“VITAS gave my mother her dignity”
As her mother neared the end of life, Heidi Shipley of Palm Coast, Florida, knew they both needed help and support.
Heidi, a member of Palm Coast city council, contacted VITAS after the doctor gave her grim news about her mother, who lived with her. “He said she had about 6 months to live,” Heidi recalls. “I found out about VITAS from a friend in Edgewater who had used their services and raved about them.”
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“Those 6 months were hard. I wanted her to have her dignity, not to have to depend just on me and feel bad that her daughter was taking on all this responsibility,” she says.
“VITAS stepped in and they made it easier not only for me but for my mother. She could look to them and say, I don't want my daughter to do this; I'd rather you just do it. And she got her dignity that way. The VITAS team really were great friends for her.”
VITAS offered “friends who became part of our family”
Heidi’s mother, Sophia Maria Chanchully of Revere, Massachusetts, was a stay-at-home mom of 5, a seamstress who made wedding dresses and a skilled baker. Hers was the house where all the neighborhood kids gathered to have fun and enjoy the goodies they baked together.
“Growing up, we had a big house in the inner city,” says Heidi. “Mom wouldn’t just bake cookies. It was an event. All the little girls in the neighborhood came over and they cooked and they decorated. To her, the baking was for the kids to know that they were welcome in our house.”
During the months that VITAS came to Heidi’s home in Palm Coast, Sophia became the baking teacher and seamstress again. “She was teaching the team different cooking things and how to sew, and they were doing little projects,” Heidi says.
“I think it made the end of her life that much better, that she had these friends who came in and became part of our family,” she adds. “We even had VITAS spend Thanksgiving with us!”
Keeping distant family informed
Soon after Thanksgiving, VITAS contacted Heidi’s brother in Boston.
“They said, ‘Now is the time. Now you have to get down here.’ Had they not made that call, he wouldn't have been here,” she says.
Heidi’s brother arrived the day before their mother’s death. The VITAS team explained what would happen, what to expect and what their mother was experiencing. When Sophia started talking about her childhood and her steps to adulthood—stories her children had never heard—they took notes so her grandchildren and great-grandchildren would know.
“It gave us peace of mind,” Heidi recalls. “It was a real eye-opening experience, the way, to the end, she talked about every step of her life.”
Sophia’s funeral in Boston was attended by friends and customers from years ago. “She made hundreds of wedding gowns over the years,” says Heidi, “and everybody in our neighborhood had a picture of a wedding gown that our mother had made. At her funeral, they lined tables with those pictures.”
Meeting a need in the community
As a Palm Coast city council member, Heidi is aware of her community’s needs. Many older residents do not have family nearby. She sees VITAS as a great help to seriously ill residents. “It helps to know we have somebody who can come into the home to help our parents when they are near the end of life,” she says.
“Whether the children live here or in another state,” she says, “it is comforting for us as a community, just knowing there's something like VITAS out there that can help not only the patient, but the caregiver as well. That’s how VITAS helped me.”