Support at the End of Life’s Journey

Connections to Care Mobile Hero
Home / News & Events / Newsletter

Support at the End of Life’s Journey

Jan 23, 2015

Each year, Skirball Hospice, a program of the Los Angeles Jewish Home, helps over 500 individuals and their families move through the final phase of life's journey. The following is based on one family's story. Sarah* came from a distinguished Jewish family, and, although she was raised with knowledge of Jewish rituals, she identified herself as more of a cultural Jew. What mattered to her was championing causes for people in need, making sure they were fed, housed and clothed. She studied anthropology and travelled all over the world, making friends with people from different cultures and religions. Her Judaism was more focused on the universal, rather than the particular. Having grown up during the Great Depression, Sarah had learned to be frugal and spent money on things that really mattered to her. She wasn't frivolous; she gave monetarily in ways that reflected her values and on causes she believed in. Her four children knew exactly how she felt about the importance of caring for others, both emotionally and financially.

At age 90, Sarah was dying from heart disease and was admitted to Skirball Hospice. Her devoted children cared for her around the clock with the help of the hospice team. Her oldest daughter was a great cook and prepared the foods her mother loved. She would sit with her for hours, holding her hand and kissing her cheek. The middle daughters both worked in the medical field and provided the physical care their mother needed. The youngest child, Sarah's son and a bit of an insomniac, stayed with her at night so she wouldn't be alone. Hospice made sure she had the right medications, oxygen when she needed it, and provided emotional support to the family. Their questions were answered and the hospice staff was always available when they needed reassurance. The partnership between the family and the team made a huge difference in the quality of Sarah's last few weeks, and made the prospect of losing her more bearable. Her family was very appreciative of the support they received.

When Sarah died, her children knew there wasn't going to be a funeral, memorial, or shiva service, in keeping with their mother's wishes and values. Still, for them, something was missing. There was no coming together to mourn and tell stories, no sense of closure, and no kaddish prayer. Sarah's children had reclaimed some of the Jewish rituals their mother had discarded, and wanted something more for themselves. How could they get that and still be true to what Sarah had wanted?

A few months later they received an invitation to attend the annual Skirball Hospice Memorial Service. It was truly an answer to a prayer. All four children attended this touching tribute. Candles were lit, a stone was placed to honor the deceased, and family members were given the opportunity to say a few words in memory of their loved one. Prayers were said, the names of the dead were recited, and the kaddish was read. For Sarah's children, they finally received the solace and comfort they had been looking for. Surrounded by others who had also lost someone dear, they felt embraced and held by the atmosphere of love and acceptance. The staff who had cared for their mom were there to reconnect. With both tears and laughter, Sarah, and all the other former hospice patients, were remembered as only ones who have been through this experience can truly understand.

Skirball Hospice will be holding its annual Memorial Service on Sunday, February 22, 2015 at the Skirball Cultural Center. Family members and service providers of people who were on hospice in the past year are invited to attend. For more information, please call Skirball Hospice at 818-774-3040.

*fictitious name

Sign up for the LAJHealth Newsletter, Connections.

Recent Articles

Jun 14

Reflections Gala 2024: Celebrating Generations of Caring

Reflections Gala 2024: Celebrating Generations of Caring Honoring Marilyn & Izzy Freeman REGISTER HERE Date: Sunday, November 10, 2024 Location: Skirball Cultural Center - Los Angeles
Read More
Jun 5

Seniors Create a Night to Remember and Lifelong Connections at Senior-Senior Dance

Spring is prom season—that fun-filled, special rite of passage marking a last chance for high school seniors to forge enduring memories of young adulthood before heading out into the wider world. This year, Los Angeles Jewish Health held a dance for both seniors in high school and seniors who are older adults, bringing them together for a special shared celebration. On a beautiful evening, residents of the Newman Building on the Eisenberg Village campus joined graduating seniors from de Toledo High School to create lasting connections and a night to remember. The idea—hosting an annual evening that would enable people on both sides of the generational divide to learn how much they have in common and bond—was born a handful of years ago. The inaugural Senior-Senior Dance, held before the tightening up of health regulations during COVID-19, was a tremendous success. “Following the pandemic, we started to think about bringing the Senior-Senior Dance back. It’s such a wonderful program, and I remember our residents couldn’t stop talking about how much they enjoyed it for weeks after it happened,” says Stacy Orbach, Los Angeles Jewish Health’s director of volunteer services. “We knew it would be so invigorating for our seniors to move and schmooze on the dance floor!” High School Seniors and Senior residents dance together Students and administrators at de Toledo, a private Jewish day school located in West Hills, were equally thrilled by the prospect of making this special event a tradition, and a group of de Toledo seniors began planning in earnest with Los Angeles Jewish Health staff. On the day of the event, students arrived at Los Angeles Jewish Health early to help set up, transforming the venue with decorations including colored lights and festive crepe paper. All of the excitement created a buzz on campus and brought Los Angeles Jewish Health residents out in droves. Stacy shares, “We had a packed house including parents of students and de Toledo’s head of school. The de Toledo jazz band came, along with their amazing teacher Jared Stein. Once they started playing, students and residents flocked to the dance floor. We couldn’t get them off!” LAJH Special Projects Coordinator Julie Lockman-Gold says the event was rejuvenating for the Newman residents, most of whom are in their 80s and 90s and who love connecting with younger people. “We literally watched our residents get younger during the night. If they had arthritis or other pain, they forgot it all. They showed such spunk, and all their old dance moves came back. There was one resident who didn’t sit down the entire night—and she’s 94!” she says. “Seeing such big smiles and so much joy on residents’ faces was really something to behold.” The residents were deeply appreciative of the de Toledo students’ presence at the event. “That these kids wanted to be with us was such a mitzvah,” one of the participants says. “It meant a lot for them to come here and do this for us.” The benefit and appreciation went both ways. “The students got so much out of this event,” says Annette Weinberg, Los Angeles Jewish Health’s campus lifestyle and enrichment director for Eisenberg Village. “At school, they learn the concept of l’dor v’dor (from generation to generation), which is all about passing down wisdom and traditions. The Senior-Senior Dance gave them an opportunity to put it into action, and I think they realized how meaningful it was for our residents to spend time with them, listen to them, and laugh with them.” Perhaps one of the participating de Toledo seniors put it best: “We formed real soul-to-soul connections. It’s not just what we did for them, but also the impact they had on us,” he says. “The simple conversations we had with them taught us life lessons that we’ll carry with us through our next chapters.” Music was provided by the De Toledo High School Jazz Band Both groups enjoyed visiting throughout the event.
Read More
Jun 5

New Activity Group Leaves Residents Feeling Positively Great

For Los Angeles Jewish Health resident Arlene Bercu, life is about making the most of every moment. The 90-year-old Winnipeg transplant has always greeted each day with enthusiasm, but her embrace of glass-half-full optimism has recently taken on new meaning—and, as she tells it, today her glass overflows with thankfulness and fulfillment. “Last year, I got COVID and also took a fall at the same time and ended up being hospitalized for five days. When I came back to Los Angeles Jewish Health, I went into rehab, and the kindness, care, and love of the staff was amazing,” she enthuses. “I know God took me on a spiritual odyssey and put those people on my path, and it made me so grateful.” Channeling that gratitude into action, at the suggestion of several Los Angeles Jewish Health staffers, Arlene decided to launch the Positivity Group, a monthly meeting of residents living on the Grancell Village campus, in its Joyce Eisenberg-Keefer Medical Center building. The idea, she says, is to help her fellow residents experience the kind of pure happiness they had when they were little children. “We choose a theme for the meetings, and we welcome whoever wants to come,” Arlene says. “In April, which was our first gathering, the focus was music: We had residents singing and playing tambourines, castanets, and drums. People were smiling ear-to-ear, and seeing their faces light up made my soul soar.” During the May meeting, Arlene—a talented artist who was selling her work on the Venice Beach Boardwalk into her 80s—led group participants in making bookmarks and postcards and painting on giant easels. “We even had Q-Tips for people who couldn’t hold brushes; you can paint with any manner of things!” she notes. As Arlene sees it, the magic of the Positivity Group is its ability to connect residents with the sense of wonder and amazement they may not have felt since their earliest years. “Adults are such perfectionists, and we can be so hard on ourselves. But, as kids, we’re more open and receptive to the idea that each of us is original, one-of-a-kind, a masterpiece,” she says. “That’s what I want our participants to understand: They can contribute in their own unique ways, whether it’s singing a song or painting a canvas, and their contributions are valued—and they are loved.” At future meetings, Arlene hopes to lead the group in assembling gift baskets to be distributed to other residents. “We’ll have all sorts of treasures that will allow seniors to unlock their inner child, from checkers sets and dolls to Lincoln Logs and Play Doh,” she says. “Then we’ll tie the baskets up with beautiful raffia ribbon. It will be so wonderful!” Arlene says helping residents harken back to their youth helps spark creativity and joy while also providing new opportunities for intellectual and spiritual growth. “Just because we’re older doesn’t mean we have to stop learning,” she points out. “I believe God makes all things possible no matter our ages and that, if we just have faith, we’ll find we can accomplish so much. Fear is the only thing holding us back, and I hope that after coming to the Positivity Group, people will feel upbeat and excited about doing new things. I know I do: Every day is a gift, and I’m not afraid to try anything anymore.” Arlene sold her work on the Venice Beach Boardwalk well into her 80s
Read More