But, too often, the end of life happens in a much less comfortable and intimate environment.
A new Chrysalis Room at Powell Valley Care Center aims to change that for people nearing the final hours of their lives and for those who love and care about them.
The Chrysalis Room will provide a supportive environment in the care center to help families and friends while their loved ones are receiving end-of-life care. The room will be available to care center residents, hospital patients and residents of The Heartland assistive living center, and their families.
Care Center Executive Director Nicole Ostermiller explained the concept in a presentation to the Powell Valley Healthcare Board last month.
The Chrysalis Room is Powell Valley Healthcare’s approach to honoring the end-of-life experience, Ostermiller said.
“It’s not hospice, and it’s not just a room, and it’s not business as usual,” Ostermiller said.
Amenities in the room include a dinette area, a comfortable sitting area and a pullout couch for family members to sleep on. A snack cart will be stocked with healthy snacks, and staff will provide caring support as needed — both for the person experiencing the end-of-life transition and for those gathered around him or her.
“We have found that, toward the end of their lives, people don’t have very many needs, but the people who love them do have needs,” said Jennifer Tippetts, executive director of the Powell Medical Foundation.
Chrysalis Room services are provided with no extra charge to end-of-life patients and their families, she said.
Tippetts said money from the foundation was used to furnish the room. That money came through donations to Powell Valley Healthcare’s former hospice program, and Tippetts encourages continuing donations to help support the Chrysalis program well into the future.
The Chrysalis Room concept was first envisioned by Loretta Downs of Chicago, who has been a hospice volunteer for 30 years.
In an online story about the origin of Chrysalis Rooms, Downs said she had witnessed the deaths of people in the peaceful environment of their homes, where they were surrounded by family members.
“The house is peaceful and quiet, respecting the sacred process which is taking place,” Downs wrote. “Unfortunately, my experience while sitting at the bedside of hospice patients in nursing homes is distressingly different — especially when death is imminent and loved ones are sitting vigil. The typically shared room is adverse to a peaceful dying process. It is hostile to visiting family and friends, who often have nowhere to be. While visitors surround their dying loved one, helpless roommates must suffer the sights, sounds and smells of death and grief. Even worse is to be trapped on the other side of a flimsy curtain where the dead body of your roommate lies alone, awaiting removal.”
Downs said she wanted a different experience for her mother, who lived the final six years of her life in a nursing home.
“I passionately wanted her, and the other residents whom I have grown to love, to have a transitional experience that was positive and beautiful,” she wrote. “I decided to create an aesthetic space that would surround the hospice patient with beauty and (that would) comfortably accommodate many companions.”
Downs got permission from nursing home administrators to convert an unused storage room into that beautiful space. It became the first Chrysalis Room, named after the chrysalis stage of a butterfly’s transformation.
“I couldn’t think of a more fitting name to represent life’s second-most significant transformation,” she wrote.
The night before Downs’ mother died, “half a dozen residents wheeled into the Chrysalis Room to say a Rosary, to demonstrate their love for her — and to comfort me while we awaited her transition. Two of my friends came with love and food. I spent the night and was at my mother’s side when she died, peacefully, with the morning sun streaming across her bed through white wood blinds.”
“We bathed mother’s body, dressed her in her favorite robe, covered the bed with flower petals and invited her resident friends and caring staff to say goodbye. Five hours later, she was escorted out of the building with an honor guard of people who were important to her. I felt proud that I had honored my mother for giving me life by giving her a good death.”
Two of the residents who shared that experience later told Downs they wanted to move to the Chrysalis Room “when it’s my time,” she said.
In an online video of a live presentation, Downs told an audience that touching, such as hugging and holding hands, often is comforting, both to the dying and to those who love them. It is a natural part of the death experience, and a Chrysalis Room provides the privacy and an environment that encourages touching, she said.
During a telephone interview Wednesday, Downs said she was thrilled that Powell Valley Healthcare has created a Chrysalis Room.
“I can’t tell you how wonderful ... this is,” she said. Downs said she was pleased that the room will be available to patients at the hospital and to residents of The Heartland as well.
“That’s one of the ways to use such a sacred space,” she said.
Americans have become isolated from and unfamiliar with death, Downs said.
“We don’t understand the natural process,” she said. “It’s one of the reasons we fear it.”
But that is beginning to change as, more and more, families and others gather to accompany those making that transition, she said. “The Chrysalis Room allows that,” she said.
Chrysalis Room open house
An open house for the new Chrysalis Room will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday in the North Unit of Powell Valley Care Center.
Attendees will gather in the North Sun Room and, weather permitting, grassy areas outside. Refreshments will be served, and harp music will be provided by Susan McEvoy.
The Chrysalis Room provides a warm and supportive environment for people receiving end-of-life care and for their families and loved ones. The service is provided at no addition cost to care center residents, Powell Hospital patients and residents at The Heartland.