Volunteer Spotlight: Mary Ann Desjarlais

Name: Mary Ann Desjarlais

How long have you been a volunteer?
I have been a volunteer for 12 years

What areas do you work in/what sort of tasks do you do as a volunteer?
I help with fundraisers, make deliveries to patients’ homes, work on mailings, and do home visits and respite care.

What made you decide to become a volunteer?
I became a volunteer when I retired. I wanted to do something worthwhile with my time.

Why Angela Hospice?
I became familiar with Angela Hospice when my dad was there. I was inspired after seeing the level of care he received.

What is your favorite part about volunteering?
I love meeting the people I come in contact with. The patients and families are so grateful.

Mary Ann sells raffle tickets at many of Angela  
Hospice's events.
What is one of your favorite stories or memories from volunteering?
I was doing respite care with a patient that had Alzheimer's. She never showed any recognition toward her husband. One day, her husband came home and sat next to her. She looked at him with recognition in her eyes. She put her head on his shoulders and the two of them just sat there and enjoyed the moment. It was such a beautiful thing to see.

Employee Spotlight: Joan Lee

Name, title: Joan Lee, Bereavement Social Worker

How long have you worked here?
23 years.

What made you decide to work here?
I wanted to work at a place that provided very dedicated care and I was in the process of switching jobs. I drove by Angela Hospice before they even had the driveway in and I said, “hospice.” I had also just lost my 46-year-old dear friend. I also had a lot of losses in my life so I had experience with death.

So as I passed Angela Hospice I thought, “Now that would be a place where there would be dedicated people working…it would be more like a vocation.”

Sister Giovanni and two other social workers interviewed me, and I was offered the position.

How had you heard of Angela Hospice?
I had never heard of it before but I was just driving by and the whole concept of hospice – and after the death of my friend hospice was already in my head – so when I saw the word “hospice” I thought, “I think I can do that.”

So I asked the mother of the dear friend who had died – who had known me since I was 16 – I asked her what she thought, whether I could do that type of work, and another best friend who would always tell me the truth, and they both said yes. Then I applied.

What’s a typical day like for you?
We pretty much see clients one after the other. We also have the support groups and we have to do phone work assessments. So we’re pretty busy. That’s pretty much what we do.

What is your favorite part about working at Angela Hospice?
My favorite part is the people. Not only my clients, who are very special and very dear – and this is a very gratifying job that we have here in bereavement. It’s very fulfilling because we’re able to guide and companion these people through this very terrible time in their lives to the point where they can live happily again. I think that’s very gratifying.

But beyond that, the people who work here are very similar in nature. Their goal is to provide dedicated care and everybody here is pretty doggone nice. That’s the best part about Angela Hospice.

Joan with fellow bereavement team members. 
What is one of your favorite memories from your time at Angela Hospice?
There are a lot of special moments where you meet people and help them. I don’t know if I have one special moment because there are so many moments with special people who have died – the first three years I worked here I did home care and then I moved into the Bereavement Department.

There was one very special patient who really died with a smile on her face and couldn’t wait to go to Jesus. I never saw that before and I’ve never seen it after. Every day she would say to her kids who surrounded her, “Maybe today I’ll go to Jesus.” When she did, she had a beautiful rosy face and a smile. It was beautiful. 


A new way to super-charge your Walk of Remembrance

Everydayhero is a new tool that Walk of Remembrance participants can use to make an even bigger impact on Angela Hospice and the community.

If you are walking in remembrance of a loved one, invite others to join you as virtual team members! Just visit our page on Everydayhero and click the green “Start Fundraising” button:

The Mimi's Little Sweethearts team at the 2016 Walk
of Remembrance.
In under five minutes, you’ll be able to customize your own team fundraiser page and easily share it with family, friends, and coworkers on social media. 

For more on the Walk Remembrance and how to start a team, visit our event page here.

Volunteer Spotlight: Deborah Diehr

Deborah Diehr at Balanced Life Massage Studio in Westland, Michigan.
“Whenever someone talks about hospice, I always mention that I am a volunteer for Angela,” said Deborah Diehr, a four year Angela Hospice volunteer.

When Debbie isn’t working full time for a durable medical equipment company, she is busy owning and managing her own massage business at Balanced Life Massage Studio in Westland, Michigan.

Her background in massage therapy has made her a treasured volunteer here at Angela Hospice. Debbie volunteers in the Care Center, but spends most of her time visiting patients’ homes to give massages.

For Debbie, knowing she is making a difference in someone's final journey, and being able to give them comfort and peace, is what she cherishes most about volunteering.

As for the most challenging part? “Not being able to get to every patient Lora sends to me.”

With working a full time job and running her own business, Debbie has many demands on her time. “I can only do what I can, but I feel bad that I can't do more,” said Debbie, a mother of four and grandmother of eight, who is always eager to help others.

Debbie was introduced to Angela Hospice during her mom’s passing, after learning about Angela through a friend.

“We contacted Angela and they sent a nurse out to do her initial assessment, and broke the news to us that she only had days to live,” Debbie said.

Although her mother passed away just a week later, Angela offered bereavement services to Debbie and that left a big impression.

“When I went to massage school, Teri, the Director of Volunteer Services for Angela Hospice, gave a presentation to our class, and I knew that I needed to pursue the volunteer program at Angela,” Debbie said.

Teri’s presentation wasn’t the only event that led to Debbie’s decision to sign up for the volunteer classes.

“When my dad was going through his last days, I was going to massage school at the same time, and I gave my dad a massage just before he passed away,” Debbie said.

This too inspired Debbie to volunteer; she wanted to be able to use her skills to help others like her dad. Massage therapy can benefit hospice patients not only physically, but psychologically as well. 

For Debbie, finding out that one of her patients actually knew her dad made it all come full circle.

“They worked together years ago,” she said. “It made me realize just how small our world really is.”

For more information about Angela Hospice’s volunteer program, visit www.angelahospice.org/volunteer.

Trek of a Lifetime

Jennifer Lake at age 23, just a few
years before her first seizure.
You could say Jennifer Lake was a Trekkie since birth. She grew up watching Star Trek and knew all the episodes, all the characters.

“She loved science fiction,” said her mother, Marilyn Spence, who took Jennifer to see her first sci-fi movie as a child. “Books, movies…that’s how she got started.”

So in August 2015, when Jennifer booked two tickets for a Star Trek cruise that would set sail from Miami in March 2017 – she had a lot of time to build up excitement. Only things didn’t really go as planned.

Jennifer had a brain tumor. In fact, she had been fighting tumors, undergoing surgery after surgery, radiation, and chemo, in a frustrating loop for 19 years. What started with a seizure when she was 26 years old, eventually evolved into a glioblastoma multiforme grade 4, the worst kind of brain tumor. But Jennifer was determined. She may have had a wound on her skull and enough medications to cover the dining room table, but she was definitely going on that cruise to fulfill her Star Trek dream.

She had made plans to go with her friend Donna. They had been neighbors back when Jennifer lived in Grand Rapids, before her husband decided he wanted a divorce. It was just 4 months into their marriage that Jennifer had first gotten sick, and 17 years later, her husband had had enough of her illness.

That’s when Jennifer moved to metro-Detroit. She was proud to have her own condo, where she could be independent. It was just her and her little dog, Cricket. But too soon after that, Jennifer’s disease escalated. She had to move in with her mother and stepfather so they could care for her. Despite it all though, Jennifer’s spirits were pretty high.

“She was really a brave, brave person, and usually in a fairly good mood – except when I tried to mother her,” Marilyn laughed.

There were some struggles as Jennifer tried to maintain her independence, despite her ever increasing physical challenges. She had to use a wheelchair and she needed a lot more assistance than she was used to.

That’s why it was so surprising when the morning she was set to embark on her cruise, Jennifer got herself up and dressed, and set the table for breakfast.

“I was blown off my feet when I walked in...and there was Jennifer sitting on the sofa at four o’clock in the morning, all dressed by herself,” Marilyn said.

But preparing for the cruise wasn’t all smooth sailing. It took a lot of coordination, and Jennifer’s Angela Hospice Home Care team was happy to help.

“They came and reviewed all her medications with us, made sure we had brand new medications, unopened to take with us to get through customs,” Marilyn said. “Yes, they spent an awful lot of time helping us get prepared, ordering a new wheelchair and all this.”

When all was said and done, they had a whole suitcase full of supplies.

Teresea Zarza, Jennifer’s nurse practitioner from Angela Hospice, also made a very important suggestion: that Marilyn and her husband Glenn go with Jennifer and her friend on the trip. At first it seemed impossible – the cruise had been sold out since 2015. And Jennifer really wanted to be independent. But Teresea insisted that Marilyn and Glenn go too. Jennifer’s hospice nurse even offered to watch their dog so they could go with Jennifer.

Marilyn called the cruise line and explained the situation, how sick her daughter was, and all the supplies she’d need.

“I thought, ‘Well, what are the chances of us getting a cabin?’” Marilyn said. “And they had a cancellation…a cancellation on a handicap room.”

Initially Marilyn and Glenn really hadn’t wanted to go, and they didn’t want Jennifer to go either.
They knew it would be very hard for her physically. They were worried about her. And they were worried Jennifer’s friend would be overwhelmed by how much care Jennifer needed – that she didn’t really understand how sick Jennifer had gotten.

But with the help of her Angela Hospice team, it was settled. This trip Jennifer had been waiting for for nearly two years was about to happen. And after a series of losses that had pummelled her over the past three years – losing her husband, her condo, her health, and her dog Cricket who passed just before Jennifer got really sick – this trip was something just for her.

From left: Jennifer, Glenn, William Shatner, Marilyn, and Donna.
“The day we were leaving we were all in the car and I was sitting next to [Jennifer] in the back seat and she was crying. I said, ‘Why are you crying?’ And she said, ‘I’m so happy we are going,’” Marilyn recalled.

The highlight of the cruise was when Jennifer met William Shatner.

“She was so excited. She went to shake his hand. She was the first one in line,” Marilyn said.

Unfortunately, Jennifer couldn’t go on any of the excursions at the stops, and her physical limitations prevented her from participating in a lot of activities. But she had fun on the ship, enjoying meals with her friend, scoping out all the extravagant costumes, and visiting the gift shop.

But by the time they got back home, Jennifer was not doing well at all.

“That first night we got home, I called at about two in the morning because Jennifer was in so much pain, and somebody was out within an hour and taking action, saying, ‘She needs a bed at the [Angela Hospice Care Center]....She has got to get a bed.”

Early that morning, there was a room ready for Jennifer at the Care Center. Then 27 hours later, Jennifer passed away peacefully, while Marilyn and Glenn were in the room with her. She was just 44 years old.

Marilyn and Glenn were grateful for the care Jennifer received, and thankful that Jennifer made the decision to sign on early.

“We were encouraged to use hospice sooner because I guess a lot of people wait… I’m glad we did, because on your own, not knowing, there is only so much you can do,” she said

Marilyn said that right after Jennifer died, her nurse and nurse practitioner came to the Care Center to say goodbye. She was impressed because she knew they worked in home care and weren’t usually in the center. But Jennifer had made an impression on her hospice team.

Perhaps it’s because Jennifer went through so many trials and tribulations – any single one of which could legitimately be called devastating – but she wouldn’t let them bring her down. She kept her spirits up and her hopes high.

“She had a very good attitude – she was really blessed,” Marilyn said. And she summed up her daughter in one word, repeated for the emphasis Jennifer warranted: “She was amazing, AMAZING.”