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Comfort in Care at Life's End
Dorothy Callahan
Source: St. Anthony Messenger magazine
Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2012
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Hospice volunteers attend a 16-hour training course that outlines their caregiving roles.
“If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another.”  —Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Life often leads you where you least expect to go and where you never imagine you’ll have the courage to prevail.

Looking back 32 years, Julia Quinlan reflects on the day when she and her husband, Joe, were caught in an emotional turmoil. They were trapped in a parents’ nightmare, unable to wake their daughter Karen Ann from the coma into which a tragic accident had plunged her five years earlier and prevent the certainty of her death. Yet through the shared pain Julia and Joe endured, a promise of peace, solace and comfort for others emerged as they worked to create a memorial for Karen Ann. Although the idea was in its organizational infancy in those days, a tiny, spare hospital office in Newton, N.J., bore a small sign with a big name: Karen Ann Quinlan Hospice.

In medieval times, a hospice was a refuge on a journey, often in a place dedicated to God. The Quinlans were taking that journey and were still in the process of completing it when the hospice idea surfaced. Through their experiences, they had grown to understand life-or-death struggles and the ethics of prolonging life when there was no hope of recovery. “We wanted to build a memorial to Karen Ann, something that would live on and show that her short life had served a purpose,” Julia says. “We were drawn to this new movement that had begun in England and was now taking hold in the United States.”

In the planning stages, they traveled to London to meet and observe the work of Dame Cecily Saunders, whose hospice was a home where patients could find joy in their final pilgrimage, celebrate their life and accept the natural state of dying.

By 1975, the hospice movement had come to America with The Connecticut Hospice, Inc., in Branford, Conn. Julia and Joe spent three years carefully observing this facility and others that were emerging and found the opposite of what people might have expected: These were not morbid institutions where patients went to die. Instead, there were joy and laughter. They sensed no fear of death among the residents, only acceptance and a wish to enjoy what time was left to them.

In California, they were introduced to a home-care program that treated the family as a unit, with patients and caregivers supported by a highly trained team of volunteers.

It was exactly what they had sought.

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