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Letter from Elise Lark, CFD Co-Founder

When CFD Co-Founder Elise Lark discovered the home for the dying comfort care model many years ago, it aligned with her personal vision and professional ethos as an oncology social worker. The care model, safely practiced for decades in northern New York, offers a humble and homey, non-medical, grassroots solution to the end-of-life caregiver crisis, complementing and enhancing hospice services within communities. In her own words…

Saying YES to Life

Elise LarkThis project lived in my imagination years before it became a reality. It all started in the summer of 2010, prior to embarking on research for a “Change Project” in a Leadership & Change doctoral program. I planned a group visit to the Kaplan Family Residence in Newburgh, the nearest hospice residence to Kingston, accompanied by other social workers, nurses, a pastoral care provider, cancer survivors, and a hospice volunteer. Though impressive, the hospice residence model did not fit my vision, which was more modest and homier in appearance, less costly to build and maintain, and unconstrained by institutional bureaucracy and professional hierarchies. It started me on an intensive quest for alternative care models.

In “Dreaming Out Loud,” the paper that emerged from my investigation, I explored my vision of a grassroots, community-based end-of-life care residence. At the start, I didn’t know that my “Change Project” would blossom into a life project or that a personal dream would become a shared dream with my local community and a far wider community comprised of the dedicated people who have founded, directed, staffed, and volunteered in community-supported end-of-life care homes across the continent. And at the time, I did not know how long and challenging a road it would be to open a home and fully join that community! All I knew was that a big YES now filled me and spurred me on to follow this dream. Twelve years later, Circle of Friends for the Dying has opened the doors to Jim & Lisa’s Circle Home, in Kingston, NY.

Jim GohlkeWith many starts and stops along the way, a seed of possibility planted by Jim Gohlke, a member of a cancer support group I facilitated at a hospital-based oncology support program, began to sprout. Jim had offered to bequeath CFD his home in the Historic Rondout District. His untimely death came before he updated his will, but his daughter, Jennifer Gohlke Khan, reassured me that she and her family members were committed to honoring their father’s bequest. Jim’s incredible gesture was the natural outgrowth of his love and compassion for his peers at the Reuner Cancer Support House in Kingston. He understood that a home for the dying would be a life-affirming gift to people in need.

A community home for the dying offers a shared, wholehearted, YES to life inclusive of death. Following the movement of comfort care homes in northwestern New York, Jim & Lisa’s Circle Home is the first of its kind in the Mid-Hudson Valley. I am infinitely grateful to the change agents upon whose shoulders I humbly stand, who followed their hearts and shared their dream-turned-social-movement, along with the spirit of generosity among the nation-wide Omega Home Network homes. Together, we are turning the cultural tide toward a better, less lonely and medicalized, way of dying.

Elise Lark, PhD, LCSW, APHSW-C, Founder of Circle of Friends for the Dying and Home Director of Jim & Lisa’s Circle Home in Kingston, NY.