Legacies: Hospice of Santa Barbara

“A PLACE WHERE COMPASSIONATE CARE is freely given”—that’s how retiring executive director Gail Rink describes Hospice of Santa Barbara, which officially opened its doors in 1974, making it the second-oldest hospice program in the United States.

Now tucked away on a serene Riviera hilltop, the nonprofit organization offers a wide array of supportive services—all 100 percent free of charge—for people diagnosed with terminal illness or facing the loss of a loved one.

Offerings include individual, couples, family and group counseling and support groups tailored to address specific circumstances such as organ transplant, suicide or the loss of a pet. Educational programs and complimentary health and wellness therapies are also included.

The 6,500-square-foot building—designed pro bono by local architect Barry Berkus as a testament to his late wife Gail and the comfort Hospice of Santa Barbara provided when she was dying—looks and feels more like a high-end health spa than a place designed to deal with death and grief.

In many ways, it is.

“This is part office, part spa, part chapel,” says Rink. Stressing humanistic rather than medical treatment, Hospice of Santa Barbara emphasizes the emotional, social and spiritual care needs of the terminally ill and their families. Stephen Jacobsen, former senior pastor of Goleta Presbyterian Church, took over the stewardship from Rink this fall, although she will stay on as a consultant until the end of the year.

“In my 30 years of work here, there has been a continuous stream of people saying how much Hospice meant to them,” says Jacobsen, who has served as a board member of Hospice of Santa Barbara, as well as Interfaith Initiative, Isla Vista Youth Project and La Casa de Maria Retreat Center. “For me, in this part of my professional life, it’s like a golden opportunity to take everything I’ve learned and learn a lot more.”

There’s a nice synergy in the relationship between Goleta Presbyterian Church and Hospice of Santa Barbara.

“When Hospice of Santa Barbara was founded in 1974, Goleta Presbyterian Church gave us the seed money to start it, and the pastor at that time, Don Hawthorne, became the board president,” says Rink.

From 1990 to 2001, Hospice of Santa Barbara partnered with Visiting Nurse and Hospice Care, which can sometimes be confusing. Explains Rink, “Hospice of Santa Barbara is a volunteer hospice that provides emotional, social and spiritual support for the terminally ill and the bereaved. The emphasis of a medical model hospice (such as Visiting Nurse and Hospice Care) is the nursing piece. They are covered through insurance and insurance defines their mission, whereas all of our services are free, and we receive no insurance reimbursement.”

“Yes, it is thanks to the generosity of people who support us that we have no billing department,” says Jacobsen.

“Historically that has really been important in this organization. Our board has always been committed to providing free services,” Rink adds.

Looking to the future, board president Roger Heroux says, “The vision is to grow because there is a lot of work to be done. Not only do we want to grow and expand the clinical aspects of this organization, we want to penetrate the Hispanic community in a big way…. (Also) we’ve got to make sure that our infrastructure is solid…to make sure that we’ve got the capability internally to deal with the growth. And finally we want to collaborate with a couple of like-minded organizations that will serve as a good referral source to us, but who also share our commitment to this process.”

“I think that it will be a different kind of leadership,” says Rink. “I’m a fundamental program person and have been in the business a long time (27 years as a hospice social worker/counselor) and Steve has been affiliated with the business for a long time. I built the fundamentals, he’ll build the future.”

To find out more about Hospice of Santa Barbara, call (805) 563-8820 or visit www.hospiceofsantabarbara.org.

Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in the Winter 2008/09 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine. To read the story as it appeared, click here and here.

Grief Book Benefits Hospice and the Temple

The sun shined on Hospice of Santa Barbara and Congregation B’nai B’r61DjnDCK+3L-1._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_ith Sunday afternoon at a special event honoring the publication of Sissy Taran’s new book, The Sun Will Shine Again: Life Lessons from a Year of Grieving, (www.thesunwillshineagain.com) with all proceeds going to support the two organizations.

“This is the first time in history of Hospice of Santa Barbara that we’ve ever sponsored a book,” said Executive Director Gail Rink, who interviewed Taran and Rabbi Steve Cohen about their experiences working together. Taran and Rabbi Cohen wrote the book–which documents Taran’s first year of grieving the death of her husband Bernie–through a series of conversations. They met once a week for seven months, primarily at the Breakwater Restaurant, to share the journey Sissy went through.

Rabbi Cohen said he viewed the project as a unique opportunity to learn more about the grief process. He was with the Taran family when they learned of Bernie’s cancer diagnosis, and with them shortly afterward when he passed away. “It was a wonderful but very short-lived period of intimacy,” which he welcomed the opportunity to extend through collaboration on the book project.

He initially decided to become a rabbi because it was important to him to be close to people in key moments of their lives, and saw this project as a rare opportunity for that type of closeness.

One of the most important lessons he learned was that there is not a linear progression from devastation to happiness, Rabbi Cohen said.

“We walk it all differently, but it’s our individual walk. So this, somehow, and I don’t know why, this book was burning within me. Somehow. Because I’ve never written and if I had to sit down at a computer I still wouldn’t have written a book,” said Taran, who taped all of her sessions with Rabbi Cohen and pieced together the book from the transcripts, with the help of editor Laurie Deans Medjuck. “We ended up throwing out about 75 percent of it,” said Taran.

Even though she was, and still is grieving, Taran said she doesn’t feel sorry for herself. “How can you have pity for yourself when you have someone who’s there for you with so much love,” she said of her collaboration with Rabbi Cohen.

“I don’t know how I or Sissy or any of us would have faced this journey alone,” said

Congresswoman Lois Capps, who was widowed in 1997. “You’ve created a beautiful thing out of most deep and personal pain. What a lesson and what a gift!”

Through writing this book I found something within me that wanted to help myself and other people, said Taran. “Today’s benefit is my way of giving back to two organizations close to my heart.”

Originally published in Noozhawk on February 12, 2008.

A Helping Place, A Healing Space

Courtesy Photo.

Courtesy Photo.

When Hospice of Santa Barbara was founded in 1974, it was only the second hospice in the United States, dedicated to providing care and easing the pain of dying for both patients and their loved ones.

Now with more than 3,200 programs established in the U.S. and nearly 885,000 people cared for in 2002, it is that same fundamental dedication to compassion that continues to set hospice programs apart from the type of care provided by hospitals and other facilities. According to the Hospice Foundation of America, an umbrella group that provides leadership in the development and application of hospice, “hospice is not a place but a concept of care.”

But fortunately for suffering Central Coast residents, a physical manifestation of the concept has also opened its doors like outstretched arms offering those dealing with painful tribulations a place to find help, understanding, friendship, and peace. And there could not have been a building more perfectly designed for its purpose.

Executive Director Gail Rink describes Hospice of Santa Barbara’s new 6,500-square-foot headquarters as “A place where compassionate care is freely given.” A tranquil, welcoming feeling envelops visitors as they enter what looks more like a high-end health spa than a place designed to deal with death and grief–and in many ways it is. “This office is part office, part spa, part chapel,” says Rink. With an emphasis on humanistic, rather than medical, treatment, the center is focused not just on grief but on healing, and not just on patients, but on their loved ones as well.

Tucked away on a serene hilltop in Santa Barbara’s Riviera area, the facility offers a wide array of supportive services–all 100 percent free-of-charge–for people diagnosed with terminal illness or who are facing the loss of a loved one. Offerings include individual, couples, family and group counseling; educational programs; health and wellness services such as massage, Reiki, yoga, and meditation; community meeting spaces; and of course, a well-stocked kitchen and dining room.

“We feed a lot of families,” laughs Rink. She means that in both a literal and figurative sense. It was the generosity of some of the families nourished by hospice services that helped make this new center a reality.

“One of the things that makes us a highly functional board is the fact that everyone involved has either experienced needing hospice services themselves or within their families … or has someone close to them who has,” says Board President Mary Blair.

The Berkus family was critical to the development of the center. Renowned architect Barry Berkus relied on hospice services when his wife Gail was dying, and designed the building free-of-charge as a testament to her, and as a thank you to hospice for the comfort they provided his family. Paired with his daughter-in-law Dana Berkus’s distinctive interior design, a feeling of peaceful healing practically emanates from the walls of the new headquarters.

Walking in the center feels like getting a big warm hug. “What we want to be able to do is be able to embrace people who need security and help to face their fear and heal their sorrow,” says Rink.

When the organization moved to larger quarters last spring, it had the opportunity to expand some services, like the family and children’s program. Many children were not getting the kind of care they needed during the grieving process. “Children grieve. And adults are awkward when children grieve,” says Rink. “And yet we felt strongly that we needed to start a program that would address the needs especially of grieving children or children who may be anticipating the death of a parent or sibling.”

Starting with support groups for children, hospice then began a mentor program, where children were paired with an adult who had survived a similar experience of losing someone close to them when they were young. Children who “graduated” from the mentor program then formed a mentor associate program so they could help other children who were grieving. The parents of these children also formed a support group just for parents.

“So now our family and children’s program has grown from being a simple support group for grieving children to a more complex program that provides both parents and the children and those who have graduated from the program with things to do to help serve others and help make that relationship stronger. That organic kind of process is very healing,” says Rink.

Hospice recently held its first Children and Family Night, where multiple generations gathered for dinner, then broke into play groups and counseling sessions.

“Think of the reason that they all have in common, the death of a parent, or the death of a sibling or a spouse … it’s amazing that people would gather for such a sensitive reason–and yet, if you create the environment, they thrive,” says Rink. “What we’ve found is with more space and with such a healing and nourishing location, our business has continued to grow and for us. Of course that’s excellent, because we’re reaching more people in the community.”

Other Hospice Services on the Central Coast

“Shiva’s Center for the Human and Animal Bond” supports people who have lost a pet. You can find their information at www.shivascenter.org.

Hospice of San Luis Obispo County offers group meetings devoted to such issues as Widowed Persons, Weekly Suicide Bereavement, Parkinson’s, Perinatal Loss, and Pet Loss. They also offer the following events to support Hospice members. Check their website for specific times and locations: www.hospiceslo.org.

Hospice for the Central Coast: Monterey promotes and supports end-of-life care and services for Monterey and San Benito counties through community education, fundraising, prudent management of assets, and conscientious disbursement of grants to quality, non-profit organizations that provide these services. www.hffcc.org

Originally published in Central Coast Magazine

Stitching Together Memories of Lost Loved Ones

The grieving process is not complete without a way to acknowledge the loss.

Saturday’s date — Sept. 11 — is one that will forever send a chill down Americans’ spines, but other anniversaries are equally significant for those who have lost a loved one.

“Anniversaries are about memories, not ‘dates’… we sometimes forget the exact date over time, but the circumstances and feelings linger forever,” said Gail Rink, executive director of Hospice of Santa Barbara.

“Engagements, marriages, births, new house, divorces, graduations … all are ‘anniversaries’ that contribute to the history of family life,” she said. “The most difficult anniversary is the anniversary of a death; all other anniversaries are ‘joyful,’ death is sorrowful. Death is final, an ending, it signals to the grieving survivors that life has permanently changed.”

Dr. Jim Jones recently experienced the first anniversary of the death of his wife, Dianne Riffle, who died in August 2003 after a brief but intense battle with pancreatic cancer. As a physician himself, Jones said that once he saw the results of her CT Scan, “I knew she was a dead duck.” He immediately took a leave of absence from his job at Pacific Oaks Medical Center to spend as much time as he could with his wife.

Jones, himself a survivor of Hodgkin’s disease, has long had a penchant for making things by hand. His Goleta home showcases beautiful handmade tools, lamps, woodwork and other fruits of his creative labors, which he called his “attempt at immortality.”

After his wife’s death, when he couldn’t bear to part with her clothing, Jones decided to make a commemorative quilt out of the fabrics that held special memories of their times together, and essentially retold the story of her life.

“These are the Hawaiian shirts we wore on our honeymoon,” said Jones, pointing out the cotton, flannel and silk squares he had lovingly pieced together.

“Retelling the events leading up to the death also helps the survivor heal. Remembering who was there, final words … even remembering feelings of guilt and regret, can help to bring perspective to a life altering moment,” Rink explained.

Making that quilt, which he sewed with surgical sutures, took up a lot of empty, lonely hours.

“I was transferring some of my attachment from her to our stuff,” he said.

The quilting ritual was addictive. Jones made himself another quilt for snuggling on the sofa, while the first sits on the bed he and his wife once shared. He also made quilts for Riffle’s two grown children.

“Sharing the grief helps to heal the sorrow,” Rink said.

Jones has also been sharing his grief with fellow members of Hospice of Santa Barbara’s young widow/widowers support group.

“The first six months or so I didn’t give a damn about anything,” he said. But it helped to be with others who had lost a spouse and were “at the next stage.”

The group also gave him useful advice on how to deal with the anniversary of Riffle’s death. Have a plan, they advised.

“Do you want to take the day off from work? Who do you want with you? Do you want to visit the burial site? Is there a special food you will prepare?” Rink said.

“Well-meaning family and friends will advise the grieving survivor about what they should do. Our family and friends do this because they care about the survivor’s well being.

“It’s important that you decide what is best for you. Grief is very personal, one strategy does not fit all,” said Rink, who added that this same pre-planning for death anniversaries applies to birthdays, holidays, wedding anniversaries and other occasions when loved ones will most be missed.

Whatever your feelings of grief, Rink advised: “Confront and prepare for them head-on. Trying to avoid the anniversary can compound the renewed sadness. Memories and feelings are always with us. We carry them wherever we go.”

For more information about Hospice of Santa Barbara call 563.8820.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on September 9, 2004.