studio for puppet shows and arts and crafts for the whole family to enjoy. She loves her nephew, and her niece who lives locally and visits often. She lovingly displays in her room the beautiful pillows with painted artwork prepared by her niece’s children. Nancy lived in New York City since 1977 and speaks tenderly about her Astoria neighborhood, church and community of friends. Her face lights up when speaking of the numerous friends who continue to visit her from New York. From her landlord to her co-workers to her church family, Nancy has received an outpouring of visitors, cards and gifts. Each of these gestures of kindness are sincerely cherished and appreciated.

A Magnetic Personality

Nancy has had so many battles to fight over the years and has faced them with grace and fortitude. In addition to the friends and family she touches, she has chosen to share her cancer journey with the world through her blog, hopeandcourage.com. Many strangers discovered her blog who are suffering with a similar diagnosis to Nancy’s. She lovingly emails them words of encouragement and support. In addition, Nancy speaks of the new appreciation she has developed for older people as they struggle to live with the limitations that age has placed upon them. She sees her illness as an opportunity to show more compassion and kindness towards others. She has achieved a state of peace and grace that she firmly believes is a gift from God.

An Advocate of Hospice Care

Nancy’s first experience with hospice was over twenty years ago, when she lost her beloved dad who had received compassionate hospice care. With this positive experience in mind, Nancy decided to stop treatment and seek the help of hospice after her last scans came back with bleak results. Living in Queens without a primary caregiver, she tried for a while to “keep all the balls in the air” while staying home, managing rotating caregivers, obtaining groceries and dealing with the pain, which was difficult to control.

Grateful to Regional Hospice and Home Care

Nancy with Pet Partner, Abbey, and Volunteer, Roseanne Loring

Nancy with Pet Partner, Abbey, and Volunteer, Roseanne Loring

With the aid of her niece who lives in Connecticut, Nancy learned about Regional Hospice and Home Care’s Center for Comfort Care and Healing. When a room became available in the Center, she felt that it was “God’s providence.” She speaks with sincere gratitude for all of the help and kindness she has experienced at the Center. She has studied the history of the building and knows that it was built with love. After some very unpleasant stays in the hospital, Nancy relishes the way that you can feel the love emanating from every room and every person at Regional Hospice. “Every day I feel God just confirms that this is where I am supposed to be.” Her pain is under control now and she enjoys the beautiful view from her room, the spa treatments, the volunteers who visit often, the therapy dogs, and the excellent medical care. “Everyone is so sweet and nice and helpful and will do anything for you. I am just so grateful.” Nancy credits Regional Hospice with enabling her to feel safe and stress-free at a time in her life when she truly relishes the peace.

Just as blessed as Nancy feels to be part of the hospice community, we the hospice community feel equally as blessed to have the opportunity to experience the beauty and grace of Nancy Stevenson!

UPDATE: We are sad to report that Nancy lost her courageous battle with cancer. Our condolences go to her family and friends.

Gertrude “Gert” Brew: Portrait of a Matriarch

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Walking into the cozy, charming home of Gertrude “Gert” and Jim Brew is like walking into the heart of a family. Their home, which is filled with love and warmth, is a tribute to the life and legacy that the couple has built together over the last sixty-six years. Their loving legacy is built on the dedication and compassion of Gert, the family matriarch, and a woman of great depth.

A Devoted Wife, Mother & Grandmother

Gert’s life has been a full one. She worked tirelessly for many years achieving success at her job at Perkin Elmer while also supporting her husband Jim in his career and raising their beautiful family. Her roles as wife and mother have forged the inner strength, passion and capability that she exudes.

A Family to Be Proud Of

Gert and Jim have four grown children. A doting mother, Gert speaks with love and pride about Maureen, Dianne, Jay and Paul. Each has achieved tremendous success in their chosen professions, a source of pride for the Brews. However, what is most admirable to Gert is the way they lovingly interact with one another, take care of their own children and watch over their parents.

Gert is equally proud of the accomplishments of her eight grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. Their academic and athletic achievements, as well as, their professional endeavors, bring tremendous joy and excitement to their grandparents’ lives.

The Brew’s calendar is marked with numerous family events. These picnics, graduations and trips to Mohegan Sun are all highly anticipated, as the couple cherishes time with family. They consider it a great blessing to have raised a family that enjoys spending time together. It is clear that their family gathers together, not out of obligation, but out of a genuine sincerity and love, the natural result of the loving example Gert and Jim provided.

An Avid Traveler

gertbrewar_tropical462Once Gert and Jim were done with the day-to-day details of raising their family, they began to enjoy the freedom of spending more time with one another. They share the same love of travel and quickly added many wonderful trips to the fabric of their busy lives. Gert began accompanying Jim on his business trips to the West Coast, time together that they both enjoyed. They have numerous stories regarding their travels that include twenty years of fun with friends on winter trips to Florida, Jim’s driving escapades in Ireland and memorable tours of Europe. There is even a now infamous tale of a “picture with the Pope” from one of their church tours.

A Gifted Artist

gertbrewart_flowers500Gert’s love of traveling is a perfect outlet for one of her other passions – painting. The walls of the Brew’s home are covered with beautiful oil paintings which depict memories from their lives. The paintings not only illustrate the talent and creativity of Gert as an artist, but they also demonstrate the depth of the passion and love that Gert has for the people and places that have touched her heart. There are paintings of places she and Jim have traveled together, important people from her life such as her mom and children and meaningful moments such as Jim hiking with his young daughters. With kindness and generosity, Gert has created many of these paintings as gifts for her loved ones.

Filled with Faith

gertbrewart_motherchild300Gert and Jim Brew are as dedicated to their faith as they are to their family. Attending church together is an important part of their lives. They appreciate all that they have been given and repeatedly acknowledge how much God has blessed them. They continue to attend church weekly and frequent as many church events as possible. It is no coincidence that Gert’s favorite painting is the one entitled “Teaching the Rosary” as it illustrates the peace and love that she believes are gifts from God, gifts for which she is truly grateful.

Gert Brew sees life as precious and meaningful. After being diagnosed with cancer she continues to live each day with the same fullness and depth as she always has, filling each moment with the things that matter most to her – family, art, travel, faith and above all else, love.

Written by Regional Hospice and Home Care Volunteer, Debbie Bodie and RHHC staff

John & Joan Salvato

John Salvato – A Life of Love

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John & Joan Salvato at their Danbury, CT home

Pulling up to a cozy home in a bucolic setting on a peaceful, country road, you can get a glimpse into the life of John & Joan Salvato. The peace and calm of the setting mirror the peace and calm of John himself, a man who is determined to enjoy the precious gift of the time he has left with the people and things he treasures most.

Marriage with a Capital “M”

Joan & John Salvato Wedding Photo

The Salvato’s wedding photo

John and his beautiful wife, Joan, consider it a privilege to entertain visitors and are passionate when describing their 36-year love story. The story began with a blind date back when they both worked at Perkin Elmer. Joan shares that John tells people that she never stops talking; and she jokes that this is because he never starts talking.

Joan gushes about the unconditional love that John has shown to his family and friends over the years. From his passion for cars – to his love of Rangers hockey – to his admirable work ethic, John taught his two sons everything he knew. He cared for Joan over the years through her own illnesses and always put his family first. The love between John and Joan is evident in the way they finish each other’s sentences and the ease in which they communicate. The fabric of their lives is woven with childhood memories of their sons, car shows, Rangers’ games and a myriad of gatherings with many beloved family and friends. John will tell you that the NY Rangers and his ’67 and ’78 Chevy Impalas are the loves of his life; but it is clear that Joan ranks highly too.

Overcoming Adversity

John has endured many unexpected obstacles, including losing his father at a young age and later losing his beloved son Drew. As a result, he is a man who cares deeply for the people he loves and cherishes his time with them. His eyes light up when talking about the pride he feels for his sons, Jonathan and the late Drew, and the amazing grandchildren that he has been blessed with – Angel, Drew, Hunter and Lilyana. He humbly expresses, “I tried to teach them everything I could.” He beams with pride when talking about the unlimited potential and intelligence of Angel, the passion for cars that Hunter shares with him, the excitement that Drew shows every time he comes to visit his Poppa and what his adorable new granddaughter Lilyana will be like. John is not a man who focuses on sadness. He sincerely appreciates every moment that he spends with the people he loves. He is a family-oriented man who speaks with love about the family members who have gone before him and cherishes the time that he has with his children, grandchildren, siblings, cousins and friends who visit regularly.

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Joan & John Salvato with one of John’s classic Impalas

Finding Peace

John is at peace with his decision to call Regional Hospice and Home Care and cease curative treatment for his illness. He shares that his pain has gone away since stopping treatment and he is now able to live his life doing the things he loves. Whether it is tinkering with his beloved Chevy Impalas, sitting on his porch with Joan, or playing Legos with his grandchildren, John is able to embrace the simple joys of life. He raves about his hospice team which includes Carol, his nurse; Colleen, his social worker; and Dave, his volunteer. John and Joan call Dave their, “angel on earth without wings” and say that they feel like they’ve, “known each other for twenty years.” Dave and John have bonded over John’s classic cars, taking them out for a spin, with hopes to get to one of the car shows at the Sycamore.  Dave’s companionship and compassion have been a gift to the couple and John expresses sincerely, “I will never forget Dave.”

The Future

The greeting cards that line the mantel, the Legos in the family room, the remarkable cars restored by John that sit in the garage, and the family photos that line every surface in their home reinforce that the home of John and Joan Salvato is one that is filled with warmth and love.  John is a quiet man with a gentle soul who is spending his precious time left in a place that he loves, with people he loves, doing the things that he loves.

Written by Regional Hospice and Home Care Volunteer, Debbie Bodie

UPDATE: We are sad to report that John Salvato lost his courageous battle with cancer. Our condolences go out to his family and friends.