Mary Ellen Carollo and Our Family’s Experience
By Frank Carollo
My wife, Mary Ellen Carollo, was a resident in Hospicare from September 2014 until her death in May 2015. Our family is convinced that the wonderful care she received there is what kept her alive for those nine months.
Mary Ellen was diagnosed with an inoperable, terminal brain tumor in Fall 2013 when she was only 58 years old. While she was being treated that first year, she was able to live at home. But by the following year she was starting to decline and needed more round-the-clock care than our family could provide.
We called Hospicare and were able to place her in one of the residential facility rooms for what everyone thought would be her final few days – but, thanks to the 24-hour attention the staff was able to provide for her, she rallied.
Then, around the 2014 holidays, she started fading again… yet once more improved in the short term. By Spring 2015 she began what turned out to be a final decline from which she could not recover, and one night she died peacefully in her sleep with one of her sisters, one of her brothers, our son and me by her side.
During all that time in Hospicare, it became a second home for our entire family – her mother, her eight siblings and their spouses and children, my two siblings, and our son – along with numerous friends from throughout her life, co-workers from her long and illustrious career with IBM, colleagues from her various volunteer activities, and anyone who knew and, of course, loved her.
We got to know and become friends with Hospicare’s medical and care-giving staff and the administrative team, as well as with Mary Ellen’s “neighbors” in the residence and their families, too. We relaxed in the lounge, had drinks and snacks in the kitchen, played games in the living room, soothed our spirits with music (our son played piano, one of her brothers played banjo), held Mary Ellen’s retirement party from IBM, and celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2014. Some of us even had “sleep overs” in her room a number of times.
I lived in Ithaca at the time and went to see her at Hospicare almost every day. With Mary Ellen in Hospicare, I was able to go home for a break every night, and go to work most days, confident that she was getting excellent medical care and personal attention from the staff, as well as social interaction with that day’s visitors. That respite was critical for me, and as certain as I am that being in Hospicare kept her alive, I’m equally sure that it kept me from cracking up myself.
Naturally, we all became heartfelt and, if I may say so myself, generous supporters of Hospicare. Our family contributed in a number of ways, such as helping the staff out in the kitchen or with wheelchairs for Mary Ellen and her fellow residents, donating for one of the paving stones in the walkway around the grounds, and even making a substantial financial gift for the renovation of the kitchen – now known as “Mary Ellen’s Corner” in her memory.
One of her brothers and his wife, who live in Ithaca, are regular participants in Hospicare’s annual “Women Swimmin’ ” fundraising initiative, and that brother still helps out from time to time with landscaping work on Hospicare’s grounds.
After Mary Ellen died, we held a memorial service for her on the property, on what would have been her 60th birthday in August 2015. Hospicare was very generous in letting us use the facilities free of charge, and the staff helped us a great deal in making arrangements and setting things up. It was a wonderful and touching farewell in a setting that had come to mean so much for all of us.
That summer and fall, I attended Hospicare’s grief counseling program for bereaved spouses. Even though I had known I was not alone in losing the love of my life, commiserating with other survivors, under the guidance of Hospicare’s sympathetic and understanding grief counselor, was invaluable in helping me and the others cope with what for all of us was the biggest tragedy in our lives.
But that was not the end of our connection. We still show our continued support through annual donations, and I have included Hospicare in my own estate planning.
Having Mary Ellen at Hospicare helped make it bearable – or, to put it better, as bearable as possible – for us to confront the unbearable thought of her inevitable passing. For her and for us, facing death before her time was utterly heartbreaking. But doing it with the support of the caring people and the compassionate atmosphere we found at Hospicare helped make it an experience that, in spite of its sadness, we all treasure.