Employee Spotlight: Barb Brown

Name, title: Barb Brown, Mission Integration Leader & Administrative Assistant

How long have you worked here?
Six years. (My anniversary is Nov. 8 which also happens to be my birthday. My first day at Angela Hospice was the best birthday present ever.)

What made you decide to work here?
I worked as a volunteer with Angela Hospice and was looking on the website because I had missed receiving the volunteer newsletter. I happened to look at the job openings and saw the Administrative Assistant job advertised. I applied, taking a chance and not thinking anything would come of it, and here I am six years later.

How had you heard of Angela Hospice?
My mother was a patient at Angela Hospice 20 years ago. So my family was fortunate to experience firsthand the wonderful services of Angela Hospice.

What’s a typical day like for you?
I guess the best way to answer that question is that I don’t have typical days – and that’s why I love my job. My days include planning and working on Mission Integration events, reserving meeting spaces, assisting Kristy in HR, monthly orientation for new employees, and miscellaneous administrative tasks for Margot, Marti, and the Board of Directors.

     For this year's Mission & Heritage Week Barb made
    Lady Jacoba cookies for the Felician Sisters in Livonia.
What is your favorite part about working at Angela Hospice?
Though I love everything I do for Angela Hospice, my favorite part is Mission Integration, which allows me to interact with all the employees at Angela Hospice, beginning with their first day of orientation. I am able to share my strong beliefs in the mission statement of Angela Hospice, the Felician Core Values, and the rich history associated with the Felician Ministries. And it has given me the opportunity to meet other people working for Felician Ministries all over the United States and Canada.

What is one of your favorite memories from your time at Angela Hospice?
I don’t have one specific memory; what does come to mind is that Angela Hospice team members are compassionate, dedicated, and respectful. And it’s not a coincidence that these qualities are the same as the Felician Core Values. I believe you could ask any team member and they would agree that being a faith-based organization is what makes Angela Hospice and its team members special and unique. One can always come to work and feel a sense of peace, even on the most stressful days, because we are always there for each other.

Volunteer Spotlight: Sharon Stuscavage

Name: Sharon Stuscavage

How long have you been a volunteer?
Three years.

What areas do you work in/what sort of tasks do you do as a volunteer?
Medical records, bakes cookies for incoming volunteer classes, caregiver suppers, and the Tree of Life.

What made you decide to become a volunteer?
A few years ago they needed people to go to the Tree of Life and they said you could bring a friend, and my friend asked me to come. After I got done…I had kind of been looking for somewhere to start volunteering because I had been very active in the school system when my kids were smaller…when I worked the Tree of Life I thought, “I think I like this.” So I came in and did the volunteer classes.

What is your favorite part about volunteering?
The satisfaction you get from seeing how grateful people are, especially at the caregiver suppers. They are so grateful for that little, tiny thing.

Sharon volunteers in many areas,
including medical records.
What is one of your favorite stories or memories from volunteering?
That’s a hard one. I do know the first time that I worked the Tree of Life a little boy came up and he asked me what the angels were for. I said they were for our loved ones in heaven and he said, “I have an uncle that’s in heaven.” He tugged at my heart a little.

Then there was an older gentleman in the Care Center who was Southern, and he always talked to me. He was from the same state – Kentucky – that my mom and dad were from, and he ate something that my mom and dad always ate. He’d come down to the caregiver suppers and one evening I heard his daughter say, “Do you want your buttermilk?” Then I thought how my mom and dad always drank buttermilk. He said yes and the next thing I knew I saw him crumbling his corn bread into his buttermilk. I told him he almost brought me to tears because that was what my mom and dad did all the time.

Employee Spotlight: Martha Hutchinson

Name, title: Martha Hutchinson, Home Care Case Manager

How long have you worked here?
Almost 17 years. 

What made you decide to work here?
As a new, inexperienced but older nurse, I followed the advice of my friend Wendy Winkler -- an Angela Hospice pediatric RN at the time -- to visit and consider working for Angela Hospice. Oh, what she set in motion!

What’s a typical day like for you?
Most days, plans made the day before will change after listening to report -- requiring more flexibility than I knew I possessed. A typical day involves lots of phone calls related to patients and their care. A good typical day includes regular interactions with my clinical peers. Each day includes home visits, of course, which can go as planned or can provide unexpected challenges. I sure have been exposed to many opportunities to reach outside my original comfort zone.

What is your favorite part about working at Angela Hospice?
The interactions with people facing end-of-life, in its many presentations. Most of the time, this is such an honest, frank time of peoples’ lives.

Martha receiving her 15-year service award. 
One of the very most important, long-standing satisfactions with this work is this: I get to be present at a very intimate, very graphic, very real time of peoples’ lives. And in general, even if not always, it is such a gift from the universe to be present. Not only participating in providing physical comfort, but because often enough, patients and families no longer focus on the minutiae, the crap, the superficial that most of us spend our lives doing…The lucky folks see and live out what is of the most basic importance -- love, relationships with family, friends, the spiritual, the existential. All else pales (once physical symptoms are managed).

I deeply appreciate the moments of grace I sometimes witness with patients and families as they face this final task.

What is one of your favorite memories from your time at Angela Hospice?
There’s no single memory -- there have been many over the years. Peer interactions and frank, honest experiences with families are at the core of my favorite memories.

Divine Intervention

The two rooms are right next to each other and we enter the one on the left first, Shirley Potts leading the way. There’s something instantly likeable about her, maybe it’s her warm smile or the fact that she’s a self-described “hugger.” When she introduces me to her mom, Mary Mitchell, rather loudly (she’s hard of hearing), her mom smiles back, and so do I. Shirley shows off the clothes and jewelry box her mom had her bring from home, the rings glistening off the light when she opens the box. Her mom has always been stylish and being a hospice patient wasn’t about to stop that. Now her rings, which sparkle off her fingers, just go with a patient gown instead.

Mary’s jewelry isn’t the only thing familiar to her in the Angela Hospice Care Center though. Her son and one of Shirley’s brothers, Lawrence, is a patient in the room next door.

“To have them here is a sense of relief,” Shirley said. “I know that they’re taken care of if I can’t just run down here.”

It’s a relief for Lawrence too since he no longer needs to worry about his mom.

“It’s a great place to be,” he said in his gravelly voice after Shirley handed him the notebooks he had asked for. He loves to chart everything.

Shirley, who lives in Lansing, gets to the Care Center as often as she can to see how her mom and brother are doing. During the week she’ll also probably be making stops to see her step-dad, who she affectionately calls “Grandpa,” and is still living in his home; and one of her other brothers who has end stage liver disease and is living in New Baltimore, Michigan.

Shirley with her brother Lawrence in his room at the
Angela Hospice Care Center.
Needless to say her car has been getting a lot of miles lately and the road to Angela Hospice began with her brother Lawrence.

Shirley had made an appointment for her brother and dad at the pulmonologist, but the doctor she had originally scheduled their appointments with was out. So they ended up seeing a different doctor, who specialized in pulmonary hypertension.

“That’s why I know the Lord intervenes,” Shirley said before continuing the story.

The doctor looked at both of them, gave her dad what he needed, but told her that there was a lot to talk about when it came to Lawrence’s health. He continued to see the specialist with a continuous decline before being told that his best option would be an open chest surgery, which Lawrence didn’t want.

Then one night Lawrence, who is bed-ridden, called Shirley rather late and said he needed something. Shirley asked him if he needed help and he said yes. She had her son go over because she was at the hospital with her mom. Then they called 911.

“We got him to the hospital and he said, ‘I can’t go home, I won’t go home. What are we going to do?’” Shirley explained.

Heartland was mentioned since Lawrence had been there before for a blood clot, then she remembered she and Lawrence had talked about hospice. One of Lawrence’s doctors mentioned Angela Hospice.

“That’s how we ended up here,” she said.

Once Lawrence was settled in the Care Center Shirley brought her mom to visit him. Right before they came to see him Shirley found out that her mom was going to need 24/7 care at home, something that Shirley wasn’t sure how she would be able to provide.

Shirley with her mom, Mary, and the jewelry she
wanted brought from her home.
When Mary was visiting the Care Center she asked Shirley why she couldn’t stay there. Shirley told her they probably wouldn’t be able to afford it and she might not qualify for hospice care. Shirley had started to look for a nursing home for her mom when an Angela Hospice staff member recommended Shirley look into her parents’ insurances to see if it would cover hospice room and board. Thankfully it did.

“These four people -- mom, grandpa, Lawrence, and Darrell -- are the first people I loved,” Shirley said through tears. “And they get on my nerves. But I want them taken care of.

“I’m losing them all at once and that’s what’s really hard,” she continued.

The four of them luckily have a woman like Shirley, who has a smile that rarely leaves her face, and during the rare instance it does there’s only a moment before it comes back, just as bright as before. Shirley’s strength through all this would put a champion weightlifter to shame.

So where does Shirley get all her strength from? She answers plain and simple, without a moment’s hesitation: “God.”

She believes in people working as if they’re serving the Lord, something she sees happening at Angela Hospice, where everyone she’s met has been nothing short of wonderful.

“I mean right down to the people pushing the carts and cleaning,” she said. “Everybody who I have encountered has just been more than amazing and more than I expected, but what I like to see.

“I haven’t seen anybody who hasn’t been gracious and wanting to help when I ask for it,” she continued.

Just like Shirley, who jokes throughout the interview that her life is like a movie. If it was, it’s clear who the hero would be: her.

When it's a Blue Christmas

For more tips on how to get through the holidays while dealing
with a loss, check out "In the W," which featured Angela Hospice's
Director of Social Work & Bereavement last week. Watch here.
The holidays can be an especially tough time while going through any kind of loss. On Wednesday, Dec. 14 Angela Hospice will be co-sponsoring Blue Christmas at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church to provide support for those dealing with a loss this holiday season.

“It’s kind of a prayer service for anyone who has suffered any kind of loss,” said Diane McDonald, Angela Hospice Director of Spiritual Care, who will be doing a reading at the event. “It doesn’t have to be a death. It could be a job, it could be a relationship, it could be a pet…”

During this time of year there are often advertisements showing families enjoying the holidays, but not everyone has the opportunity to do that. Events like Blue Christmas are a good time to come together and support each other. Diane said she thinks events like this are important because no one should be alone during the holiday season.

For those unable to attend the event Diane has a few tips to help you get through the holiday season.

  • Be with those that not only care about you but care for you. Be around people who will try and lift you up.
  • If you don’t have family or friends to reach out to then try a support group.
  • Look for inspirational reading material by those who have gone through loss and see how they got through it.
  • Try meditation and reflection.

When it comes to book suggestions, Diane recommends the Association for Death Educators and Counseling website, which has lists for almost every type of loss, including pet loss and how to help someone who is grieving.

Blue Christmas, which is open to all, will have a reflection, a few readings, and music. There will also be refreshments after. St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church is located at 27475 5 Mile Road in Livonia and the event will start at 7 p.m.

For more about the grief support services Angela Hospice provides, or to schedule an appointment with a grief counselor, call (734) 464-7810 and ask to speak with our Bereavement Department. You can also visit us at AskForAngela.com.

A Lifelong Entertainer

At 95 some would be slowing down, but that’s not Doug Williams’ style. He might be a hospice patient but that doesn’t mean he is going to stop doing what he loves: karaoke.

“I’d be lost without karaoke,” he said.

“It’s definitely your thing,” laughed Mary Wolfe, one of his daughters who is with her dad six days a week. He spends four days a week at her home, which Doug helped build, and three nights at his room at Fox Run, where she stays a couple nights a week. One of her brothers stays with him the seventh day.

This isn’t Doug’s first hospice stay though. He tried hospice back in January, but just kept on getting better. And he was finally discharged before going back on hospice in November.

Doug (center) with two of his daughters, Mary Wolfe (left)
and Nancy Ray. He sings karaoke every weekend.
When he isn’t at home Doug, who has congestive heart failure, can be found at the VFW or American Legion every weekend with his family. Sometimes he sings with his brothers and sister, who call themselves the Wild Willies. Other times he sings with one of his kids. Or he’s perfectly content singing solo.

“I just think it’s a lot of fun,” Doug said.

Doug can be heard singing everything from Elvis Presley’s “Blue Hawaii” to “The Old Rugged Cross,” the latter of which he often closes with.

He’s always loved to sing but that love was taken to new heights when he was overseas in the Army during World War II.

Before Doug joined the Army, where he went from private to sergeant in three-and-a-half years, he was hit in the eye with the end of a broomstick and lost most of the vision in his right eye.

“God works in strange ways,” he said.

Because of this he wasn’t sent to the frontlines since, as he put it, “You needed two good eyes for that.”

So instead he started out as the baker for his company, where he got to lift the men’s spirits by making dessert. Then he became the entertainment director of the enlisted men’s club, where his love for singing and entertainment flourished.

Doug served in the Army for almost four
years during World War II.
When Doug first got the title he was pretty apprehensive about it, but he said you learn pretty quickly how to do something when you have to. He started looking for entertainment for the company, which he often did by seeing local shows he heard about via word-of-mouth. Sometimes the performers were good, other times they were so bad he had to do a little performing himself.

Doug said the biggest group he had to perform in front of was about 300 people, which would be intimidating for some, but Doug grew up one of 11 kids. He was used to a big crowd.

“They had to have someone for entertainment and sometimes I was the best they could get,” he laughed.

Doug’s crowds at karaoke might not be quite as big, but he still loves it. In fact, he’ll perform just about everywhere, including a hospital bed.

About a year-and-a-half ago he was in the hospital and Mary said he had the party room, with people constantly coming in and out because they were under the impression that he was going to pass in a few days.

“About the third day or so he said to me, ‘When am I going to die? Cause I’m getting tired,’” Mary explained. “I said, ‘Dad, it could be a couple days to a couple months.’ He said, ‘Well, then I’m taking a nap.’”

Which is exactly what he did after our interview ended. He needed to rest up before another weekend of karaoke.

Volunteer Spotlight: Anne and John Kanitra

Last year volunteers Anne and John Kanitra worked the Tree of Life for the first time, and it wasn’t exactly what they had expected.

“We did a Saturday night and a couple of ladies came up to the table,” John said. “They had just lost their young child and she’s telling us all about it and we’re both choking back tears.

“After they left we looked at each other and said, ‘Oh my gosh, is it going to be like this the whole three hours? I’ll never survive this. It’s so hard,’” he laughed.

John and Anne work in home care and do multiple
shifts at the Tree of Life.
Luckily, the rest of that first shift went pretty smoothly and it didn’t scare them off. They kept coming back, every Saturday in fact, in what has now become a tradition in itself. They first go to church, then grab dinner at the mall before going to their Tree of Life shift.

When Anne first heard about the Tree of Life she said it was a no-brainer as to whether or not they should sign up.

“To take a couple hours and sit at those tables is no problem at all for us,” she said. “What else are we going to be doing? Watching TV?”

Working the Tree of Life lets them do two things. One, they get to do community outreach about what hospice is and what exactly hospice does. John said the Tree of Life is an easy way for people to get information about hospice without having to call or go online. He and Anne can help get the message out that hospice isn’t a scary word, and isn’t all dark and gloomy.

Two, they get to hear people’s stories, which is one of their favorite parts about volunteering. And since they both volunteer in home care, they hear a lot of stories.

“It’s a privilege to go and see someone’s life,” John said. “When you connect with somebody – the relief you give the caregiver – it’s wonderful. It’s very inspirational to me.”

John and Anne at last year's Volunteer Appreciation
Anne and John know about that sort of caregiver relief. In 2011 Anne’s mom was an Angela Hospice patient and she said she utilized the volunteers, especially because she was working full-time and couldn’t always get home right away.

Anne’s mom also went into the Care Center a few times, which couldn’t have been a better experience.

“I absolutely fell in love with every single person at Angela Hospice,” she said. “From the volunteers, to spiritual care, to nurses and doctors…everybody was just so kind to her.”

So when John mentioned volunteering at Angela Hospice, Anne jumped at the chance. Both had recently retired from the Dearborn Police Department and the timing seemed perfect. (Anne actually went back to a different job about four days after retiring, but that’s a different story.)

John said the thought of volunteering all started for him at a mass at St. Edith. The priest had been talking about trying to discern what God’s plan for you is and to use your God-given talents. John thought he didn’t have any, but then their oldest son, who had recently started volunteering at a hospice in Lansing, was telling them stories about his time there. Then John saw that Angela Hospice needed volunteers. He called and they got into a new volunteer class the following week. The rest is history.

“[Volunteering] is just so powerful,” John said. “It changed our lives.”

And they both hope to keep volunteering…well, forever.

“I don’t see an end to it,” Anne said before looking at John. “Do you?”

“Nope,” he smiled.

Volunteer Spotlight: Sandy Barr

Name: Sandy Barr

How long have you been a volunteer?
Almost three years.

What areas do you work in/what sort of tasks do you do as a volunteer?
Makes salads for the caregiver suppers, mailings, BBQs, is a Flower Bud, and has worked events.

What made you decide to become a volunteer?
The reason I wanted to volunteer at Angela Hospice is because I knew it was a good place. They helped my mother, who had cancer, and we all have family members that they’ve been great with.

Before I retired, I worked with Angela Hospice at the credit union. They were one of my accounts. So when I retired I said, “That’s what I want to do.”

Sandy has volunteered in a variety of areas.
What is your favorite part about volunteering?
The diversity. They can use you in so many different areas. There’s always a need somewhere.

What is one of your favorite stories or memories from volunteering?
I think the most rewarding of what I’ve done has been the flower arranging. You know, fixing the flowers, and then bringing them around to the rooms. The people just seem so happy when you bring in a beautiful vase of flowers you had put together.