The upcoming Leon Shell Memorial Sailfish Tournament was founded by several of the renowned captain’s friends after Shell lost his battle with cancer 13 years ago.
When the group approached his wife to determine who should be the beneficiary of the event, she unequivocally said monies raised should go to Hospice/VNA of the Florida Keys.
“I wanted the money to stay local, and because of the nurses and social workers from Hospice, Leon was able to pass here at home,” Lois Shell told The Marathon Weekly.
After multiple rounds of radiation and chemotherapy wore down the captain of great stature and respect, the couple finally made the decision that he would live out his final days in the comfort of his own home.
Hospice of the Florida Keys, Inc. is a non-profit, full service hospice program that was born from the effort of a dedicated group of volunteers more than 25 years ago.
Though the organization has grown exponentially in their first quarter century of existence, it has not been without the support of numerous volunteers and their selfless dedication of their time and friendship to life-limiting, terminally ill patients in the organization’s care. For that reason, The Marathon Weekly asked a few of the ladies who volunteer with patients in the Middle Keys to share their stories and reasoning for dedication to Hospice.
MaryAnne Greger, originally from Maryland, is a full time resident of Key Colony Beach who first caught the philanthropic bug in her native state. Though she works full time for Monroe County and serves with several local political and social organizations, she still finds time to give back to others.
“In Maryland, I was with an organization called Hospice Caring, Inc., first as a volunteer and later as a contract employee coordinating fundraising and special events,” MaryAnne explained.
An annual gala and silent auction helped bring in a great deal of funding and recognition to the organization as well as eventually providing them with corporate sponsorships. GEICO came on board as a major corporate supporter and they remain so even today, she explained.
Prior to working with Hospice, MaryAnne worked with the American Red Cross alongside Mrs. Nancy P. Marriott, an extraordinary woman from whom she learned a great deal about the commitment to public service.
“She truly believed in giving back to society and helping others around the world,” MaryAnne continued.
It takes a very special person to commit their time and friendship to a terminally ill patient, and MaryAnne said it never ceases to amaze her when people ask, “How do you do it?”
“Giving of your time takes very little effort. For me, it’s an honor to be invited into the personal life of a family at a time that is so emotional and vulnerable for them.”
Despite daily challenges in her own busy life, MaryAnne said her volunteer experiences always restore her faith in mankind.
“Even in someone’s final hours, they are so grateful that you are there. After each visit, your own priorities come into line very quickly, and you realize what it is that is really important in life. Being there for each other and allowing some one to pass through this world with their dignity is a small request and one that should be honored.
“As a volunteer, I feel very privileged to be a part of this organization. If I could give as much as I gain from these experiences, I would consider myself a very fortunate person in life.”
Mickey Johnson, a part-time Marathon resident, first became interested in how patients are treated in their final days during her career as a registered nurse.
During her training, she read Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s groundbreaking book, On Death and Dying. The book outlines the process by which people deal with grief and tragedy, especially when diagnosed with a terminal illness or catastrophic loss. The book raised awareness about the sensitivity required for better treatment of individuals dealing with a terminal illness.
Johnson became interested in the concept, and researching the issue further, she began to utilize the methods more often in her own practice. In fact, her mother was one of the earliest hospice care patients when the practice first became popular.
Originally from Detroit, Mich., Mickey moved with her husband to Alexandria, Va. to raise her seven children. Hospice enabled all seven of the children to be by his side when he lost his battle with lung cancer.
“He had the greatest sense of humor,” she remembered. “He said it sure beat dying of Alzheimer’s!”
Mickey agreed with MaryAnne that it doesn’t take a great deal of commitment to volunteer for hospice patients because she benefits in so many ways from her experiences.
“Even though I’m retired, I’m able to remain a part of the medical community,” Mickey explained, adding, “I also get to reap the spiritual benefits because I’m there to accompany someone on their journey home.”
Helping patients and their families cope when the end is near as well as simply being there for a patient without familial support – every aspect of her commitment to hospice, Mickey said, truly enrich her life.
Another benefit of her experience is the elimination of the fear of dying.
“When you see someone pass in the arms of their loved ones, it makes for such a peaceful experience and simply takes away that fear that’s in a lot of people,” she said.