We are all just walking each other home. - Ram Dass
We are all just walking each other home. - Ram Dass
Prior to August 3, 2022, the Aroostook House of Comfort, to me and my family, was a place in Presque Isle that we knew as “The Hospice House.” Having had family that had gone through hospice in the past, we knew what that word meant sorrow for the family, support from kind-hearted nurses and doctors to help the dying family member pass from this life to the next in as comfortable a way as possible, and ultimately death of our loved one, which in our family’s case was usually not long after being put on hospice. The House of Comfort was a place that I played a golf tournament a couple of times to help support because it seemed like a great cause, and it was a place that a couple of people I knew served on the Board of Directors. Beyond that, it was somewhere that seemed like it would be a good place to have around, but not a place I thought a lot about. On August 3, our family would start looking at this place in a different light and will continue to do so for the rest of our lives. It would forever be known as one our goal to get my Dad, Mike Lahey to for however long he had left, and two the place that showed us and, most importantly, my Dad, the love, support, kindness, and compassion that only God Himself could provide to us through this amazing team as my Dad lived out his last four days or so on Earth.
We got news on August 3 from the Palliative Care team in Bangor that after fighting several chronic diseases for a long time and a lengthy period of watching Dad’s health slowly decline for several years, Dad’s life was coming to an end because there was nothing that modern medicine could do for him anymore. As we struggled to come to terms with how long he may have and what Palliative Care meant, within 24 hours, the family was heading quickly for Bangor because Dad was calling for us and saying he was ready to be done with all treatments. Knowing it wouldn’t be long, we got to Bangor as quickly as we could to find him sitting up and talking to our Pastor like he was feeling on top of the world, which was not the picture we had in our heads of what we would find in Bangor. We knew we had received a gift from above of more time with Dad, not knowing how long that would be, but what we didn’t know then was that we were also receiving a gift of being able to witness firsthand the amazing care that Dad would receive from The House of Comfort. Later that day, the Hospice Team came to talk to us, and we all agreed that what would be best for all of us, especially Dad, was to get him to PI to the Aroostook House of Comfort. Within a few hours, we were following an ambulance to PI as Dad was moved to the House.
We had heard nothing but good things about the House, but we really didn’t know what to expect. My sister met my Mom, my niece, and me at the door when we arrived behind the ambulance that afternoon, and she looked to be in awe and told us how beautiful the place was. When we drove up, the first thing we noticed was the beautiful landscaping, the peaceful aura of the place itself, and the warm, inviting atmosphere of the building. We had been told that we would meet with Dr. Jones when we arrived, but honestly, I thought that meant we would see him for 5 minutes at some point after we got there when it was convenient for him. What impressed me the most was the second we walked in. As the team was getting Dad settled in his new room, we were greeted by an extremely friendly volunteer who welcomed us and ushered us into a room where Dr. Jones was waiting for us. He had been briefed on Dad’s condition, had read through his chart, and was ready to meet with us upon arrival. It was almost as if he was on our time and our family and Dad were his highest priority at that moment. He took the time to tell us what had happened with Dad to get him to this point, what we could expect, and answered any and all questions we had. That set the stage amazingly for the rest of Dad’s stay there.
The night Dad arrived, either by coincidence or by the providence of God above, the supper they were serving was what Dad had told us in Bangor he wanted for lunch but didn’t get because he left too early. The volunteer added specific sodas and snacks he wanted to her grocery list for the next day, which, as it turned out, Dad ended up not enjoying because his health started to decline after that first day. When we left him that night, we knew he was in the best place possible for him, and we left with an appreciation and comfort, knowing that he would be taken care of in the best way possible for however long he had left with us. Throughout the next few days, the staff and volunteers showed time and time again what huge hearts and compassion they have for the patient and their families, which we cannot thank them enough for. On August 8, the staff told my Mom that Dad’s time was growing short and that if he had family that was away, they should probably think of coming home. So, my wife, children, and I headed home from a quick trip downstate, and we arrived at the House at 4:00 pm. We stayed until 8:00, knowing my mother would spend the night with Dad that night since time was growing short and that she would call us if anything changed, and we needed to come back. On that evening, we got to meet a very special nurse named Rebecca Sirois, who in talking to, I realized we had a connection through her boyfriend, whom I used to work with in a former job. She was a very kind-hearted and sweet young lady that talked to us, tried to comfort us, and just be with us. In the midst of a conversation with her, Dad needed to have his lips moistened because he couldn’t drink at that point, so she had moistened a swab with water and wet his mouth for him. My mother jokingly made a comment about how much Dad loved Moxie when he used to drink soda and it was too bad that she used water instead of Moxie. Fast forward about an hour or so, Rebecca was leaving for the night after her shift. Shortly after she left, she returned with a bottle of Moxie in hand.
She had left the House after her shift ended, bought Dad a Moxie out of her own money, and brought it back, and gave Dad a taste of it. We were so touched and thankful for this young lady that words couldn’t and still can’t express how grateful we still are for that small act of kindness. To know that one of the last sensations Dad consciously enjoyed was the simple taste of his favorite drink brings a smile to my face and tears to my eyes. And it’s all because of this one act from this kind, selfless, generous young lady that we met a couple of hours before. Dad passed away later that night, and when our family gathered at his bedside afterwards to say goodbye, the House staff was so amazing and so incredibly kind. They didn’t try to rush us out. They all expressed their condolences with words and hugs and showed the kindness and grace we had come to see from them over the prior several days.
Our experience with the House was nothing short of amazing. I can’t say enough good things about the place itself, the staff that works and volunteers there, or the amazing mission of the organization. As a way of saying thank you, we donated some of Dad’s assistive devices to them, we asked for donations in his memory to be sent there, and we plan on getting a stone in his memory for the Memorial Path on the grounds there. If anyone asks me anything about Dad’s last few days, whether they ask specifically or not, I talk up the House of Comfort as much as I can, which I will continue to do.
I plan on continuing to play in their annual tournament and do what I can to spread the word about them and their mission. They were such a light for us in a hard and difficult time. I like to think of The Aroostook House of Comfort as the most amazing and wonderful place a person hopes to never have to use, but you sure are grateful for them if and when you do need them.
- Written by Tony Lahey