Giving Thanks and Thanksgiving

"Appreciation is the highest form of prayer, for it acknowledges the presence of good wherever you shine the light of your thankful thoughts.” Alan Cohen

November a happy/sad time of the year for me. It is packed with events and emotion like Mid-term Elections, Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving, and November has been proclaimed by each President and Congress since 1984 as National Hospice Month. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge the fine work that hospice staff and volunteers do for dying people and their loved ones. Few organizations receive the honor of an entire month’s commemoration, and surely none is more deserving of such a “thank you” than hospice for the sacred work they do.

In the last couple of weeks, I delivered three keynote speeches to hospice staff and volunteers to mark National Hospice Month. The first was for Haven Hospice, the organization where I was Executive Director for 16 years, overseeing its growth from a very modest three employees when we opened, to national prominance serving dying people across 11 counties in north central Florida. The preparation for this one was poignant for me; I was reminded of the first patient who died under my care when I was a young hospital nurse, Mr. Green, whose wife accused me of killing him after I’d given him his pain medication. I thought of my first hospice patient, Margaret, whose favorite flower was a columbine and who was able to stay home with her family and die peacefully with hospice care, even though her pain was off the scale. What a difference between a hospital death and a hospice death in the space of seven short years!

I was reminded of the patients we served who taught me so much, who allowed me into their homes and revealed to me their deepest sorrows and joys - like Anita, the 17-year-old with an external breast tumor cancer the likes of which I had never seen before or since, who taught me about courage. Or Mr. Bobo, whose worst suffering was not caused by his pain or impending death, but by his inability to read his Bible because of his cataracts. We helped convince his doctor to get them removed and he was able to read his Bible until the day he died, peacefully sitting under his big oak tree. Mr. Bobo taught me about Faith. Gayle Mattison, President of Haven, invited me to speak to their staff who have continued the legacy that began for me 35 years ago this week, and I was grateful and deeply appreciative for the opportunity.

I ended this week speaking to the staff and volunteers of Androscoggin Hospice in Maine, a wonderful group of caring people led by Ken Albert, CEO. The venue was the most magnificent in which I have had the privilege to speak, a former Catholic cathedral repurposed as a theater. Truly, I felt as if I was speaking on holy ground in the glow and shadows of its magnificent stained-glass windows and soaring arches, where ancient prayers and blessings still seemed to float in the air.

I felt particularly moved to share with this group the story of my dear brother Mike, who loved a beautiful cathedral. I was with Mike when he was given his terminal diagnosis just after Thanksgiving 1991, and with him until he died in 1995 on the day before Thanksgiving. Happy and sad, sorrow and joy...that's the richness of life isn't it?

I am so thankful for my incredible journey, and I am rich beyond my wildest dreams because of the people who have touched my life. I Give Thanks to each and every one of them and to you and Happy Thanksgiving!


Whether you celebrate with family at a “groaning board”, at a restaurant with friends, or with Netflix and a pint of pumpkin ice cream, Thanksgiving offers us an occasion to be a little more mindful of what we have, and to take a moment or a day to be grateful for it. However you celebrate, I hope your Thanksgiving is bountiful in spirit and blessings.

November’s also the month in which we give thanks for our veterans and their service to our country. This piece by Samira Beckwith, President and CEO of Hope Healthcare, and Jaysen Roa, President and CEO of Avow Hospice in Collier County, makes a strong case for providing specialized end of life care for those veterans, care that provides the emotional support they may need but too often don’t get:

“Our staff members are trained in how to provide the emotional support each individual veteran needs based on his or her thoughts and beliefs about having served. Chaplains on our teams are available to veterans and their families to address questions about forgiveness, fear of dying, and guilt. Our social workers understand the deep need some veterans have to never appear weak or admit pain, even in the midst of great suffering. Veteran hospice patients experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder manifested as anger, anxiety, or outbursts will find compassionate relief from our physicians and nursing teams.”

It’s important to remember that for many people, pets are as important to them as human family; in some cases, a loving pet is all the family a person has. That’s why this man decided to dedicate himself to providing his dog with a bucket-list trip at the end of her life:

“She is the most precious thing in the world. She is my family. She’s a little person trapped in an animal body. We have a bond. We’re partners,” Heroux said.

Mura only has months to live, yet they could be among the most adventurous months any dog-and-human duo could ask for. It began as a trip to Vancouver Island, Canada, to meet the Mura’s breeder, but it turned into an epic journey.

Each day, Heroux published a series of pictures and Facebook posts. The two-week ride started on Oct. 28 with the first stop at Niagara Falls, New York. From there they went to Michigan, Chicago, Wisconsin and all the way to California.


Last wishes? Everyone has them – and at Tidewell Hospice, they made a special dream come true for this loving couple of Tarpon fans:

Meanwhile, up in Maine, supporters of Androscoggin Home Healthcare + Hospice cooked up a tasty fundraiser to help those in financial need pay for their loved ones’ care.


Enjoy a sunset at my RiverCove Retreat Center

The Watershed Group
Phone: 352-495-2800 | Fax: 352-495-1810
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