Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My First Gourmet Grazing on the Green

Adrienne Meir (left) with Hospice of Santa Cruz County Board member, Cara De Simone

By Adrienne Meir

In all the years that I have lived in Aptos, I have never had the opportunity to attend the Santa Cruz Cancer Benefit Group's annual event, Gourmet Grazing on the Green. However, this year, being the new Assistant Director of Development for Hospice of Santa Cruz County, it was one of my job assignments to man the Hospice booth at this annual outdoor fundraising event. (Gourmet Grazing on the Green raises important funds for non-profit organizations that support individuals with cancer).

I was quite pleased with this assignment since my colleagues raved about the wonderful food and wine that restaurants and wineries all over the county offer in abundance at this well attended event.

The morning of Grazing on the Green came and I was anxious to set up my display early to avoid the normal last minute rally for parking for such a popular event.  Even though I had set my alarm clock for an early Saturday morning wake-up I had another wake-up call of the rhythmic pitter-pattering on my bedroom window….rain!

Of course anyone that hears the word “rain” for an annual outdoor event usually displays that look on their face, even if it is not spoken, of “oh, isn’t that too bad”, but I would have to say that the reason that I am writing this is to relay quite a different experience at my first “Grazing”, in fact the experience I had was somewhat Divine in nature.

There is something profoundly symbolic about the first rain of Fall.  A renewal, a starting over, a cleansing and a sense that the earth is being fed, as well as our sometimes weary human souls. I would have to say that Mother Nature offered a memorable gift to all that attended this event.

It was if we were all given permission to splash in mud puddles, get sopping wet and not care, and huddle under common umbrellas and tents with folks that we hardly knew.  As I sat at my booth and observed the pure joy on so many faces it was euphoric! Please note that some that attended this event are currently battling cancer, or may be in remission from cancer or may have just found out they have cancer or in some cases are in the dying process with cancer.  Some are cancer survivors and others are the loving families that support their loved ones by living right along side them. The great part is that they all had smiles and giggles and bad hair and muddy shoes and they all exuded an authenticity and a sense of peace of being joy filled right in their moment.

As I watched with a pure contentment of being in the right place at the right time, I could hear stories of survival and support and gratitude all around me.  College students, babies, families, retired couples walking arm in arm, and even the event volunteers all seemed to embrace a childlike wonder in the rain.

Santa Cruz Cancer Benefit Group’s Gourmet Grazing on the Green was a huge success in raising needed funds for many of the non-profit organizations that support folks with cancer.  Beyond this huge gift, which “Grazing” gives to the community every year, came an unexpected gift….which reminded us all of the power of community and the transformative effect it brings even when we simply huddle together with strangers when the rain comes.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Every Day is a New Day

Walking into the Gallagher home in Aptos is like walking into a sports museum. A ceiling-high glass case holds jerseys, caps, pennants, and countless other memorabilia from the San Jose Sharks and San Francisco Giants. But the standout item is the Sharks hockey jersey bearing the name “Gallagher,” a memento from the evening in May when the dream of a lifetime came true for 28-year-old Nicholas Gallagher, a Hospice of Santa Cruz County patient battling brain cancer. On that unforgettable night, Nicholas and his family were VIP guests of the Sharks, front and center at a playoff game. The dream became reality courtesy of the Dream Foundation through the efforts of Hospice of Santa Cruz County social worker Robin Spring, who submitted the application on behalf of Nicholas, known as Nick to his family.

During a visit with Robin a few weeks after the big event, Jan Gallagher, Nick’s grandmother and caregiver of many years, talked about what that special night meant to Nick and his family. “Nick is just such a positive guy, and he’s been so very excited about all of this,” she shared. “It’s just boosted his ‘get up and go.’” Nick indeed was still glowing, all smiles as the family reminisced and passed around photos of the night at the game when they helped cheer their team to victory. “He’s been wanting to meet them all his life, and he really felt like a rock star that night,” Jan added.

On the evening that the red carpet was rolled out for Nick and his family, they were picked up at home and escorted to the HP Pavilion in a limousine. They had dinner alongside the Sharks staff and NHL broadcasters, then watched the Sharks warm up on the ice. Just before game time, Nick was escorted outside the Sharks locker room where from his wheelchair he high-fived the team members as they skated out through the giant shark head to start the game. But the highlight may well have been intermission, when Nick was invited to ride atop the Zamboni ice resurfacer. As the Bay Area NBC news outlet featuring Nick’s story put it, “He might as well have been sitting on top of the world...looking up at the crowd...soaking it all in.”

“Ever since I became a fan, I’ve always wanted to meet them and I got the chance to meet them,” Nick told reporters that night with a big smile on his face. “It’s going to be the experience of a lifetime for me. I say, live life as you can, day to day. Every day is a new day.”

Nicholas Gallagher died on June 28, 2013, in his home surrounded by his loving family. We are grateful to Nicholas, his grandmother Jan and his father Matthew for sharing the beautiful story of their experience. The Hospice of Santa Cruz County care team was honored to provide care and support to the Gallaghers – it was a privilege to help make Nicholas’ dream come true.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Hospice, Redwoods, and Love

By Linda Donovan, Hospice Grief Support Volunteer

When my late husband, Paul, and I decided to move here from Southern California more than 15 years ago, one of the main reasons we chose to live in Santa Cruz County was because of its natural beauty. We were mesmerized by the redwoods, drawn to them like a magnet. It was worth the drive over Highway 17 to work because at least we got to stare at the beautiful trees along the way. We never failed to appreciate their majestic beauty when we drove by them or walked through Henry Cowell Park.  We treasured the precious train rides through the redwoods that gave us an even closer look from a new perspective.

The Hospice Journey

In late 2005, Paul was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given less than six months to live. When he could no longer walk very far, I drove him by the redwoods and they always brought a smile to his face. By February 2006, we called in Hospice of Santa Cruz County to help our family with Paul’s next journey. They provided grief support for my family, medical care, pastoral care, help with all the paperwork that goes along with illness, and so much more during this very difficult time. The volunteer visitors also offered comfort and gave us much-needed help.

Hospice helped Paul have the best possible quality of life in our home before he died in 2006. I wanted to have his life continue to make a difference. If I could share his story and people could benefit from hospice, then his loss would somehow not be as painful. Paul could “live on” though me. He was a great communicator – he even proofed the eulogy I wrote for him and told me to “Irish it Up,” as he would say, by making people laugh and cry. He inspired people with his sense of humor and courage, even as he was dying.

When I was receiving grief support services, I visited the Scotts Valley hospice office on Disc Drive fairly often. When they created a memorial wall outside of the building, I immediately bought a plaque with his name. After all, the people that gave him such great services and care worked from that office. It was a nice tribute and I would stop by and visit the wall just to pay my respects.

Back to the redwoods

I recently learned that I could “memorialize” Paul with a plaque on one of the ten redwood trees in the grove outside the hospice office in Scotts Valley. It’s a lovely setting, and as I looked at the trees, one of them “called” to me. It was like Paul was saying, “Linda, remember how much I love the redwoods?”
The redwoods meant so much to him and having a tree in his honor close to an organization that gave him unsurpassed comfort and care when he needed it the most, would be just what he would have wanted. I will visit Paul’s tree often and remember the love that he brought into the lives of so many people. There are nine other trees right by his, just waiting for people to come along and put their loved ones names on the tree. Redwood trees live for thousands of years and I think that choosing one is a great way to recognize your loved one and help Hospice of Santa Cruz County continue to provide such exceptional services to the community.

On Sunday, September 15, Hospice of Santa Cruz county will hold a Memorial Wall ceremony from 2:00 – 3:30 PM at 940 Disc Drive, Scotts Valley, where you can remember and honor your loved ones. I’ll be there nodding to Paul’s plaque on the tree with the hopes that he will be joined by others sometime soon. For more information about the memorial service or about naming a redwood tree in honor of your loved one, contact Kathleen R. Hughes, Director of Development at (831) 430-3033.