A Resident’s Reflections on Hospice at Pennswood Village
By Pennswood Village resident, Lorraine Pasadino
For members of our community who may not yet know me, but do recognize my little dog Casey (a white and caramel colored male Havanese) as we take our Pennswood Village daily walks, my name is Lorraine Pasadino. My heart’s desire is to share my experiences and learnings about hospice care before Pennswood Village ever existed in my mind’s eye, and after joining this community. Also, I’d like you to know that I am a hospice volunteer and, if requested by the resident, Casey and I do visit as a team.
Did you know that the etymology of the word hospice comes from the Latin word hospes: meaning to host a guest or stranger. However, it is the old French word, ospice, that has unfolded and rooted my perspective of Hospice at Pennswood Village – especially since it involved dogs. Which dog? The Saint Bernard!
In 1049, an Augustinian monk, Bernard de Menthon, whose heart reached out to the forgotten and the needy, was inspired by an idea. He heard the many tales of travelers’ deaths in the Alps. He had the courage to risk a solution to this deadly problem that had not yet been found. He wanted to rescue the lost travelers, and create a safe sanctuary for them. With a few monks joining him, Bernard established a monastery and hospice as a place of welcome, safety, and hospitality at the highest point of passage in the Italian/Swiss Alps (8,000 feet above sea level!).
The hospice provided a warm bed, food, comfort, healing, and community for travelers, pilgrims, traders, and soldiers who made the perilous journey through the treacherous passes between Italy, France and Switzerland. A few centuries later, Bernard was recognized as a saint. Hence, the names of two Alps passes: the Great St. Bernard and the Little Saint Bernard. These passes were sites where the monks saved many people, and willingly risked their own lives in the rescue process.
Later, in the 1670s, dogs (named in honor of St. Bernard) were given to the monks as companions and protectors. However, the monks quickly discovered that the dogs had remarkable qualities like loyalty, a gentle nature, obedience, and a great sense of direction, along with an uncanny ability to find the needy. Since the monks were not able to go on rescue missions as often as they wished, they trained the dogs to search together as a two-dog team. When the St. Bernards found a person buried under the snow, one dug the person out and cuddled his body next to the person’s to warm it, while the other dog ran to get a monk to help. Unbelievable! So the monks and the dogs became a vital and life-saving team.
This monastery has been in service for nearly a millennium, and it still exists today. It’s name? L’Hospice du Grand-Saint-Bernard. Of course, the mission of the St. Bernard dogs has been replaced with solar radar and helicopters. However, the St. Bernards continue to visit L’Hospice to entertain, and even if someone asks, cuddle with the travelers.
Reflection and Closing Remarks
How does this relate to my experience of Pennswood Village’s Hospice? I see such similarities between the story of L’Hospice du Grand-Saint-Bernard and the evolution of our hospice that I have not experienced personally, or as a volunteer in other settings. Similarities like hospitality, a deeply caring community, an encompassing presence of others, specifically hospice trained and certified to be with you (like me!), and other ways that I will share with you in the next Bulletin. And here is my disclaimer: this is absolutely, positively not about religion – any religion. It is for me a matter of the heart.
In closing, I’d like to share one other similarity between L’Hospice and Pennswood Village’s Hospice with you. Of course, its dog related! I didn’t choose Casey; I had no intention of getting a dog. But Casey seduced me, and I think he knew that we had a mission together. I know it sounds weird, outlandish, and any other adjective you might think appropriate! Several years before I was even thinking of Pennswood Village, Casey led the way to our loving and working with “sacred elders” — the 1st one being my precious Mother. I’ve learned a lot about love from Casey.
When we visit someone, I don’t know how he knows what to do for that person, but he does. Without any prompting from me, has he put his body next to someone who is sick that welcomes his touch? Yes. And he stays still, and allows the person’s hand to stroke him, or just rest on him. I feel blessed to witness that interaction. Of course, when we leave, Casey can act like a frenetic, wild little guy running around with anyone, and in anyway he can! . . .Yet anytime his awareness of someone’s need is heightened, his inner “St. Bernard” is set free!