Volunteers at Light Hill Comfort Care Home in Canandaigua talk about living, dying well
By Melody Burri
Living well — it’s the dream many spend a lifetime pursuing.
But hospice champion and pediatrician Mary Brady says living well is only half of the prize.
“I believe every individual deserves the right to die well,” said Brady, a longtime hospice instructor and board member of Light Hill Comfort Care Home in Canandaigua.
“I want people to know that dying is doable,” she said. “It’s something we will all do eventually. And it’s important that Light Hill is here to support individuals as they die a meaningful death.”
Like other comfort care homes in Upstate New York, Light Hill’s primary focus is to ensure the richest possible experience for residents and their loved ones as they approach the final stages of life. Care offered by medical professionals and volunteers focuses on pain control, symptom management and safety.
And it’s free.
Residents and their families pay nothing for food, housing, compassion and round-the-clock attention from medical professionals and trained volunteers.
“They can trust that they will be cared for, that their suffering will be relieved and they will be remembered,” said Brady. “A lot of joyful family time happens here. A lot of storytelling, a lot of expressions of love and gratitude. People find a path to forgiveness that they never found before. And people have the opportunity to say a very meaningful goodbye.”
The concept for Light Hill was birthed in 2012, four years before its doors officially opened in July 2016.
Since that time, more than 60 residents and their families have received care at the two-bed comfort care home, according to Light Hill Executive Director Suzanne Underhill.
“Our hope is to give the support our residents and their families need to make their final chapter the best it can be,” she said. ”Here, we will neither hasten death nor prolong life. Rather we will do our very best to promote comfort, peace and living well until death occurs.”
Residents may come in with the idea that Light Hill is about dying, but they soon learn it’s really about living, Underhill said.
That may explain the number of baby showers, family meals, barbecues, cocktail hours, holiday celebrations, veteran appreciation ceremonies, and multi-generational gatherings hosted on site.
Residents may relax in comfortable chairs or their beds inside or outside on the porch overlooking the garden, Underhill said. They may have visitors of all ages, at all times of day or night if they choose. Family members may also sleep over in comfortable second floor guest rooms.
“Anything you would do in your home, we try to make possible here,” said Underhill.
It takes about 125 trained volunteers to provide 24-hour, seven days a week hands-on care. And prior to serving, each volunteer is vetted and receives 21 hours of comprehensive training in hospice care, communication skills, palliative management of pain and symptoms, attending to emotional and spiritual needs, family dynamics, ways of processing grief, finding meaning in one’s life and ending disagreements, and veterans’ needs.
It may come as no surprise that many volunteers and board members are motivated by their own family members’ end of life experiences.
Board President Rich Russell said Light Hill’s mission, in part, is to reduce or remove the stress families feel so they’re free to savor and enjoy end-of-life moments together.
“When my parents were transitioning, my sisters were able to keep them at home through the entire transition,” said Russell. “Unfortunately, I was 200 miles away and wasn’t able to be as involved as I wanted to be. This is my way of paying back my sisters and this community.”
Board Treasurer Katie Harrison is also driven by personal experience, and believes the service Light Hill provides is essential to the community.
“It’s especially important to me because my grandmother was in hospice before she passed and I want to be able to give back,” she said.
Volunteers take care of individuals who are near the end of their lives, said board secretary and volunteer Ellen Polimeni.
“But we also take care of their family, help them accept what is coming and help them transition through that,” she said. “Having experienced the loss of a loved one, I know what a difficult time it is. I’m very willing to help others prepare for that.”
As a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, Light Hill receives no third-party funding, but is fueled through donations, memorials, gifts, and grants.
For more information, visit https://lighthillhome.org, find Light Hill CCC on Facebook or stop by at 5160 Parrish St. Ext. in Canandaigua.
Area Comfort Care Homes
1010 Moseley Road, Fairport
2495 S. Union St. P.O. Box 21, Spencerport
3880 Rush-Mendon Road, Mendon
House of John
14 Spring St., Clifton Springs
7824 County Road 33, Naples
71 Prince St., Rochester
Light Hill Comfort Care Home
5160 Parrish St. Ext., Canandaigua
1278 Brace Road, Victor
Photo: The concept for Light Hill Comfort Care Home in Canandaigua was birthed in 2012, four years before its doors officially opened in July 2016. The facility offers a comfortable place for people at the end of their lives, and their families.