Susan and Roger. PHOTO:  Daria Bishop

An Incredible Place

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Thursday November 05, 2015

Roger Marcoux’s heart expanded when he heard the news that the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) of Chittenden and Grand Isle Counties is building a new and larger Vermont Respite House that will have room to welcome more residents and families than ever before. Marcoux describes the Respite House as “a most incredible place of love and caring,” something he knows intimately because the Respite House is where his wife, Susan, spent her final days.

“Susan knew her cancer was not curable and she feared dying alone. What I could give her was my heart, mind, and body to shield her as best I could,” said Marcoux, acknowledging that it was the VNA and the Respite House that allowed him to do so.

“It’s beyond belief the support I received from the VNA,” Roger explains. “I didn’t even know how to tell Susan we needed to go to Respite House. I was afraid and the hospice team came and helped me through it.” He continues, “At the Respite House, I was able to not worry so much about everything else. Night after night, I nestled by Susan’s side.”

Along with her husband, her children Kristen and Justin surrounded Susan while at the Respite House, as well as other family members and friends. She received compassionate care from the staff and volunteers who offered her physical, emotional, and spiritual support. Marcoux recalls the difficult time, saying he was able to spend more quality time with his wife because the Respite House took care of Susan’s daily care, something he was previously doing at home alone.

Susan stayed in the Rabbit Room, one of the 13 animal-themed private rooms at the Respite House, currently located in Williston. “The morning Susan passed away, I saw rabbits outside her window,” said Marcoux. He still returns to the Respite House regularly to donate supplies and says, “It is the only place I can go and not cry. When inside that building, the Respite House radiates something tangible . . . life altering.” While there, he also visits the memorial sculpture, the Tree of Remembrance, where he had Susan’s name added to the memorial.
The Vermont Respite House is the only Medicare-certified hospice home in the state. The VNA determined that its current facility, which was built 25 years ago, is too small to meet the current and future needs of residents and families. As Vermont’s population ages and more people choose hospice services at the end of life, the need for inpatient hospice services is expected to increase. Over the past 10 years, the number of individuals seeking hospice services in the community increased by over 50 percent, with Respite House experiencing a 46 percent increase.

This past September, the VNA gained approval from the State of Vermont Green Mountain Care Board to build a new 21-room Respite House in Colchester, which will replace the house in Williston. Construction is expected to be complete by the end of summer 2016.

“The Vermont Respite House has been a home-away-from-home to people with terminal illness for nearly a quarter of a century. In that time, we’ve seen the need for residential hospice services grow along with an aging population and heightened awareness of the benefits of hospice care. The new Respite House will allow us to respond to this increasing demand,” said VNA President Judy Peterson. Marcoux, who is happy to see this expansion, adds, “I know they will take the hearts and souls of all they have cared for with them to their new home.”

Hospice is about enhancing life and living to the fullest potential, using an approach to care that considers physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. The Respite House provides hospice care to individuals whose illness and health care needs make it too difficult to remain in their own homes or other settings. For these people, an inpatient hospice home, such as Respite House, provides an alternative to nursing home or hospital care.
Marcoux said he wishes he turned to the VNA sooner because the hospice care his wife received both in their South Burlington home and, later, at the Respite House, was more than anything he imagined possible.

“I don’t want anyone to have to go through what Susan did,” adds Marcoux. “But if they do, it is a source of real comfort to know there are places like the Vermont Respite House. The VNA makes a difference. Beyond the incredible care they provided, they held Susan’s hand and heart. And in doing so, they helped me. I’m profoundly moved by the work they do in our community.”

Marcoux says he regularly brings a rose to honor Susan when he visits the Tree of Remembrance at the Respite House. Created by Vermont Sculptor Kate Pond, the nine-foot sculpture features fragments of poetry by Vermont poet Daniel Lusk as well as stainless steel birds in five different shapes. The birds have loved ones’ names engraved as a lasting memorial. Marcoux shares in closing, “Susan’s name is right between the words ‘cherish’ and ‘forever.’”