Saying YES to Life
A Letter from the Home Director
This 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” early in a Leadership & Change doctoral program. I planned a group visit to the Kaplan Family Residence, the nearest hospice residence to Kingston, located in Newburgh, accompanied by other social workers, nurses, a pastoral care provider, cancer survivors, and a hospice volunteer. From the start, it seemed natural that this project would be a communal endeavor.
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.
Early on in my research, I discovered the home for the dying care model (aka comfort care home). 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 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 is closer than ever to opening Jim & Lisa’s Circle Home, in Kingston, NY.
There were many promising starts along the way that turned into snags, which then budded into new opportunities. First, there was a home we bid on and completed architectural drawings for that we learned conflicted with the plans and needs of the City of Kingston. Then, the promise of a home bequest to CFD unexpectedly fell through. CFD purchased a modest house and carried a tenant while fund-and-friend-raising over the years. The organization was geared up to start the renovation of that house in the Spring of 2020 when COVID came along and put everyone’s plans on hold.
Then a seed of possibility planted by Jim Gohlke, a member 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 had 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 Oncology Support House. 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 grass-roots movement of comfort care homes in northwestern New York, Jim & Lisa’s Circle Home will be 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, and the spirit of generosity among the NYS and 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, is the Founder of Circle of Friends for the Dying and the Director of Jim & Lisa’s Circle Home in Kingston, NY.
Read Jim’s own story on our Full Circle Blog at https://www.cfdhv.org/being-mortal-by-jim-gohlke/.