The Vermont Respite House may be staffed by a team of highly qualified nurses, but the ambience inside its Williston walls is about as far from the sterile atmosphere and antiseptic smell of a hospital environment as possible.
The first thing a first-time visitor to the Respite House might notice is how bright it is inside. Large uncurtained windows allow abundant natural light to fill a central dining area, where the baking aromas from the adjacent kitchen pass through to the building’s wings, which contain 13 private rooms.
“It was founded by a beautiful community effort to create an as close to being at home environment for individuals who can no longer, for one reason or another, be at home,” said Vermont Respite House Administrator Sharon Keegan.
Founded in 1991, the Respite House is a hospice facility for terminally ill people with a prognosis of six months or less to live. It came under the umbrella of the Visiting Nurse Association of Chittenden and Grand Isle Counties in 1997.
Keegan explained that the Respite House’s mission aligns with the traditional principles of hospice care.
“The original hospice philosophy is to live fully, until you die, with dignity and respect,” Keegan said. “A lot of people fear, culturally, the idea of death, and this normalizes it. It gives it a sense that you can have confidence and be well-cared for and that your symptoms can be relieved and you can be supported psychologically and spiritually to move through that.”
She added that by having hospice caregivers attend to the physical needs of a patient, it allows family members to be fully engaged on an emotional level with their loved one.
“Family can just be family,” she said.
Keegan also pointed out that the hospice concept is a way for a surviving spouse to get acquainted with the imminent reality of living alone.
“It’s a way of testing out the waters of being alone, because they can go home and know their person is completely safe, but then come back, and it starts the process of feeling out the truth of loss before it’s actually there,” she said.
Keegan has served as the administrator of the Vermont Respite House for the past 10 years. Despite the constant presence of death and grieving in her life over that decade, she remains indefatigably positive toward a line of work she considers to be life-affirming.
“I’d say people who are drawn to this work have a particular perspective of feeling that this is such a deep privilege and honor to attend to people at the end of their life,” Keegan said. “Being able to provide the best possible end of life scenario is a gift. It’s intense, but it’s deeply meaningful.”
How You Can Help
To volunteer or for more information call 802-879-0943.
This article was contributed by Luke Baynes.