To Cheryl Pletcher, life is a race. And in her line of work, people happen to be at the finish line.
“If people have lived a good life, we want them to have a good end,” said Pletcher, the executive director of the Carolina Comfort Coalition, a non-profit organization which provides round-the-clock care for terminally ill patients.
Pletcher, along with her small staff and volunteers are helping people from across the community finish the race well at the Serenity House. In partnership with Centre Presbyterian Church, Pletcher opened the home in Oct. 2007. The New York native had started a similar home there in 1993 and felt God leading her to continue the ministry when she relocated to Mooresville.
“I had done this before, so when God first touched my heart about it, I said, ‘I’ve been there and done that. It’s too hard,’” she said. “But in God’s mind, this is exactly what he wanted me to do.”
Although all residents of Serenity are served by hospice, the comfort care home model differs from a hospice home in that staff and volunteers are considered as “surrogate family” for the residents and provide 24-hour care, seven days a week, completely free of charge.
All residents have a prognosis of three months or less left to live.
Volunteers prepare meals for the residents in the kitchen, but families can use the facility to cook for their loved ones. The dining room table has held many family dinners over the years, Pletcher said.
“When you’re here, this is your home,” she said. “This may be their final family dinner with their loved one.”
Home is what Serenity House has recently become for Jessie Sneyd. The 84-year-old lung cancer patient moved there three weeks ago, and his daughter, Ozella Pratt, is convinced he’s receiving the best care available.
“He’s been really happy here,” she said. “He’s talking more, and we can use the house just like home.”
Sneyd has been impressed with the patience of the staff and volunteers as they’ve cared for him. “I’ve never seen anybody seem like they’re aggravated, mad or anything. I feel comfortable here.”
Pratt looked into the home for her father because she was afraid he would fall and hurt himself at her house, where he had been living for 14 months. While Sneyd lived with her, Pratt said she spent many sleepless nights worrying about her father.
“At least I know someone is here 24 hours, and I can sleep better,” she said. “If they hadn’t had this open, I’d have to sit up all night.”
Pletcher sees Serenity as a ministry to the families as much as to the residents themselves. Like them, she was closely involved in her grandparents’ and father’s final days. Her mother is currently on hospice and living in a group home. Families often seem “lost in the journey called the end of life,” she said.
“Some families do well with just hospice support at home. Other families are terrified of what lies ahead because they can’t comprehend even the words ‘dying’ when it’s related to ‘my mom or my dad,’” Pletcher continued. “My heart of compassion is for those families that seem so lost and afraid. Peace comes with the love and security that we offer day by day until the family is able to rest in the reality of the situation.”
For Pletcher, expanding quality end-of-life care in the community is “sacred work.”
“This is a spiritual metaphor for me,” she said.
“Serenity House is like being held in the arms of Jesus, safe and secure through the final storm of life.”
*A longer version of this post appeared in The Mooresville Weekly, one of the newspapers where I contribute.