When his longtime friend and priestly brother Father Lloyd Haupt was nearing the end of his life last fall, Father Silverius Schmitt had the privilege of anointing him and praying with him while he was in hospice care at Quiet Oaks Hospice House in St. Augusta.
As the rite calls for, Father Schmitt gathered people into the room while he administered the sacrament, including hospice staff.
What surprised him was when one of the members of the staff entered the room and sat down on the bed with Father Haupt and gently took his hand in hers. When Father Schmitt was trained to perform hospital visits as a priest, he was warned never to sit on the patient’s bed.
“Here was this person violating all the rules I had learned,” Father Schmitt said, “except one — what is best for this patient.”
As she held Father Haupt’s hand, Father Schmitt noticed him begin to relax and so he began to pray. That vision of such extreme compassion was the inspiration for a piece of artwork Father Schmitt spent over a year commissioning since Father Haupt’s death.
The painting, done by local artist Mari Bjork, captures the image of a patient and hospice staff as well as a guardian angel, which Father Schmitt said connects the human and the divine.
On Nov. 6, Father Schmitt donated the original artwork to Quiet Oaks, where he offered a special dedication and blessing.
“I wanted it to be a reminder and a tribute to the people working there, that they would know their dignity and their honor. What they do there is not a chore, it’s a privilege,” he said.
It was a fitting mark of respect, especially since November is recognized nationally as hospice month.
Molly Jeanmenne began as a volunteer at Quiet Oaks, then started nursing there about a year ago. She also serves as the outreach coordinator.
“It really is a gift to be able to care for people,” she said. “I look at it as there’s someone that takes care of a baby when it’s born, and here at Quiet Oaks, there’s someone to help them leave the world.”
Nestled in a grove of oaks, the house looks and feels like home — rocking chairs on the porch, the smell of cookies baking, the peals of laughing children, even a cat lazing near a sunny window.
According to executive director Linda Allen, their goal at Quiet Oaks is to provide comfort and support to the patient and their family and caregivers. Hospice care can begin with a doctor’s referral when the life expectancy of a person is six months or less.
“Since we opened in the fall of 2008, we have focused on the exceptional care we give our residents — the 2:1 ratio, the homelike setting, home-cooked meals. It seems focused on the care of the dying, which is much of what hospice is.
“But when I think back to the beginning of why we were created and what the focus was, it was really to help the caregivers of the dying, to give them a sense of peace and to help them in their journey and in their grief,” she said.
A very small percentage of what goes on at Quiet Oaks is actually about dying.
“It’s really about living,” Allen said. “We focus on the person in their totality. We look at them from a physical, spiritual, mental, psychological point of view — their entire well-being, not just focusing on a person with a disease..”
Lasting memories are made over a dinner table, at Super Bowl parties, cookouts, and campfire s’mores.
“These moments become special memories for people,” Allen said.
The staff stays connected to families long after their loved one is gone through bereavement support, including monthly gatherings and activities.
“A lot of people want to come back to the house but they just don’t know how,” Jeanmenne said. “We as staff have formed really close connections with the patients and their families. They become our family. We want to care for them like we would our own family.
“We also have people who show up just to have coffee,” she added. “We talk and sometimes cry. It’s a safe space for them.”
All the nurses are specially trained in hospice and palliative care which Allen said equips them to be better at guiding families through the process — both during the illness and after.
“They hold the hand of the family members, they guide them along. The education that the nursing staff can provide is really a gift they can give to individuals and family members,” she said.
Allen said they have served 550 patients since inception and have touched the lives of thousands more.
“The key is to understand that people have options. I want people to understand that they don’t have to wait until it’s a critical situation.
Sometimes caregivers see Quiet Oaks as a place for when they can no longer care for their loved one at home. They somehow see it as giving up or that they’ve failed their loved one.
“I want them to know it’s a gift to your loved one and it’s a gift to yourself. It doesn’t have to come when things have gotten so bad, it should come earlier when everyone can still enjoy it.”
Father Schmitt hopes the painting he commissioned will be a comfort to all who have been affected by hospice.
“I just want them to know they are not alone,” he said. “Not the patient, not the loved ones, not the staff. There is always a guardian angel watching over them.”