(6/26/12) - In every community there are those who work hard every day to support the needs of others. This rare form of caring can be found in an individual, a couple or even an organization. It is easily recognized by the desire to put the interests of others before personal interests.
When individuals begin to care for each other in this way special things begin to happen. However, there is no limit to what can be accomplished when these individuals team up with an organization that believes in putting the needs of others first.
This selfless devotion is rare, but if you look hard enough you will eventually find it. In our community it can easily be found in Audrey and John Gilbert. In fact you don't have to look far past their own neighborhood to realize how much the Gilberts believed in creating a strong and loving community.
"On our street we always looked after each other. If your garage door wasn't opened by a certain time in the morning, someone would call to make sure everything was okay." Audrey said. "And, Gilbert (as John was known to his friends) was the neighborhood cook. Whenever we ate, our friends ate."
This may sound foreign to some, but for Audrey and John this sense of community is how the two lived their lives.
Several years ago, John's best friend became very sick and was eventually forced to spend most of his days in a wheelchair. In order to provide some much needed exercise for his friend, John would take time out of his day, help his friend get out of the wheelchair, and walk by his side from the front porch of his house to the mailbox and back.
Audrey remembers, "One day they made it all the way to the street and John's friend said he didn't want to walk anymore. John simply said, 'Well your wheelchair is all the way back at the house. If you want to sit down you're going to have to walk back.'" The two soon made it back to the house and would later use that story to joke with friends in the neighborhood who were in need of a little encouragement.
In 1998, a friend of Audrey's was undergoing treatment for breast cancer and needed a ride to the doctors' office. Audrey didn't hesitate. Soon the trips became more and more frequent and eventually Audrey became her friend's caregiver. When physicians soon discovered there was little that could be done medically for her friend, Audrey was shown another group of people who believe in supporting those in need; just as she does.
Audrey's friend was referred to McLeod Hospice. Because of this special form of medical care, Audrey's friend was supported by chaplains, bereavement coordinators, social workers, nurses, physicians and volunteers. Not only was this support provided to her friend, it was also provided to the family and Audrey as well. This type of care was a very different experience for them all.
"In the 60's and 70's when someone got very sick we did the best we could with what we had. When my dad had cancer we cared for him at home. We even went as far as hiring a sitter for a few days when we were lucky," she said. "But, years later when my friend began receiving hospice care I was amazed. It wasn't just their medical knowledge that impressed me. It was the way they seemed to take care of everything. And, the spiritual support they provided was something we all needed."
"Sitters mean well and are very caring, but they aren't trained in how to handle the spiritual or medical needs of someone who is very sick," Audrey said. "Today, we have the option of having those who are trained in these areas provide that help not just to the patients but to their families as well."
After witnessing hospice care first hand, Audrey realized that her desire to put the interests of others first was also found with McLeod Hospice. It was then that she and John decided to support McLeod Hospice. For years, they attended the Tree Lighting ceremony each December. In 2004, it was announced that a new inpatient hospice facility would be constructed. The Gilberts knew this was going to be something very special; a feeling that Audrey still carries today.
"When I see what people in other communities without a Hospice House have to go through I quickly realize how lucky we are," Audrey said. "I recently visited with John's brother in Virginia who is receiving hospice care. They don't have a Hospice House like McLeod up there. I could actually see the wear and tear on his wife and the family because they are so focused on being caregivers that there is very little energy left to focus on anything else. The McLeod Hospice House allows families to be families.
"I remember visiting the McLeod Hospice House one day and seeing a former student of mine from Darlington who was visiting a family member. Once we saw an old friend of Gilbert's from Marion here, too. This place means so much to all of us. I think that is why I love the Hospice House so much because it gives much needed support to so many families," Audrey said.
For many years, the Gilberts continued to support McLeod Hospice. In a strange twist of fate however, Audrey and John would soon find themselves needing the very same love and support they had given to countless friends and strangers.
In the spring of 2010, John became very sick. After caring for her father and later a friend, Audrey now found herself caring for husband of 43 years. John's disease moved fast and he required extensive treatments. Over time that combination began to take its toll and soon it was too much for his body to handle. In the fall, John came to the very same Hospice House he and Audrey had supported for so many years.
Although the Gilberts never had children of their own they do have a Godson, Geno Eaddy. "When I told Geno that Gilbert was being moved to the McLeod Hospice House he immediately went online to do his own research; just to make sure that this was the right choice. Once he came to the Hospice House and saw the surroundings and how the staff was caring for us, it reassured him that this was the right place," Audrey said.
"Because the staff took care of everything Geno relaxed. Instead of worrying, Geno was able to be a son to Gilbert. It was the closest to a father-son relationship Gilbert ever had."
The McLeod Hospice House is designed to allow for patients and their families to stay together while the patient is receiving care. It includes oversized patient rooms, a Sensory Garden, courtyard, kitchen and dining areas, a chapel and a family area. Because of the space provided, John's entire family was able to gather and support each other.
"Gilbert has a big family; he was one of twelve children," Audrey laughs. "And, while we were all here at the Hospice House my friends would sometimes fix meals for us and the family would sit together in the kitchen and eat. After eating some of us would sit and talk while others would walk through the garden.
"The myth that Hospice simply helps people to die slowly must be erased. For me Hospice gave John the best quality of life in his final days. And, having the McLeod Hospice House available to us allowed our family to spend time with each other and with Gilbert," Audrey said. "It also allowed me to be something I wasn't able to be at home. Here, I wasn't his caregiver. At the Hospice House, I was his wife again."
A few days after arriving at the McLeod Hospice House, John Gilbert passed away with his family by his side.
"It isn't very easy to talk about it. But, it helps to know that I can come to McLeod Hospice for the Grief Recovery meetings and work through all of this. And, every time I come here I walk over and touch the plaque that Gilbert's friends and I gave to McLeod Hospice in his memory," Audrey said.
The McLeod Hospice House opened in August of 2005 and is currently the only inpatient hospice facility in the region. Without the McLeod Hospice House, families wishing to receive care in a similar setting would have to travel to Georgetown or Columbia.
Since 2005, the desire for families to receive inpatient hospice care close to home has grown steadily. Today, the 12-bed McLeod Hospice House is frequently at capacity which makes meeting the needs of families increasingly difficult. Last fall, a campaign to expand the facility by an additional 12 patient rooms was announced. Construction should be completed by the fall of 2012.
"These additional rooms will mean that there will be 12 more families who will have the same experiences that we had. There will be more families who will be cared for by this staff who are trained in providing comfort," Audrey said.
Audrey never imagined that she would be the recipient of the same selfless love and devotion she and John gave to so many. But, it was that experience that has further encouraged Audrey to continue the support for McLeod Hospice she and John began more than a decade ago.
"Since Gilbert loved the outdoors so much I've decided to add a patio bench in his memory at the Hospice House," Audrey added. "I know he would appreciate this."
To learn more about the McLeod Hospice House Addition, please visit the following link https://foundation.mcleodhealth.org/HHA.