Who are Jim & Lisa?
Jim Gohlke was a scientist, a scholar, and a friend to many. He met his second wife, Lisa Hoffman, a fellow research scientist, at work. Together they created a full and happy life, bonded by a love of laughter, learning, animals, and the outdoors. Their small mountain cabin in Delaware County was originally intended as a weekend retreat, but Jim and Lisa grew to love the community and soon found themselves full-time residents. They forged deep friendships, explored the forests and mountains, created artwork and gardens, volunteered, and simply cherished their time living there. Despite significant health challenges for both of them, they said that there was no place they would rather be. Home and community were central to their well-being.
Jim met Elise Lark through his participation in a support group she facilitated at the Oncology Support Program (OSP) of HealthAlliance Hospital. The group was called Explorations on Being Mortal. At the first meeting Jim attended, which he anticipated being his last, he positioned himself on the sidelines, but quickly found himself moving closer to his new peers, whom he grew to know and love.
Over the next five years, Elise observed Jim’s transformation: the personal growth and joy he took in supporting his peers; his expanded presence at OSP to include additional groups and friends; the mourning of the death of his beloved wife, Lisa; and the ways he cared for declining peers who had become his “family,” even visiting them bedside and attending their funerals with other group members.
Jim was deeply affected by a distressing theme commonly expressed by his peers who lived alone and lacked the financial and social means that would allow them to live and die on their own terms, in their own homes, as wished. They said it wasn’t death they feared as much as dying—where they would die and who would take care of them—and the prospect of dying alone. Jim’s peers were adamant about one thing: they did not wish to die in a nursing home.
When Jim experienced complications in his own health, he decided to move from the home he had shared with Lisa in Margaretville, to be closer to his medical providers and the new community he’d made at the Cancer Support House. In group, Jim shared his elation for the Kingston house he fell in love with and purchased, though he was a bit embarrassed that a bachelor and his dogs should live in such a large house. Around this time, Jim heard about Elise’s vision to establish a home for the dying in his new neighborhood.
In the summer of 2019, Jim invited Elise for a tour of his “castle” and soon after initiated a discussion about the possibility of gifting his home to Circle of Friends for the Dying, which he had talked to his family about doing. By 2020, his cancer had progressed. Anticipating the care he would require as his health declined further, Jim inched-up the timeline to move out of state to live closer to two of his children. He still imagined his death being further away in the future.
Jim requested a second visit in September and asked Elise to bring along another CFD board member to help in his decision-making. She invited Dr. Bill Gooch to join her. It was the first time she’d seen Jim since the start of the pandemic and the temporary closure of the Cancer Support House. She noted the evident decline in his health. Jim’s face was pale, he appeared weak, and was using a cane to steady himself. It was the first time he struck her as looking frail. Toward the end of the visit, Jim made the verbal offering to gift his home to fulfill the mission of CFD. They hugged with open hearts and masks intact.
Following that momentous occasion, Elise wrote him a card, thanking him for entrusting his home to CFD. She also suggested calling it Jim’s Circle Home in his honor. Then, less than two weeks following what turned out to be their final visit, Elise received a call from Jim’s daughter, Jennifer, who shared the sad news of her father’s hospitalization and unanticipated death. She mentioned that her father had died before opening the thank you card, which the family found in his pile of mail. It was the thank you card, Jennifer said, that helped the family track down Elise and Circle of Friends–names they recognized but had forgotten.
Jennifer also reassured Elise that her family had every intention of honoring their father’s wishes to bequeath his home. Her only request, on behalf of the family, was to modify the name of the home to Jim & Lisa’s Circle Home, to acknowledge Jim’s enduring bond with his wife.