By Bess Chosak, Hospice East Bay Volunteer

My first glimpse of my newly assigned patient was of a small bundle of a lady—a crown of snow white hair peeking out from a soft grey blanket wrapped around her as she snuggled into a corner of her sofa. I was assigned to bring “music and memory” to this 103 year-old woman who was on hospice care. All I knew was that she had some level of dementia and didn’t talk much at all.

Doris DayAfter a quick introduction by her live-in caregiver, I sat beside her and unfolded my small bag of equipment—two headsets and an iPod loaded with music for her. She looked at me quizzically, as I tried to explain what I was bringing to her. As soon as our headsets were adjusted, and the music was turned on, she began to smile and sway with the music of “The Tender Trap” by Frank Sinatra. Soon we heard the beginning of “Que Sera, Sera” by Doris Day. At this, her face broke into a beautiful wide smile, and when the chorus began, she broke out into song and I joined her. The two of us belted out the old familiar phrases—“Que sera, sera; whatever will be will be; the future’s not ours to see; que sera, sera.”

I was shocked at the loveliness of her singing voice—really quite extraordinary. Her caregiver of eleven years, who had retired to the next room, came rushing in to see who was singing like that. I looked at her in wide amazement, then back to my patient—all three of us had tears in our eyes. Here was something that this dear lady could express, without hesitation, without confusion.

I continued to play songs from the playlist—by Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller’s Orchestra—but I kept coming back to the Doris Day song, and each time my patient would sing loud and clear whenever the chorus came along. I could not help but reflect on the meaning of that song—that we were just there, in the moment together, in an expression of acceptance of whatever will be. I knew very little about this person. She knew nothing about me, except that I was from Hospice East Bay. But together, the music took us to a place of genuine companionship and pleasure.

After 30 minutes, it was time for her lunch. I told her I would come again, and she held my arm tightly and said, with her eyes and her voice, “YES!”

The magic of music, the parts of our minds touched by and responsive to music, seem to supersede the fog of “cerebral degeneration,” which is her diagnosis. I look forward to finding more moments like this with her on subsequent visits.


Win Haagensen

This year, we would like to share our gratitude for Winifred Louise Varco Haagensen, known to friends as “Win.” In 1986, Hospice East Bay (then called Hospice and Palliative Care of Contra Costa County) cared for Win’s husband, Ed Haagensen. She was so grateful for the care he received that she began a tradition that lives on thirty years later.

“When my husband Ed had cancer in 1985, we called Hospice of Contra Costa, and they were his lifeline for his final days. I felt like I had to do something lasting for hospice, so in May of 1986 some friends and I formed the San Ramon Valley Hospice Support Group to educate the community and raise funds for hospice.”

Through this organization, Win created our first ever Tree of Lights ceremony in Danville. Every November for nineteen years—rain or shine—she sat at her donations table at the Livery, distributing hospice information and organizing the Danville tree-lighting ceremonies. Between 1996 and 1999 the number of trees grew from 3 to 14, though we have pared it back a little in the years since.  

For her work, Win was repeatedly recognized by the city and the state, and the State Legislature proclaimed Nov. 29, 1991, to be Winifred Haagensen Day in Contra Costa County. The town of Danville recognized her with an Award of Merit for her dedicated service, and the state also honored her as Woman of the Year in 1987. Mrs. Haagensen died peacefully at home on Aug. 9, 2007, at the age of 90.

Today we have tree-lighting ceremonies in 11 locations throughout Contra Costa County. We are so grateful to Win for establishing a beautiful tradition that provides such meaningful closure to friends and family members while raising funds for hospice care.

Bereavement Volunteers

Our Bereavement Department is committed to providing bereavement services, not only to the families of our patients but to our entire community. We offer traditional group & individual counseling as well as innovative programs for children, teens and adults which address the wide range of bereavement experiences. How does this all get done with a staff of seven? One word: volunteers!

Recently, a group of bereavement volunteers completed a two-day training in a conference room near the Fund Development Offices. As we saw them each day, we were awed and honored that these people so freely offered to work with Hospice East Bay and give so much of their time to learn how to support the families of our patients. Little did we know that this two-day training was merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the time these volunteers give to us.

We support our patient families, via phone calls and mail, for a period of 13 months after their loved one’s death. Last year, over 20,000 letters, cards, flyers and invitations were sent to bereaved individuals. Another 4,565 calls were made to bereaved families; over 700 people participated in support groups and another 59 in individual counseling sessions.

Most of our bereavement volunteers are already patient support volunteers and have previously attended an 8-hour general agency orientation and at least 16 hours of patient volunteer training, perhaps more depending on how long they have been a volunteer. Next they attend a general 8-hour bereavement training, and another 6-8 hours depending on the program they choose. In case you are keeping track, that is more than 40 hours of training!

The Bridge Program, which supports grieving children and teens, requires a volunteer commitment of two hours per month over a period of ten months. If the volunteer is a co-facilitator in one of our many support groups, they must be available weekly for up to four months. Telephone volunteers make their calls quarterly for 13 months and those that do the in-home visitations must be available as long as their services are needed. As you can see, the commitment to become a bereavement volunteer is inspiring and the reason why these individuals are so valued here at Hospice East Bay.

The gift of time these volunteers offer allows us to provide a broader scope of services. We are proud of the quality of the services provided. According to Deyta Analytics, a third party survey vendor, 90% of the families surveyed responded that our bereavement services met their needs during their average grief period—the national benchmark is 73.2%. The quality and satisfaction that these family members experienced are a testament to the caliber and dedication of our volunteers and their training. Thank you bereavement volunteers for all you do!

Hospice East Bay is fortunate to have numerous community groups that believe in our mission and are passionate about raising funds on our behalf. One such group is the Friends of Hospice Rossmoor, led by the dynamic Trish Dickson. Every year, her organization is responsible for three significant events at Rossmoor: Tree of Lights, Art & Wine, and the newly renamed Sneakers & Paws Walk for Hospice.

In 1999, Rossmoor resident Ruth DuFosee attended a fundraiser and was inspired to do an event for Hospice East Bay. She convinced the bridge club to sponsor her event and got businesses to donate raffle prizes. The "Heart of Hospice" luncheon had 175 guests, surpassing both attendance and monetary goals.

With the success of her luncheon, Ruth began to plan more events and even more residents became interested in helping. In the sixteen years since then, this small but productive group has raised over $85,000!

In 2011, the group decided to find a new location for the Rossmoor Tree of Lights. Bob King and Colleen Wilkie suggested the beautiful oak tree at Creekside, which was secured thanks to the support of former Rossmoor CEO Warren Salmons. The tree was strung with lights, and the annual tree lighting dedications have become the most successful of the 12 tree ceremonies that Hospice East Bay oversees.

After numerous luncheons and ice cream social fundraisers, Ruth decided to hand to reins of the club to a successor in 2012. Friends of Hospice members John Lee and Barbara Phillips approached Trish Dickson to take the lead. She had used hospice services with her parents and was inspired to take on the cause. Since then, Trish has become one of our strongest advocates, and her leadership has invigorated the group to add new events and set goals to raise even more money for Hospice East Bay.

Looking to expand the Friends' range of activities, Trish began looking for a place to hold a benefit walk. She thought that the scenic Rossmoor golf course would be a beautiful place for such an event. Each year, participants can memorialize a loved one and walk in their memory.

This year, however, adds something new to the event: loved pets can now be memorialized as well as people. After a donor chose to memorialize their dog at the Tree of Lights ceremony in Rossmoor last November, Trish realized how important pets are to the community. By providing a way for residents to remember their furry loved ones, the walk will draw even more participants.

In this spirit, the Friends of Hospice renamed the walk to reflect the added focus. The 4th Annual Sneakers and Paws Walk will be held on Monday, May 16th, 2016.

When the Rossmoor Event Center opened in 2013, Trish thought that an Art & Wine event would be a great fit for the location. Rossmoor has a robust art community, yet had never hosted an Art & Wine event.

The Friends partnered with Creekside Grill to help with the food and wine procurement. Rossmoor artists jumped at the opportunity to participate. In the end, twenty-one local artists were selected to exhibit and sell their beautiful wares at the event.

The 3rd Annual Art & Wine will be on Monday, September 26th and feature exciting new wineries, delicious food and fabulous art.

It is amazing what a dedicated, passionate leader can do to make a difference in the community. Hospice East Bay is so grateful for what Trish and this wonderful group have done for our patients and their families. We will be honoring them with the Sue Bruns Award for Philanthropy at our next Celebration of Care on April 8, 2017 at Diablo Country Club.

We’d like to share a letter from one of our patient family members which we recently received.

Dear Hospice East Bay,

We would like to take the time to formally express our gratitude for John Marksbury, RN, who cared for our father, Mike Manyak. During the four weeks our father was in the care of Hospice East Bay, John quite simply, made the whole experience better.

To say our dad was a very particular person is an understatement. Yet from his first meeting John formed a warm, communicative relationship. One of his most outstanding qualities is that he has a way of getting his work done while sharing stories and exchanging laughter. In the short time we had Dad in hospice, we came to feel that John folded right into our family.

The other quality that stands out is the compassionate care John provides. While being compassionate is most likely a part of his professional role as a hospice nurse, John brought more. We’ll never forget the time John paused on his way out, kissed my dad on top of his head, and said, “you’re a good man, Mike.”

While we don’t know if it’s procedure for the hospice nurse to clean and dress the deceased patient, John did. When the family came in and we said our final goodbyes, Dad looked so dignified and at peace. It set our hearts at ease knowing that Dad was in John’s hands during his transition and after he passed.

There’s one other thing that we’d like to mention even though it doesn’t relate directly to Dad’s care. Often John’s visits overlapped with the visits of aides. We witnessed the obvious rapport and respect he had with each one, and vice versa. And, as appropriate, we watched as John mentored an aide who was in training.

In closing, John responded promptly and with compassion and concern in all matters. Our whole experience was made better by him. We are so grateful that John was our dad’s nurse.

Sincerely, Michael, Anne, & Tashina Manyak.

We spoke with John to find out what fuels his desire to be a hospice nurse and inspires his compassionate spirit.

How long have you worked for Hospice East Bay?

Three years.

Why did you choose to be a nurse?

I owned and operated a nightclub in San Francisco for 14 years. During this time I married, and soon thereafter my wife and I had a child. I began feeling that I needed a more stable job with regular hours. I was discussing these feelings with my friend Russ, who is a nurse, and knows me very well. He proposed that I shift my career to nursing because I already had the basic skills: I was a sensitive listener and a skillful communicator with a deep respect for teamwork. I thought about what he said and came to believe that he was right. So, at 40 years old, I sold the club and went to nursing school to become an registered nurse.

How did you choose to work for Hospice East Bay?

I had been working as a telephone triage nurse and felt the itch to get out of the office to be the provider of care rather than the designator. When I heard about the nursing position available at Hospice East Bay I knew it would be right for me.

Can you tell us about your experience with the Manyak family?

I recall that Mike Manyak was known as a gruff man, but he was always gentle and grateful with me. He liked to watch baseball, and we enjoyed talking about the games. My goals with Mike were the same that I have for all my patients - keep him comfortable, relieve his pain and help maintain his pride and dignity.

What are the rewards of working as a hospice nurse?

I feel it’s a privilege to be a hospice nurse. It is an honor to be able to walk alongside patients and their families while they are going through the final stages of their life.

Is it customary for a hospice nurse to clean and dress the deceased patient?

My goal is to not only provide patient care, but also to support the family. I learn what the family needs as they are processing their loved one’s death. If the family wants, I can bathe and dress the patient’s body. Once these tasks are completed, the family feels ready to move on to the next step.

We are grateful to John and all our clinical staff who provide the expert and compassionate care Hospice East Bay is known for.

Pleasant Hill, CA - Every few weeks, during the fall and winter months, we receive large bags stuffed full of quilts. These quilts have been lovingly made by the Scrappy Quilters, a group that has been meeting regularly since 1993 at the Mt. Diablo Education Center in Pleasant Hill.

Most of the quilts delivered to us find their way to Bruns House, our inpatient care facility in Alamo. They are carefully laid on the beds of each of the six private rooms, warmly welcoming new patients. The families and friends of our patients love having the quilts in the rooms and are welcome to take them home as a memento. The remainder of the quilts are distributed to our home patients by our care giving staff.

What Katherine Crow remembers most when visiting her friend at Bruns House, besides the warm loving care she received, was the beautiful quilt that brightened her room. The quilt was significant to Katherine because she had been sewing as early as she can remember and the hominess that the quilt represented made her feel like her friend was in the right place. Katherine has fond memories of quilting with her three daughters, Caroline, Barbara and Deborah. When Deborah, the younger of the sisters was born, Caroline and Barbara were 6 and 8. They made a quilt for their baby sister on a dishrag loom and Katherine sewed the binding. All three girls were bored during their home economics classes because they already knew how to sew. Over the years the three sisters and their mom made numerous quilts for their families and friends. Katherine says that her girls became better quilters than she.

Sadly, Katherine’s two eldest daughters became ill and recently passed away. Caroline spent her last days at Bruns House. Katherine, who is no longer able to sew, and her surviving daughter Deborah had to decide what to do with the numerous boxes of quilting fabric. They remembered the quilts at the Bruns House and called us to see if the material could be donated and somehow used. We immediately thought of the Scrappy Quilters and they happily took all the fabric.

Now the fabric is finding its way into the quilts that adorn the beds at Bruns House. Both Katherine and Deborah feel that it is the perfect way to honor Barbara and Caroline and the legacy of their sewing and quilt making.

Noemi Mitzel, Medical Social Worker

Noemi Mitzel is one of Hospice of the East Bay’s dedicated team of medical social workers. She believes that her first responsibility is to support her patients and their family’s wishes. She stays aware of any special concerns a family may have, be they financial, emotional or ethical, and finds solutions for them.

The 2014 holiday season was a particularly difficult time for one of Noemi’s patient families. Maria Uribe was living in Antioch with her adult daughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth and Eduardo Garcia, and their three children, Evelyn (13), Emily (11), and Erik (8).

Eduardo had recently been laid off. To make ends meet he had taken a job with limited hours, until he could find something better. Noemi spoke numerous times with Elizabeth and found that she and her husband were concerned about being able to provide enough food and holiday gifts for their children.

When Hospice of the East Bay social workers like Noemi learn that a patient or family is struggling financially, they make a request to our Family Fund for assistance. Due to our generous donors, we are able to provide assistance to patient families with critical needs and limited financial resources. Our goal is to make it easier for families to spend as much quality, stress-free time together as possible. Since its inception the program has granted more than $50,000 in assistance. Examples of other requests that have been granted are payment of utility and telephone bills, providing caregivers and assistance with translation services at funerals.

After Noemi’s request was made, our Foundation staff was able to provide the family with gift cards to the stores they liked. In addition, they contacted Christmas for Everyone, a volunteer organization that serves people in need during the holiday season. Volunteers filled their bags with gifts that the children had asked for and delivered them in time for Christmas morning. “I was so worried that I didn’t have enough money for a Christmas meal or toys,” Elizabeth said. “I’m thankful the kids were able to have a Christmas.”

“I am so proud to be part of an organization that is truly committed to relieving pain and anxiety,” Noemi said, “whether it is physical, emotional, spiritual, practical or financial—even going as far as delivering food cards and coordinating holiday gifts to families who are unable to afford them.”

We are thankful to our social workers like Noemi and to our donors who make it possible for us to go the extra mile.