Why I Work in Hospice (Part 5) – Sarah Nickerson, Communications Coordinator

A Special Blog Series Written by Hospicare & Palliative Care Services Staff

This November, we started a special blog series written by Hospicare staff in honor of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month. Because we had such a positive response to the series, we are continuing it past November and into 2022. Each post features a different member of our staff as they share why they love the work they do. In part five of this series, we feature Sarah Nickerson, Hospicare Communications Coordinator.

Sarah Nickerson, Hospicare Communications Coordinator

“Hi, my name is Sarah Nickerson, and I am Hospicare’s new communications coordinator. I spent the summer helping Hospicare’s development team with Women Swimmin’ as the seasonal events assistant, and was hired into my current role by Sara Worden, director of development and community relations, in November. I am so excited to take on this role and help share the amazing work our team does and stories of the people we serve!

My relationship with Hospicare began many years ago. In my early twenties, I accompanied my mother, who was a Hospicare volunteer, to a bereavement group for children held at the residence on Kind Road. A few years later, I proudly waited on shore while she swam across Cayuga Lake as a participant in Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare. In the summer of 2018, my mother was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor and given less than a year to live. We were fortunate enough to be able to move her into Hospicare’s residence for the final months of her life. Having my mother in care at the residence allowed us to be with her as loved ones and not caretakers, which we were ill equipped to be. Hospicare became a home away from home in those last two months before my mother’s death: a safe space filled with love, where I could be nurtured by community.

The amazing care that was given to my mother and to our entire family by Hospicare’s staff stays with me and is why I am so honored to be part of this team today. I look forward to continuing to help Hospicare provide our community with compassionate end-of-life care and grief support.”

I took this photo of my father holding my mother’s hand while she was in care in the residence at King Road just a few weeks before her death on Valentine’s Day of 2019.

***If you have a hospice or Hospicare story you want to share, please email Sarah Nickerson at snickerson@hospicare.org for more information or send a letter to:

Hospicare & Palliative Care Services

Attn: Sarah Nickerson

172 East King Rd

Ithaca, NY 14850

Why I Work in Hospice (Part 4) – Anna Osterhoudt, Social Worker

A Special Blog Series in Honor of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month

This November, we are sharing a special blog series written by Hospicare staff in honor of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month. Each post will feature a different member of our staff as they share why they love the work they do. In part four of this series, we feature Anna Osterhoudt, Hospicare Social Worker.

Anna Osterhoudt, Hospicare Social Worker

“My name is Anna, and I am one of three social workers that are a part of the Hospicare team. My role as a hospice social worker is to assess the needs of our patients, their families, and support systems and provide any assistance I can. A few examples of things that I may assist with are providing emotional support to patients/caregivers, connecting them with community resources, assisting with end-of-life planning, or just being a friendly face during what can be a very difficult time.

I have been working professionally as a social worker in the medical field for the last eight years. However, I only recently joined Hospicare & Palliative Care Services three months ago. Making the decision to join Hospicare was not a difficult one as I have grown to be very passionate about hospice work, both professionally and personally. It is truly an honor and a blessing to be on this journey and to be a part of someone’s final chapters on this earth. 

With the right support, death and dying can be a spiritual, dignified, and peaceful experience. To be able to be a part of that experience and offer support and solace to patients, caregivers, and families during that time is a privilege that I cherish. It can also be scary, emotional, and trying but what is so special about Hospicare is that no matter what the experience is, which is very different for everyone, we are never alone. As a team we support each other, the patients, their families and caregivers, other agency staff, you name it, we are never left to handle it alone.  So why did I choose to work in hospice? There is a saying ‘Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.’ I was lucky enough to find that job with Hospicare.”

Why I Work in Hospice (Part 3) – Wendy Yettru, Manager of Volunteer Services

A Special Blog Series in Honor of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month

This November, we are sharing a special blog series written by Hospicare staff in honor of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month. Each post will feature a different member of our staff as they share why they love the work they do. In part three of this series, we feature Wendy Yettru, Manager of Volunteer Services.

Wendy Yettru, Manager of Volunteer Services

“Hi, my name is Wendy and I’m the Manager of Volunteer Services at Hospicare & Palliative Care Services. When I started working here, over 20 years ago, I didn’t know much about hospice. It didn’t take long for me to see firsthand how the amazing team of professionals, including our volunteers, provides comfort physically, emotionally, and spiritually for our patients and their families. I believe in the philosophy that hospice is there so that patients may live as fully and comfortably as possible while facing end of life.

My position allows me the privilege of educating and working with community members who want to give their time and talents to Hospicare. I have enjoyed getting to know hundreds of people in Cortland and Tompkins counties as they learn about hospice and how their role as a volunteer makes a difference. Volunteers may offer to run an errand so a caregiver can have more time with their loved one; they may listen to a patient’s life stories, engage in conversation, play a game, help with a task, or be a quiet presence so someone doesn’t have to be alone. I have had the pleasure of hearing and witnessing many beautiful stories about the connections that happen between our volunteers and patients. I am honored to work with such an amazing organization and people!”

Why I Work in Hospice (Part 2) – Suzy Quinones, Hospicare RN

A Special Blog Series in Honor of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month

This November, we are sharing a special blog series written by Hospicare staff in honor of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month. Each post will feature a different member of our staff as they share why they love the work they do. In part two of this series, we feature Suzy Quinones, Hospicare RN.

Suzy Quinones, Hospicare RN

“My role here at Hospicare is to help patients live the rest of their lives as comfortably as possible and to help ensure their wishes are fulfilled. Providing education and suggestions for patients and their families about how best to meet that patient’s specific needs and how to manage their symptoms adequately. Every patient is different, so I like to customize my care to best fit each patient’s needs and wishes.

At Hospicare, we really try to meet people ‘where they are’ and adjust to their needs accordingly as time goes on. To help make this possible, collaboration with other members of the Hospicare team is essential. Our team is made up of social workers, bereavement specialists, our medical director, spiritual care, volunteers and so many others that help keep our patients safe and comfortable.

Death is commonly seen as a scary thing, but it doesn’t have to be. I try to make death a beautiful transition for patients and their families by doing anything I can to support them physically and emotionally during this time. I feel very blessed that patients allow me to accompany them on this journey.”

Why I Work in Hospice (Part 1) – Kimmy Jones, Clinical Team Leader

A Special Blog Series in Honor of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month

This November, we are sharing a special blog series written by Hospicare staff in honor of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month. Each post will feature a different member of our staff as they share why they love the work they do. In part one of this series, we feature Kimmy Jones, RN and Clinical Team Leader.

Kimmy Jones, RN, Clinical Team Leader

“Hello, I’m Kimmy. I’m the clinical team leader for Hospicare which means I supervise the primary nurses, LPNs, and home health aides in the field. Most of the patients we serve are in the field, living in a private home or a facility within Tomkins or Cortland counties. I’ve been an RN for 16 years and hospice work is the most meaningful nursing care I’ve ever done. It’s sacred work. I started my nursing career in the emergency department, then I worked in lactation education and breastfeeding/chest feeding support, and now I work in hospice.

I started here at Hospicare a little over three years ago as a primary nurse. After a year, I moved into the team leader position. This move just happened to take place right before the discovery of the Covid-19 virus. We have continued to serve the community and our patients throughout the entirety of the Covid-19 pandemic and to be diplomatic, it’s been quite a learning experience. The reason we have been successful during this time is our outstanding team of devoted staff members. Everyone has their heart focused on the mission to continue to care for our community, which has allowed us to forge through the uncertainty and ever-changing landscape of nursing care that has been brought on by this pandemic.

Hospice work can be very emotionally taxing. It can even be heartbreaking. But it’s some of the most rewarding and special work I’ve ever done. We are invited into people’s homes during a very sacred and intimate time, and it is such an honor. It feels fulfilling to be able to alleviate distress, whether that’s physical or emotional, and for the patient and family to trust us and look to us for guidance and reassurance. You’ll be hard pressed to find any healthcare worker who doesn’t find that rewarding. 

When asked ‘What brought you to work in hospice?’, a lot of people have beautiful stories about a personal experience they had when a loved one received hospice. I don’t have a story like that. For me, it just felt good. It felt right.”

Hospicare welcomes Ebru Arslan to our Administrative Team! 

Ebru Arslan joined Hospicare this fall as our Senior Director of Finance and Administration and is already making great strides in improving our systems. Ebru, inspired by our services, says “it is a mission with people at heart of the organization and I am proud to be part of the endeavor!”

Ebru was born in Turkey and came to the United States in 2000 as an international student and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and a Master’s degree in Economics from CUNY Brooklyn College.

Having held both HR and Finance Director positions in New York City for about two decades, Ebru was seeking an opportunity to apply her many skills to a worthy-mission. In order to fulfill her dream, she moved upstate and proudly dedicated the last years of her career as the CFO of a local non-profit organization serving the community of Ithaca.

 “I am looking forward to serving Hospicare,” says Ebru. “For every single aspect of the financial and administrative operation supports the agency’s services and ensures a graceful transition for patients and their families.”

In her free time, Ebru enjoys gardening, baking, and helping her parents with their projects. She also studied Islamic calligraphy and likes doing arts and crafts.

Ebru can be reached at earslan@hospciare.org.

Writing Your Loss

By Jane Baker Segelken MA, MSW

Much research has been done about the therapeutic benefits of writing, something I can attest to from personal experience.

My interest in expressive writing began many years ago when I first started keeping an informal journal and wrote about some of my life’s more difficult experiences. While participating in a writing circle, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 41. Rather than dropping out of the group I continued, directing much of my time to writing about my journey. To my surprise, I discovered how much better I felt writing and then reading what I had written out loud. Building upon what I learned, I have facilitated numerous writing programs over the years, including several for grieving Hospicare family members.

The Value of Therapeutic Writing

Researchers James W. Pennebaker, Joshua Smyth, and others have shown that recording experiences involving traumatic events, such as illness, care giving, and loss, can help people restore their emotional and physical health. Some individuals report that even their blood pressure drops.

When referring to this type of narrative writing, various terms are used interchangeably: therapeutic writing, expressive writing, reflective writing, and writing to heal. What people mean when they use any of the terms is writing deep thoughts and feelings about stressful events.

Therapeutic writing allows us to process, understand, and resolve the traumatic experience — to gain insight into our feelings and emotions while gaining distance and perspective.

Jane Baker Segelken will facilitate this four week writing program to enable bereaved to tell their story, explore their unique circumstances and use words to heal. Wednesday, Mondays, Oct 18, 25, November 1 and 8, 6:00-8:00pm. 

The Sessions

The most important thing to remember here is that participants do not need to be “writers.” The goal is to write, and it is perfectly acceptable to explore topics other than those I suggest. To be efficacious, participants should plan to attend all four sessions.

The sessions are structured so that each may include a short guided meditation; the reading of a story, poem, or essay; 20 to 45 minutes of writing; and 20 to 45 minutes of reading out loud. Writing by longhand or typing makes no difference in outcome, and participants should write in whatever mode they feel comfortable.

So that everyone feels safe and secure, everything that is said or done in the room stays in the room — complete confidentiality is mandatory. Participants may not comment on each other’s reading other than to say “thank you” to ensure that no one receives feedback that isn’t what he or she expects to hear and that there are no negative feelings. The sessions are not designed to offer counseling.

The goal is to begin to get your thoughts on paper not to end the workshop with finished pieces. It’s a beginning … a chance to start exploring your personal experience in a way that makes sense to you in a safe and supportive environment.

Register here.

Sara Worden Takes on a New Role at Hospicare 

Hospicare is pleased to announce that Sara Worden has stepped into a new role as Director of Development and Community Relations! Sara has more than ten years of experience in community-facing service, relationship-building, and event coordination here in our region, the last three years here in Hospicare, where she has cultivated valuable relationships with providers and human service partners. 

Sara has a unique and authentic vision for a future where Hospicare is more interconnected with our community and its values, and grounded in a place of gratitude and hope. Sara says “I’ve loved working at Hospicare and I’m excited to serve our community in this new capacity! I look forward to strengthening our relationships in the community to ensure a long lasting and thriving organization that provides kindhearted care to Cortland and Tompkins counties. Don’t hesitate to reach out at any time with questions or ideas for collaboration!”

You are invited to join Sara and Joe Sammons for virtual open office hours on Zoom. Tuesday, September 14, 4-5pm. Sara can be reached at sworden@hospicare.org or 607-272-0212.

Meditative Swims for those we have Lost

(A Women Swimmin’ Participant Profile)

by Erica Steinhagen

“I swim in meditation to those I and others have lost.”

I had decided not to bring my neoprene sleeves. It seemed so warm to me. Even at 8am, it was getting humid, and I didn’t even deign to look at the Cayuga Lake temperature abstract that I so faithfully refreshed each winter dip in order to record the audacity of our character on those bitter days. Today was a miler, and I was so eager to get in, I only made sure to have my sleeveless wetsuit for buoyancy, cap, goggles, Garmin, bright pink buoy… When I arrived at East Shore, I checked. 63 degrees. Hm, ok. I forgot my water shoes, too. Ah, well. I rushed in like always and pushed my face into the water and instantly bucked up and made that hooty reflex-sound like “WHOOF” and then eased back in, letting my face and neck get acclimated as I started the crawl. The water was so still it looked like a pool, but it was earthy and silty and the weeds were starting to reach the surface like they do in mid-June. The cold on my  bare arms made me almost smile, remembering the millions of needles of 32-degree water in February. This was easy. Exhilarating. Here we go. Whoosh. Quiet. And loud. Water in my ears. I’m alone.  

Every single time, it happens. I am distracted by the starting, by the challenge to my comfort, the settling into a rhythm. But then, once I’m settled and in a pattern of right/left/rightbreathe, left/right/leftbreathe, I start to feel a little tightness in my throat. All of a sudden, I hear Carol telling my how when I’m 40, my voice will do that too…I’ll find my lower range, I’ll sing that role, don’t worry, it settles. The laugh, the tease, the big sister squeeze when we part after the gig. I am sitting with Camilla, on the end of her sofa, and she’s got a tiny smile and is much too pale, and she’s telling us how she dreamed us before we were born, the three girls with blonde, brunette, and red hair, she called us the Princesses and we each had a pony to ride that matched our hair, and she drew us, and knew us when we finally met. And then my Kel, at the end, unable to speak, but rolling her eyes with a joke, and squeezing my hand so tight, and letting me rub lotion on her bald head and the sound of her breath the last time I was with her.  

In the water they’re sort of above me and behind me, these women, because in front of me is just green. Foggy green. Flash of sun. Foggy green. Flash of land. Breathe. Sip. Settle the breath. Calm the tight throat. Get it together. I am here because I CAN be. I can still move my body. On land I am now clumsy, less coordinated and strong and confident than before my foot dropped from nerves being crushed by an exploding disc in my spine. I limp on land. I am no longer a fast walker, a source of great pride, especially when I lived in NYC. Not now. I am slow, awkward. In the lake, I am buoyant. I am not fast, but I am confident. I can set my face in the water like the sun is set with some insistence and firmness into the morning sky. Not high, but purposeful at 8:30am. Me too, I say to myself. To the sun. To my women. Me too. I am insistent. I will move because I can move. I am still here.  

Somewhere is my sister, too. She’s quieter. But to be frank, death is all around me. And it is a part of this meditation. Every time. That I have had so many lost to me who were gathered so closely in my net. That is why. That is why I am in the water. Because there is nothing to be done about loss. It has happened, it will continue to happen, we are all plummeting towards it every moment. But one thing I can do is swim. I can swim to raise money for Hospicare. Easy. And hard. I want it to be hard. Two miles. More. Let’s go. I can do it. I am here. I can move. 

I am so grateful to Hospicare for helping us witness and be present for deeply loved ones who are dying. I am so grateful for the support, and resources, and care that allow for the…what? The transition, the guidance towards what is next. The resting of a forehead to a forehead, saying words that might be the last ones. Say them every time in case they are. Then they are. That is all.  I love you, I will always be here, I will be ok, I will take care of her/him/them, always, it’s ok, you can let go, you can rest, I’ll be with you, I am with you, I love you.  

Song Bath with the Threshold Choir

This program was offered by the Hospicare Threshold Choir of Ithaca on February 21, 2021.

The choir members are volunteers at Hospicare. Our volunteers provide assistance to patients and their families in a variety of ways, and for Threshold Choir members that way is through music. Other Hospicare volunteers offer companionship, respite for caregivers, light housekeeping, and assistance with shopping. This is done in the patient’s home setting or our 6-bed residence on East King Road in Ithaca.

The Hospicare chapter of the Threshold Choir was started in 2017 by Jayne Demakos, then director of Hospicare’s Music Program. Threshold Choir as an organization was founded by singer/songwriter Kate Munger in 2000, and now has over 150 chapters worldwide.

Threshold Choirs sing for people at the threshold of life as well as for their families and friends, in private homes, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals and hospices. The choir sings in groups of 2 to 4 singers using the instrument that we all have, the human voice, to share songs of comfort and caring. 

Members of the choir are not performers. The choir sings to people who may have different levels of attention and different needs. They may sing softly and gently to someone who has fallen asleep or someone might sing along with us, requesting songs that have special meaning for them. The Threshold Choir does their best to honor wherever they are on their journey.

Since bedside singing is not currently possible, Hospicare’s Threshold Choir is exploring creative ways to share their voices and presence. The Song Bath focuses on sharing the joy of singing and promoting a feeling of well-being and ease.

We invite you to sit back or lie down, close your eyes, if you would like, and be bathed in songs that soothe the soul.

We hope that you enjoyed listening to our talented choir and that it brought you peace and a sense of calm during this crazy time in the world. Thank you to all the singers for letting us into their homes and for showing us what magic they can bring to someone in need.   

If you are interested in the Threshold Choir please contact Wendy Yettru at 607-272-0212 or WYettru@hospicare.org.