To be There for His 1st Day of School

One of our favorite bucket-list stories–or any kind of story!–is about a loving grandmother named Nancy. Nancy and her husband Skip had nearly 40 years of history together when she learned she had lung cancer in June 2009. By Christmas, she knew curative treatments were no longer helping. Her focus became quality of life, and we were honored to be asked to care for her at home.

Nancy and Skip were proud parents and grandparents. They loved living in Berea, Ky., and being close to their family, making memories and sharing milestones. And one of Nancy’s very favorite milestones came each fall; she loved watching her grandchildren get on the bus for the first day of school each year.

“She always enjoyed that,” says Skip. “Everyone has these memorable moments in their lives. It’s different for everybody. Seeing her grandchildren get on that bus was big for Nancy.”

In fact, it was big for her when her own children were young, too.

In that winter of 2009 as Nancy, a former nurse, coped with the knowledge that treatments weren’t helping, her thoughts turned to her youngest grandson, Deacon. She told a close friend, Carol, that her one big hope was to hang on long enough to see Deacon step on that school bus for the first day of school.

“I can’t begin to describe how important this was to her,” says Carol.

Nancy and her family made it through that winter, the spring, and into the next summer. But, around July, her condition deteriorated quickly. On July 29, 2010, she was admitted to the Hospice Care Plus Compassionate Care Center for end-of-life pain and symptom management. The nurses and the rest of the hospice team went to work to get her pain and symptoms under control so that Nancy would be comfortable. Then, the team talked with the family about Nancy’s prognosis, explaining that she was close to the end of life.

Hospice staff are very aware that comfort and peace are about more than just physical pain and symptoms. The entire team—nurses, aids, chaplains, social workers, and more—work together to get to know the patient and the family, to better understand what’s needed to bring the most peace to everyone.

This was certainly the case for Nancy. Nancy’s physical symptoms, including her pain, were under control. Still, she was agitated. She didn’t seem at peace.

Her beautiful family and her close friend Carol thought they knew why.

Carol, Skip, and Nancy’s Hospice Care Plus team took action. They contacted Skip Benton, director of transportation at the Madison County Board of Education. Explanations were given. Plans were made.

The next evening, July 30, just before 8 p.m., Nancy’s nurse wheeled her outside to the front of the Compassionate Care Center. Deacon was standing there, all dressed up for the first day of school. Seconds later, a big yellow school bus rounded the bend toward the Center.

Nancy couldn’t believe it.

The driver flashed the lights and extended the safety bar as the bus approached the Center, just as she would at any other bus stop. She pulled up to where Deacon waited, right next to his Nana’s wheelchair. When the driver opened the doors, Deacon hugged his Nana, told her goodbye, boarded the bus, and waved to her from the front seat as the Madison County school bus eased away from the curb.schoolbus

When the nursing staff got her back into bed, Nancy told Skip, “I am so happy I got to see that.” She drifted into a state of semi-consciousness immediately afterwards. Those were her last words.

Just after dawn the next morning, Skip knew Nancy was almost gone. “I went over, took her hand, and told her, ‘Nancy, it’s time for you to go home. You need to be with your mother, your dad, and aunts and uncles. I want to thank you for being my wife. We had a wonderful 40 years, beautiful children and grandchildren, but it’s time for you to go home.”

She passed peacefully moments later, less than 12 hours after watching her youngest grandson board the school bus for the first time.

All of us at Hospice Care Plus would like to thank Skip, Carol, Deacon, and Nancy’s entire family for allowing us to share their beautiful story. Special thanks also to the compassionate, wonderful people with Madison County Schools and its Board of Transportation for their willingness to partner with us in doing whatever it took to help one special Nana die in peace.  

To Marry Karen

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Mark and Karen on their wedding day, with Hospice Care Plus chaplain Sally Iseral officiating. Photo courtesy of Shimmer and Shine Photo.

One February day in 2014, we made a special request on our Facebook page:  did anyone have a sized 32-34 suit or tux we could borrow for a patient who wanted to get married?

We asked our Facebook followers because the patient’s care team—the nurse, social worker, nurse aid, and chaplain—had all checked with friends and family, and they couldn’t find a suit in the right size. Their patient, Mark, wanted to marry Karen, his girlfriend of 8 years, before he died. It was very important to both of them. Since the care we offer is all centered on the wishes and hopes of the patient, well—we had to make it happen.

It actually isn’t uncommon. We’ve helped with many weddings in our 33 years.

What isn’t common, though, is to have 20,000 people follow the story and ask how they could help. Yep—that’s how many Facebook users watched our page for more news about Mark and Karen. Many of them commented, messaged, or called to offer their help.

The suit was taken care of within minutes, but our Facebook fans wanted more for this couple. Within a few days, various businesses and individuals had offered everything from a professional wedding cake and bouquet to reception refreshments, decorations, and photography (the complete list is at the end of this entry).

Sally Iseral, our chaplain and the person who conducted the wedding, had several meetings with Mark and Karen to plan their ceremony. At one meeting, after the Facebook post,  Mark had not been very well. Though we’d been providing what we call Crisis Intervention Care–8 to 12 hour shifts of in-home nursing care when a patient’s symptoms require more intense care– Karen was still exhausted from checking on him night and day. And he, of course, had been very sick. So, neither of them was aware of the outpouring of support for them on Facebook.

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The donated bouquet and wedding cake. Photo courtesy of Shimmer and Shine Photo.

They asked if we’d show them, so we did.

Mark’s eyesight wasn’t good at that point, and Karen was so tired she could barely read the computer screen. So, Mark sat in a chair and Karen stood behind him as one of our staff read the status updates and comments out loud.

When we got to the update about the “anonymous biker” who drove all the way from Jackson County to our Berea office—on his bike, in February—to give us some hard-earned cash, and to tell us to “make sure that boy has a good wedding,” I heard a sob.

When we turned around, Mark had pulled Karen into his lap and was crying into her shoulder. They stayed there for the longest time, quietly crying together.  She cradled his head in her arms and he held on to her with every ounce of energy he had left in his fragile body.

They were so truly overwhelmed by the love and generosity shown to them, that they could do nothing more than weep and hold onto one another.

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A few of the helpers who volunteered to help prepare refreshments and decorations. Photo courtesy of Shimmer and Shine Photo.

If you aren’t familiar with the story of Mark and Karen, you’ll find the posts, including wedding photos and more, in the February-March 2014 section of our Facebook page. Their wedding was beautiful, and, thanks to all that excellent care, he looked and felt better than he had in ages.

Here’s the list of businesses and individuals who contributed to the wedding. They—and every single person who commented on the posts—have our deepest gratitude.

  • A custom wedding cake and topper, donated by Doodlebug Cakes, Berea, Ky.
  • A custom, keepsake bridal bouquet, boutonnière, and locket by Amy Powers Baker, Berea, Ky.
  • Florals for the bouquet, donated by Michael’s in Richmond, Ky.
  • Special clothes for the mother-of-the-bride, donated by Cool Thread Fashions in Beattyville, Ky.
  • Professional wedding photography, including a memory book, by Shimmer and Shine Photo, Richmond, Ky.
  • Food for a reception, courtesy of Morning Pointe of Richmond and Shannon Clontz, a Berea resident
  • Decorations for wedding and reception, also courtesy of Morning Pointe
  • A beautiful floral swag for an archway in the home, donated by Madison Flowers, Richmond
  • Hair and makeup for the big day, donated by Brittany Moore, Mary Kay consultant
  • Funds to purchase plates, napkins, and cutlery, donated by an anonymous gentleman from Jackson County