Mission House – A home for the entire family

by Patricia Matthews, August 2019
As printed in the San Mateo Daily Journal September 13, 2019

When my youngest child went off to college, I was looking to serve my community in a new way. Watching Bill Moyers’ “On Death and Dying” on PBS, I found my true calling as a volunteer.

For the past 17 years, I have volunteered with local nonprofit Mission Hospice, companioning patients at the end of life. Hospice care is focused on comfort and compassion, helping patients and families make the most of their time together. Our motto is “It’s about Life” — living to the fullest until the physical life ceases.

My connections with patients are always powerful and intimate. At the end of life, the simple act of being present — holding hands, listening to stories, looking at old photos, sharing music — is a profound gift, not just for the patient, but to me as a volunteer. Over the years, my patients have taught me a new kind of love.

Patricia and her momLast November, I experienced the incredible support of Mission Hospice in a different way. My mother became ill, went into the hospital, and within days was diagnosed with end stage esophageal cancer which had metastasized.

Her residence facility was not set up for the 24/7 care my mother needed. This situation was exacerbated by the fact that my mother was in denial. She was 92 years old and aimed to celebrate her “Cent’Anni.” What to do? Mission House was the answer. Mission House was a gift.

Opened in 2015 with the support of the local community, Mission House provides round-the-clock hospice care and family support in a peaceful, homelike setting. It’s beautifully designed with sensitivity to simplicity, peacefulness and nature. Each room is painted in soothing colors, with complementary linens and fresh flowers. Each has a hospital bed, a TV and French doors opening to a garden.

Mission House is more than a house. It can become a home. My entire family — myself, my husband, our four children and our grandchildren, as well as all the relatives — felt welcomed, comforted and at ease there.

My grandchildren were given the opportunity to experience their first death of a family member in a most gentle way. They brought their cards, artwork and tokens of affection to decorate her room. Although hesitant at first, the grandchildren soon said things like, “This place is not like a hospital.” They soon learned where the art supplies were and that the kind women in the kitchen might give them cookies or popsicles. They loved the house cats. One evening, when there was a fire in the fireplace, my grandson said, “This place is cozy.”

Mission House is a sanctuary where the experience of dying is sacred. While death is the natural end to this life, at Mission House death can be a remarkable experience.

My family is so grateful for the exceptional care the Mission House staff and volunteers gave my mother. In the midst of the mystery of dying, everyone at Mission House offered strength, courage, calm and peace. Every one exemplified respect and reverence, tender touch, loving kindness, gentle care and compassion, and professional dedication and service. This care, love and support was felt by me and my entire family.

Because of this attentiveness and support, I was able to honor my mother as her daughter — by being present in the quiet stillness, experiencing grace-filled moments of the ordinary. I was able to give healing touch, share meditations, read poetry and listen to music. The last piece I played for her was Pavarotti singing “Mille Cherubini in Coro.” How much time can be contained in the timelessness of the present moment!

My mother and I shared a remarkable conversation shortly before her death. She recognized what was happening and acknowledged with gratitude the care she was being given. She admitted that she had a good, long life.

At Mission House, she was able to see all her family and receive beautiful care until the very end. She did not suffer physically. With all the support, I was able to be her daughter and to be present. What an extraordinary gift.

Whether with my family or with my patients, I try to follow Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s motto — “Do small things with great love.” These words are truly lived every day at Mission House.

A wife, mother and grandmother, Patricia Matthews has been a teacher for more than 40 years. Patricia is an active community volunteer with the core values of faith, family, education and service.