'Death, Dying, and Dessert' Discussion Group at Livonia Civic Center Library

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Have you ever wanted to talk about a funeral or a friend’s passing but couldn’t find anyone to listen? How about planning ahead and letting people know about your own wishes for end-of-life care? These and other topics are encouraged at Livonia’s new “Death, Dying, and Dessert” discussion group, which began in October, and will continue the second Monday of each month through April 2016. The group will meet in the Michigan Room of the Civic Center Library from 7 – 8:30 p.m. All are welcome. Tea, coffee, and cake are provided, and there is no charge.

Across the country, similar groups have sprung up that promote open conversation about death and dying, including the very popular “Death CafĂ©” and the less well-known “Death and Dying Dinner Parties.” Church and community groups have begun offering advance directives workshops and adult education classes about planning ahead.

“These groups recognize that death, once accepted as a part of life, has become a taboo topic. They aim to change that by normalizing the conversation,” said Merilynne Rush, RN, an experienced death educator, and facilitator of “Death, Dying, and Dessert.” “After all, death is the one thing everyone has in common.”

The “Death, Dying, and Dessert” discussion group is not a grief support group. Neither is it an opportunity to give or receive advice. But those who want a chance to share their story and listen openly to others are encouraged to attend.

“There is no presentation. The participants lead the conversation,” Rush said.

All adults are welcome. For more information, contact Merilynne Rush at (734) 395-9660.

“Death, Dying, and Dessert” is hosted by Angela Hospice.

About Merilynne Rush
Merilynne Rush, RN, is a retired hospice nurse and home birth midwife. She first became interested in home funerals and natural burial in 2008, and now serves on the board of directors of the Green Burial Council. Rush also spent two years on the board of the National Home Funeral Alliance, a nationwide network of those advocating for personal choice in caring for their own dead. Rush holds a bachelor’s in humanities and women’s studies from Michigan State University, and a bachelor’s in nursing from the University of Michigan. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in hospice and palliative care at Madonna University.

Volunteer Spotlight: Carol Brinton

Name: Carol Brinton

How long have you been a volunteer?
Two years.

What areas do you work in/what sort of tasks do you do as a volunteer?
Patient care in the Care Center, mailings, Tree of Life, and the Walk of Remembrance.

What made you decide to become a volunteer?
I saw the need when my mom was here and I couldn’t be here. I got to know the volunteers, and when I knew that they were here, it just made me rest more easily when I knew Mom was being taken care of. I thought, “I fed my mom when I was here, and hopefully, I can feed other people.” And Syndie [Angela Hospice Director of Volunteer Services] said, “If you feel that isn’t right for you, you can always change because there are so many volunteer positions.” Fortunately, I like it very much.

I was just telling my husband that I’m always in a rush for everything outside of here, but when I come here I know it’s the patient’s time, not my time. Some of them are very slow eaters…it just slows me down and I love it. I get so much out of it. It’s worked out really good.

What is your favorite part about volunteering?
Seeing that I can help people in some small way. I’m learning a lot, even from the class, but there’s nothing like firsthand experience from the nurses and the hospice aides. They’ve been very helpful in guiding me. I told them I’m here, I know some things, but I’m looking to you for guidance. I’m learning as I go and I’m enjoying it. Even the appreciation from the patients and the staff, that they’re glad to see us around, that makes you feel good too.

What is one of your favorite stories or memories from volunteering?
This one woman that I go to each week, she has Alzheimer’s and isn’t able to speak, but she communicates with her eyes. That’s so gratifying for me. I can just see she wants to say so much to me but she can’t. So we look in each other’s eyes. I can’t explain it, it’s wonderful. So I get a lot of gratification and when she smiles, and when she eats a little, I go home on cloud nine. It’s wonderful.

Volunteer Spotlight: Christine Depowski

Name: Christine Depowski

How long have you been a volunteer?
Four years.

What areas do you work in/what sort of tasks do you do as a volunteer?
Medical records, mailings, events, dessert for Caregiver dinners, and memorials.

What made you decide to become a volunteer?
Donna [Jasin] was a volunteer here and I was an empty-nester. I was like, what am I going to do with my time? I thought that Donna seemed to have a very favorable time here.

I’ve never had anybody here, as far as loved ones, but Angela Hospice just had such a good reputation.

What is your favorite part about volunteering?
Working with others. I love working with Jackie [Brown], and I appreciate being appreciated.

Christine (right) and a few fellow volunteers
sorting Walk of Remembrance t-shirts.
What is one of your favorite stories or memories from volunteering?
I just love working with Jackie [Brown]. She’s so much fun. My two mentors have been Nancy Schiffman and Jackie, and they’ve both been very nice. Everyone’s been very nice in the different departments I’ve worked in. I feel appreciated.

I love working the memorials too because each memorial service is different. It’s an honor to be there.

Volunteer Spotlight: Mary Ramsay

Name: Mary Ramsay

How long have you been a volunteer?
Nine years.

What areas do you work in/what sort of tasks do you do as a volunteer?
Patient care in the Care Center and nursing homes; events.

What made you decide to become a volunteer?
I was a nurse for nearly 40 years, so when I retired, a friend of mine who is also a nurse and works at Angela Hospice, kept saying, “Come try it out. I know you’d like it.” So I did. I came over and took the classes, and thought, “This is wonderful.”

I didn’t miss work when I retired but I missed the patients. I really missed the patients. This gives me a chance to be with the patients, talk to them, and help out if I can. It just makes me happy.

Mary (right) will fellow volunteer Dottie Wait at
Angela Hospice's annual Walk of Remembrance.
When I first came here I was so impressed with the kindness of the nurses. I worked in the ambulatory surgery area, where our focus was to get the patients in, do your thing, and get them home. Getting them home was part of our goals. And here, they were so patient and everything went so much slower and they were so kind, that I was just so impressed. It was wonderful.

What is your favorite part about volunteering?
I think being with the patients.

Walking to Honor Mom

For those who participate in Angela Hospice’s annual Walk of Remembrance, those 2.3 miles are about so much more than just getting some exercise.

“My mom is the main reason why we’re walking,” said Redford resident Wendy Martin.

Last year was the first time Wendy decided to take part in the Walk of Remembrance, which she did with her two children. It had been a little over a year since her mom, Suzanne, received Angela Hospice care. Suzanne was in the Angela Hospice Care Center for three months before passing in March 2013.

“I’m not going to lie, it was really emotional,” Wendy said. “I don’t know if it’s Angela [Hospice], or the community, or whatever it was, but I felt like, what a blessing this place is.”

Wendy's children, Zachary and Emma Jane, loved
walking for their grandmother at the walk last year.
While the walk proved to be an emotional day for Wendy and her kids she also said it was really nice. Her kids loved it so much that when they began discussing participating again they were very excited to do it, saying the walk was a special thing to do for grandma.

This year Wendy is forming a walk team and is expecting at least 15 people to be members. She said they haven’t completely decided on a name yet but they are leaning towards Suzanne’s Angels, in honor of her mom.

“I wanted to get the rest of my family involved,” she said. “I felt like it would be a nice way to honor my mom, and a way to give back to Angela Hospice because they were amazing to us and my mom.”

Before placing her in Angela Hospice, Wendy and her siblings were all taking turns having Suzanne live with them. Wendy said that went on for about nine months before getting to the point where it was just too hard because Suzanne needed more care than they could provide. Suzanne learned she had cancer in March 2012, then had surgery and chemo, before entering the Care Center in December.

“We didn’t really know how we were going to take care of her,” Wendy said. “None of us could really stay home and leave our jobs because we all have young families and we kind of need both paychecks.”

Suzanne’s doctors told them that hospice was  the only thing they would be able to do for her so the search began. They wanted to find a place that was close enough so someone could be with Suzanne every day or every other day.

Wendy and her siblings all grew up in Livonia so they knew about Angela Hospice. Plus, her grandparents both received Angela Hospice care while at St. Mary Mercy Livonia. She also had some friends that had used Angela Hospice for their loved ones.

“My mom was pretty young, so my brother, sister, and I all thought, ‘Oh, 20 years from now we’ll be dealing with mom passing away,’” Wendy said. “We never thought in our late 30s and early 40s that we’d be dealing with that.”

Wendy said the nurses and staff went out of their way to see how they were handling it all, and were more than willing to sit and answer all of their questions about Suzanne’s health.

“Even though it’s such a hard decision to make…it just kind of met all of our needs,” Wendy said. “It was a huge blessing.”

Walk of Remembrance
Saturday, September 19
Registration 9 a.m., Opening Ceremony 10 a.m.
Beginning at Madonna University
$35 for adults; $15 for ages 6-12; free for 5 & under
Register at AskForAngela.com or call (734) 464-7810

Sister Mary Giovanni retires from Angela Hospice

After nearly 30 years of dedicated service, Sister Mary Giovanni has retired from her work with Angela Hospice.
“In a way it is the end of an era,” said Angela Hospice President and CEO Margot Parr. “But Sister’s compassion and commitment to caring for the terminally ill continues to inspire us all.”
It was in 1985 that Sister Giovanni founded Angela Hospice with the help of the Felician Sisters. She had already spent 11 years researching holistic pain and symptom management, and was a registered nurse with a specialty in gerontology.
Under her leadership, Angela Hospice grew as a pioneer in the hospice movement, developing specialized programs for pediatric and prenatal hospice, and opening the first freestanding hospice facility in the state of Michigan. Her compassionate approach as a Felician Sister formed a caring organizational culture that permeates all levels of Angela Hospice’s programs and administration to this day.
Sister Giovanni addressed the staff and volunteers at her departure, saying, “There truly are no words to express to all of you how grateful I am for your dedicated service to our patients and families these past 30 years…. I have no doubt that Angela Hospice will continue to be the great program of care that it is.”
In fact, Angela Hospice has recently seen growth in its programs, just as hospice use has grown nationally. About 43-percent of Americans now use hospice services at the end of life, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.
Sister Giovanni’s long career in hospice care earned her the title of Visionary from the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, as they recognized the 30 most influential leaders in hospice and palliative medicine; as well as a spot in the National Association for Home Care and Hospice’s Home Care and Hospice Hall of Fame.
“Sister Giovanni will always be the foundress of Angela Hospice. She has changed the landscape of hospice, and we will continue her legacy going forward,” said Parr.

Sister Giovanni left with a familiar word of encouragement for Angela Hospice’s 220 employees and 443 volunteers: “As I would always say at the end of our monthly staff meetings, ‘Go out and do something beautiful for God.’”

An Unexpected Blessing

Patty Ralko holds a photo of her mom,
Mary, and dad, John, on their wedding
day. The couple were married for 68
years before John’s passing last May.
In today’s digital age, hand-delivering a letter to someone is a rarity. But that’s exactly what Patty Ralko did when she brought her thank-you note to Angela Hospice.

After dropping it off, Patty said she got in her car, picked up her phone, and saw a photo pop up. It was a picture she had taken outside of her dad’s room at Independence Village in Plymouth, where he had been living the last few years with his wife, Mary.

“I thought, ‘Well Dad, guess you’re talking to me,’” Patty laughed.

Patty’s dad, John Hoffman, had received Angela Hospice care for about two weeks at his assisted living facility before passing in May 2015. John had vascular dementia, which can be caused after a stroke blocks an artery in the brain, and then developed aspirated pneumonia.

“We didn’t expect him to go quite that quickly, but it was really a blessing because you don’t want to see your loved one suffering like that,” she said. “It was just too hard.”

Three people, including John’s doctor, had recommended that they put John on hospice. Two of them specifically recommended Angela Hospice; so Patty made the call. She was immediately impressed with how quickly they were able to get John on hospice.

Patty said she had made an appointment with a social worker to come on Sunday, but had called the day before with a question. She was put on hold and then told a social worker would be at Independence Village in an hour.

“It was like bam, bam, bam,” she said. “So that very same day Dad was approved and under hospice care.”

Angela Hospice staff members were often in the building for other residents but would still make the time to see how Patty and her family were doing.

The staff also made sure the family knew what to expect, and how to keep John comfortable during his final days. Patty, her sister, and her mom were all there the night John died.

After John had died, Patty said one nurse came and sat with her mom for half an hour.

“She didn’t have to do any of that. Dad had already passed, and she just wanted to see how mom was doing,” Patty said. “I thought that was really, really wonderful.”

While some may have misconceptions about hospice, like putting a loved one in hospice is giving up on them, Patty is doing her part to change people’s views. Anyone she talks to she’s told how great hospice can be for a loved one, in hopes that the image will change.

“It was a difficult situation made a lot less difficult because of the professionalism, and the caring, and the kindness by the workers here,” Patty said. “If you love your loved one, then call Angela Hospice.”


Volunteer Bart Wingblad has logged the most hours of any Angela Hospice volunteer

By: Dana Casadei

When Bart Wingblad got the call for volunteer training he thought he was going to mess up and cause Angela Hospice all kinds of grief. Well, he did make someone cry.

“The first time I saw him with a patient was an ALS patient and I left the room because I got so choked up,” said Syndie Best, Director of Volunteer Services. “It was absolutely…extraordinary is the only word that comes to mind.”

Extraordinary is a word often heard when people describe Bart and all he’s done for Angela Hospice. He’s volunteered in almost every department and is up for any task. He received the Volunteer of the Year award in 2004. He’s one of the first people new volunteers meet during training, where he often stands in the back and passionately shares. Over the last 12 years the number of volunteer hours he’s acquired is, well, pretty extraordinary too.

At this year’s Volunteer Appreciation Dinner he was met with a standing ovation when he was recognized for his lifetime hours as an Angela Hospice volunteer: 14,500 hours of service.

“I hate that they put such emphasis on hours. I never know,” Bart laughed. “The number of hours isn’t important to me.”

What is important to Bart is what he can do for patients and their families, and the kind of man Angela Hospice has helped him become.

“Before volunteering I would never take five minutes. I was always at work,” he said. “I would work day and night. I would never even consider getting off work before midnight.”

At first Bart started out small. Then he became more and more passionate about Angela Hospice, and because he was allowed to acquire the skills and confidence to do so, he became better with patients. Now he’s constantly working with patients in home care and the Care Center, among the many other things he does.

“I know in my life there won’t be anything more important than what I do here,” Bart said.

While Bart is too humble to mention any specific stories about his time volunteering, Syndie, who has known Bart for 10 years, happily shared.

Director of Volunteer Services Syndie Best and Bart
at a 2009 fundraiser for Angela Hospice.
At the 2009 Angela Hospice Light Up a Life benefit he dressed up like a scarecrow to greet guests. When the Care Center was being built, Bart had his construction crew come in and help out, with all the labor being free-of-charge. During the 2003 blackout, they needed water in the Care Center, so Bart started slugging five gallon buckets of water up and down the stairs because the only working hose was in the basement.

“I’ve got lots of volunteers who give wonderful amounts of time and energy and effort, but Bart’s in another category all by himself,” Syndie said.

“If it’s in his ability to meet a families’ or a patients’ need, he will do it, and wild horses couldn’t keep him away from it,” she continued.

For every 500 hours accrued volunteers receive a pin. Needless to say Bart has quite a few, but you won’t find them on his Angela Hospice lanyard. He keeps them in a jar and wants them all pinned on his lapel at his funeral.

“I’m going to look like a third-world country general,” he laughed. “And I want my badge going with me.”

So how long does Bart think he will be a volunteer?

“I see myself in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank still trying to lift patients,” he said.

Looks like Bart is going to need a bigger jar.