Paul Valle-Riestra entered the Bruns House on May 20, 2011 and embarked on his final destination in his nineteen-month battle with brain cancer. Born and raised in Walnut Creek, he led a remarkable life. Paul went to UC Davis and Berkeley, returned to Walnut Creek in 1990 and was the Assistant City Attorney for 16 years and City Attorney for the last 5 years. His loyalty to the city he grew up in, family, friends and co-workers made him the incredible man that people remember. He lost his battle on May 26, but this was not just his fight—Alice, his wife of nineteen years, also fought for Paul and became his caregiver and advocate all the while trying to keep life at home for their two girls, nine and fifteen, as normal as possible.
When Alice made the decision to call Hospice of the East Bay on May 19, little did she know that her life and the role she played during Paul’s illness would change drastically. Before Paul was admitted to Bruns House, the admissions nurse, Darbi Finley, spent an hour and a half with Alice gathering information about the family and their emotional state. As Darbi asked questions and Alice started to share, she began letting her guard down. She remembers that her stress level started dissipating and the weight she had been carrying on her shoulders for such a long time was lifting. “I was always ready to fight the next battle and for the first time in a long time I did not feel like I had to be the advocate, caregiver and protector. The fight was over, and there was nothing left to figure out and research. I knew that calling hospice meant that we were at the end of Paul’s life and that was devastating, but somehow I knew that we were in the right place and Hospice of the East Bay would be my angel through this time period.”
By the time Paul and the family arrived at Bruns House, the staff, including social worker Brian Copperstein, knew everything they needed to make the transition as seamless a process as possible. It was as if the Bruns staff knew exactly what the family needed. Once settled in his room, Paul looked more at peace. Never once did Alice or her family feel like they had to look or ask for anything. The level of care was so high and the staff attentive without hovering or being intrusive. “I was finally able once again to be a wife to my husband and a mother to my children. I no longer had the burden of being a caregiver and advocate.”
With its beautiful garden, living room and open kitchen, Bruns House became a place where the girls could take breaks from the stress of seeing their father at the end of life and play in the garden, watch television or make a snack—amenities that a hospital setting cannot provide. Their entire demeanor became less stoic as they relaxed and they were able to be closer to their normal selves around their father again. The family dog was even welcome and immediately took its place next to Paul on his bed. “This magical place is so welcoming and full of warmth that visitors immediately feel relaxed and loved.”
There was a constant stream of family and friends visiting Paul, and the staff treated each one with the same love and respect as the patients. The front desk got to know some of the visitors, joking and laughing with them when they came in. Alice loved seeing the list of friends that had visited that day.
Never had Alice nor her family felt such respect and compassion from medical staff in their time in and out of hospitals. “I remember thinking back to that day when I was talking to Darbi and hoping that Paul would have some time to experience the Bruns House and all it had to offer. He entered on our 21st wedding anniversary and had six days there. A gift for him and the family.”
Families and loved ones often wait too long to begin hospice care and many times the patient does not live long enough to experience all the services we provide. Alice and her daughters feel lucky to have experienced the privacy and quiet that could not be found in a hospital, and intensive around-the-clock nursing care that could be achieved at home. “It was a heavy load that got lifted at Bruns House. I got to reflect and talk to my husband instead of trying to feed him and in that time I was able to articulate my wishes and prayers to him.” Alice has become a community advocate for Bruns House and is a co-chair of the Walnut Creek Tree of Lights Ceremony, which will be held at 5:00 pm on November 12, 2011 at the tree behind Va De Vi. The ceremony is dedicated to Paul Valle-Riestra.