For some reason I always thought Hospice Austin was a place people go to die, a place where all hope is lost. I recently discovered I was wrong. Jan Phillips helped me understand how much hope, strength and courage exists there.
Jan’s journey to Hospice Austin is not one you might expect. She wasn't looking to ease the pain of a dying loved one when she showed up at their door. She was looking to ease her pain and that of her family who knew tragedy all too well.
About 12 years ago Jan, her husband Bob and their 17-year-old son Ian were living a great life in Austin. It all came to a halt the summer of her son's junior year. Ian was studying ecosystems in the Netherlands with People to People International when he was killed in a train accident.
"We got that dreaded 2 a.m. call, literally, and they told us our son had been killed. Our life stopped at that point," Jan said.
Together Jan and Bob somehow found the strength to continue, and in 2002, they adopted five-year old Tino and seven-year-old Lance from Western Samoa.
Life was looking up until 2005 when Bob was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder. The disorder turned into a viral leukemia and took his life in just 18 months. Jan quickly became a widow and single mother of two young children.
"I was an absolute basket case. I curled up in a ball for several weeks and wasn't sure what to do," Jan said. "I was worried about my children and didn't know how to help them."
To Jan's surprise, her therapist suggested she look into Hospice Austin.
"I thought all they could do was help people who had cancer and that sort of thing. I had no idea they had other bereavements services available," Jan said.
While Hospice Austin does specialize in end-of-life care, they also provide a wide range of bereavement services. Among those services is Camp Brave Heart, a recreational summer camp for children and teenagers grieving the death of a loved one. Both Tino and Lance participated in the three day camp that uses fun activities to help kids explore their loss.
"They realized there were other people like them and that they were not alone. It was great for them to talk to other kids about what was going on in their lives and not just adults," Jan said.
Jan found friends she could turn to as well. The Families in Grief Program introduced her to other grieving parents with young children.
"My friends hadn't lost their husbands, so they didn't know what I was going through — but these people did," Jan said.
Thanks to Hospice Austin and their support groups, Jan and her family were able to cope with Bob's death in healthy and positive ways. Jan's experience was so powerful she decided to pay it forward.
"I know how much therapy helped me and thought more people needed this." She went back to school to become a counselor and in the process found herself interning at Hospice Austin.
"I'm amazed at what people do on a daily basis there," Jan said. "They are very knowledgeable about what is going on and can help a family prepare for the inevitable as well as give peace and comfort to a person who is dying."
Jan graduated in May with a degree in counseling specializing in grief in loss. She is in the process of opening up her own practice and plans to help people find their way to Hospice Austin.
"The hardest thing for a griever to do is call and ask for help, but it makes life easier. It's better then trying to do it all on your own."
The holiday season can be a difficult one for people who have lost a loved one. Hospice Austin offers some tips for surviving the holidays available here.
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