Holmes Park Hospice House is a miracle. Ten years ago it was a dream. Today its development conforms to the theory of evolution of Jean de Lamarck: “Organisms become transformed by their effort to respond to the demands of their environment.”
The Holmes Park Hospice House story began when a tiny resale boutique opened in Ashland in 2009. From the start there was a shared vision that one day we would have a hospice house in Southern Oregon. Then Rogue Valley citizens, businesses and foundations came forward to help finance the purchase of an estate perched on an east Medford hill. The elegant Georgian home, designed by famed architect Paul Revere Williams, was built in 1939 for Harry and Eleanor Holmes of Harry and David Corporation. Today the home is being transformed into Holmes Park Hospice House with a newly constructed garden wing that has eight bedrooms and bathrooms.
This spring the house and gardens will be ready to offer compassionate end-of-life care for 12 patients. Currently we are nearing completion of our goal to raise $4 million dollars.
During the weekend of Feb. 2 and 3, 28 future volunteers were introduced to the “Culture of Caring.” This was developed by a 15-member “Culture Committee”: three physicians, a veterinarian, a clinical psychologist, a physical therapist, chaplains, several nurses and hospice volunteers. We met once or twice each month for nine months to envision the culture of the Holmes Park House. Together we designed a training program for staff and volunteers.
Everyone who works or volunteers at Holmes Park Hospice House will be trained in the culture of mindful caring. There is diversity in the jobs to be done: administration, board and committee work, gardening, house cleaning, clerical work, bookkeeping, food preparation and service, household maintenance, laundry and hospitality. Volunteers who care for patients at the bedside receive additional training which totals 50 hours.
The training workshop began on Friday night with soup and salad. We were asked to share in two sentences: “What brought you to Holmes Park House?”
Karen said, “My husband was diagnosed with ALS. He was eventually put on hospice. The quality of the care was fantastic. I want to give back by working in the garden.”
“I am newly retired looking for ways to volunteer and use my occupational therapy skills,” said Ellen, with an air of professional confidence.
Frank, a psychotherapist/educator, introduced us to mindfulness, which he includes in his work with clients. He sat on a high stool dressed in khaki slacks and a pullover sweater as he made steady eye contact with his audience.
“My own Italian-American parents challenged me. My 92-year-old mom was easier because she calmed herself by praying. She had an Italian Catholic fierce devotion to St. Anthony and prayed that she would pass in her sleep. She did.
“My dad, an old Italian with some fight left in him, delivered his last words to me: ‘Frank, they’ll never take me alive.’ I chuckled.” As Frank spoke, his arms rose up and out front of his chest. Both hands flipped and flopped tracing circles. This is a real Italian, I thought.
Dr. John Forsyth summarized the recent history of medical care. “We doctors were trained to have the answers about how to treat our patients. We were not prepared for patients for whom we had no successful treatment.”
We broke into groups of four. We each had seven minutes to share: “What event in your life brought you to want to volunteer to do end-of-life care?”
It was my turn to talk about Jim. We were close friends, two couples, neighbors, who ate dinner together every Tuesday night for seven years. We spent Thanksgiving weekend together at a beach resort in Pacific Grove, California. That’s when Jim first lost his appetite.
“Everything tasted sour,” he said. He tired on beach walks. He was in his mid-60s, a cyclist who had been vigorous. Something was wrong.
The following Monday Jim and Margo visited their family doctor who referred them to an oncologist. A liver biopsy confirmed a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.
“Go home and get your affairs in order, you have less than two months to live,” his oncologist gently announced.
Jim was a trained hospice volunteer with several years of experience. He decided to die consciously by fully participating in his end-of-life process. He asked to be put on hospice care. He planned for and selected the music for two memorial services, one for his faith community and one for his fellow symphony musicians.
He made a list of friends he wanted to visit with for a chance to say goodbye. His wife made the phone calls arranging the visits. I was on his friend list. Jim was dressed in a maroon terry robe and slippers. We sat in his room on comfortable upholstered chairs. I remember his long legs stretched out. I asked, “May I give you a foot massage?” He was delighted.
Tears rolled down his face. “I don’t want to die, I am not ready for this mysterious journey.” Jim refused a hospital bed. He treasured sleeping with his wife in their queen size bed. He died two nights later cuddled in the arms of Margo. The courage of his journey changed my life. Soon I signed with San Francisco Zen Hospice, training to become a hospice nurse.
After our Holmes Park House training weekend, the participants wrote very positive evaluations that included a new and deeper understanding of the Culture of Caring. The next training is scheduled for September and October. For details, call Sue Carroll, volunteer coordinator, at 541-500-8911.
— Sarah Seybold is a retired RN, formerly a nurse educator. Currently Sarah is an honorary board member of Southern Oregon Friends of Hospice. Their focus is to complete the $4 million Capital Campaign project before the opening of the 12-bed hospice house in mid-May.