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Steve Jacobsen: Meeting Needs, Healing Hearts at Hospice of Santa Barbara

Two stories help illustrate how a personal touch goes a long way

By Steve Jacobsen | Published on 02.16.2012

When I began serving as executive director of Hospice of Santa Barbara in 2008, we were serving approximately 260 people every month. Two months ago, that figure had risen to more than 500. We never dreamed this would be possible. Yet despite the fact that we have almost doubled in the number of people we are serving, we continue to attend to each person with individual reverence and skilled devotion. Let me tell you two stories to illustrate.

Last summer a young woman came to us with Stage IV lung cancer. Our team was very sensitive to the fact that this woman highly valued her privacy, and interacted with her accordingly. She was visited by the Rev. Laura Mancuso, one of our new Spiritual Care Counselors. The patient had a diverse range of spiritual practices, and Laura was able to acknowledge, affirm and support the importance of them all.

Laura also provided biweekly energy healing sessions in the patient’s home. One of our volunteers began to visit regularly for companionship. The patient asked Laura to speak with her brother, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic. He told Laura about his desire to connect with his sister across the 1,500 miles that separated them. Laura helped them establish a time every day when the two of them could be in prayer and meditation together, creating a daily bond of love and support.

The patient wrote down her specific wishes for her memorial service. Laura was able to create and lead the service after the patient’s death, just as she had wanted. Later her brother told me:

“My sister was a solitary individual; Laura was able to pick up on that and meet her where she was. The healing services and other things she did were truly exceptional; the volunteers developed close emotional ties with her. I got emails from my sister saying what an exceptional service this was; it was way beyond what I ever expected. From so many perspectives, this is the best thing that could have happened to my sister in the context of her illness.”

While this story was unfolding, our weekly grief support groups were meeting, including a group for parents who have lost children. One of the participants decided it was time for her to move on, and she wrote this to her group:

“I don’t know how I would have made it through the last couple of years without our loving group. I have felt so tenderly held in our safe cocoon. I learned to forgive myself as I saw in all of you that there was really nothing to forgive. I was able to make it through my days as I witnessed your courage to keep going. The depth of our love for our precious children was palpable in every group with a beauty that is beyond words and continues to sustain us. We have walked this tragic path together, sharing in our inconceivable loss and sadness, and because of that our bond will always be deep.”

I offer these two stories to give you a glimpse of the variety and depth of the healing work we are doing.

People who come to us are never asked if they have insurance. They never receive a bill, since we never charge for our services. This has been our legacy for 37 years.

For all of us, it is a great privilege to be serving Hospice of Santa Barbara at this point in its remarkable history.

— Steve Jacobsen is executive director of Hospice of Santa Barbara. Call Hospice of Santa Barbara at 805.563.8820 for a schedule of adult and children’s groups, or to make a donation. Connect with Hospice of Santa Barbara on Facebook.

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