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Patient Stories

Jewish Hospice Program Cares for Patients and Families

"Hospice is a very powerful word,” says Barry Kahn, of Winchester. For several days after his wife, Sandy Baer, became a patient of Care Dimensions he couldn’t use the word because of what it signified. But once he embraced it fully, he came to learn all that it entailed.

“Hospice doesn’t have to mean that death is imminent, it just means that there’s no reason for further aggressive treatment,” he explained. “It’s about care that is healing rather than curative, supportive rather than interventionist.

Hospice is compassionate care and it helps you get through one of the most difficult phases of your life.”

Kahn’s wife Sandy, a special education professional, was diagnosed in 1995 with a slow-growing cancer that started in the tear gland of her eye and eventually spread to her liver, lungs, bones and brain. “Once she realized that the cancer was finally going to get her, she decided that she wanted no more interventions. She wanted to go home with Care Dimensions' help and be surrounded by family,” says Kahn.

“Hospice may have been one of the best things that ever happened to us,” remarks Kahn. “For three months, Sandy was joyful, playful, funny, and appreciative of the love she received from family and the care she got from hospice. I really don’t believe that time would have happened without hospice. It may sound strange that you can enjoy life in the midst of dying, but she did.”

Sandy was offered visits from a Care Dimensions chaplain, but as founding members of their Jewish congregation in Winchester, they decided to continue to seek spiritual guidance from their rabbi. Social worker Eleanor Mathews, LICSW, however, did help them work through a difficult decision about burial plans.

“Being Jewish, I just assumed that we’d be buried in a Jewish cemetery, but Sandy thought it would be nicer to be closer in the town cemetery.”

Grieving Loss in a Jewish Way

Sandy died on June 6, 2012, peacefully, quietly and painlessly. Kahn found comfort in the rituals of Jewish mourning practices. “Judaism marks out how to survive this time. From burying your loved one as soon as possible and sitting Shiva for seven days, to the prescribed 30-day and year-long mourning periods and the practice of not speaking to a bereaved person until they speak to you. All the rituals help us process these difficult times,” he explains.

Even with these rituals, the grieving process is difficult. To help get through it, Kahn participated in a newly-bereaved workshop offered by Care Dimensions’ Bertolon Center for Grief & Healing, and his daughter met a number of times with a Care Dimensions bereavement counselor. Kahn also joined the eight-week “Grieving Loss in a Jewish Way” bereavement group, offered by Care Dimensions’ Jewish Hospice program.

“I wanted to understand what was behind the principles of the Jewish mourning rituals. It was extremely helpful to process the Jewish aspect of grieving,” he explains. “Through the discussions with the group and the two rabbis who met with us, it taught me how to grieve. All of us have to do it, but we don’t always know how.”

“Sandy taught me how to live life fully. Her illness made my awareness of living and enjoying life more acute, because we know on some level that our lives are finite, so we have to enjoy it,” Kahn reflects. “It doesn’t take much to enjoy life; you just have to appreciate it. Sandy did it in living, and in dying.”

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Since 1978, Care Dimensions, formerly Hospice of the North Shore,  has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in over 100 communities in Massachusetts.

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