Support at the End of Life’s Journey
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.