24 APR 2020

‘Dream’ Gave Daughter Chance to Say Goodbye

Carol Coleman, 69, had been battling a series of health crises, including numerous surgeries, leukemia and a stroke, for some time. When her condition weakened in late March, her NorthBay Hospice team asked if she had any wishes.

Just one, she told them: to hold her daughter’s hand as she fell asleep. The only problem? Her daughter, Jami Gill, lives in Louisiana.

Staff swung into action to see if they could make Carol’s dream a reality through the Dream of a Lifetime program. Within two days, Jami was by her mother’s side.

While Jami knew her mother had opted to go onto hospice as an inpatient at NorthBay Medical Center, she didn’t know about her mother’s wish or anything about the Dream of a Lifetime program until she received a call from Terrell Van Aken, M.D. medical director for NorthBay Health at Home and Hospice, on March 31. Dr. Van Aken asked if she was willing and able to travel to be with her mother, to fulfill her wish.  

“I was speechless. But Dr. Van Aken said if you can do this, we will get everything pulled together so you can get here. I couldn’t believe my ears. And, by the next morning they had booked me a flight and I had a hotel reservation.” She flew out the next morning.

Behind the scenes, Jennifer Flam, Hospice chaplain and Bereavement volunteer coordinator, was working with Susan Cianci, NorthBay Healthcare Foundation program coordinator, to fund the dream and Jim Kellogg of Wasserman Travel in Vacaville to finalize travel logistics. Funds for this, and others, had come from donations through the Foundation’s Open That Bottle Night event, explained Ryan Pasco, director of philanthropic giving.
“It is a team effort that make dreams like Carol’s a reality,” Jennifer said. “It was easy to make this happen for Jami and her mother because the funds were available.”

Jami had been in constant communication with her mother, her NorthBay health care team at NorthBay Medical Center and NorthBay VacaValley Hospital, as well as her mother’s best friend, Patty Gruber. Patty and Carol had a 30-year friendship and they were nearly inseparable, Jami said.

“Patty put her life on hold for my mother. My mother’s physicians were just wonderful in how they communicate so clearly. And the staff, what amazing heroes! It’s such a tragic and heartbreaking time with the coronavirus going on, and those nurses are caring the best they can for people who are there all alone. I talked with my mom on the phone every day, and if they could, the nurses would help us to Facetime. I have tremendous respect and appreciation for everything they were doing.”  

Jami also knew that her mother, whom she calls a “warrior,” was fighting very hard, but was tired.

She came straight to NorthBay from the airport around noon on April 2, and Jennifer was waiting to escort her to her mother’s room.

“When we walked in, Mom was sleeping but Jennifer whispered, ‘Carol, we got her here.’ I was wearing a mask and my mom thought she was hallucinating. She said, ‘I can’t believe you’re here!’”

The visit was just what Carol needed, as she seemed to rally, Jami said. “The nurses told me that’s the power of love.”

The next two days were very good days, a time for them to talk about things that had been left unsaid, Jami recalled. They had a chance to contact old friends and distant relatives, and say their goodbyes. As her condition worsened, medications to ease Carol’s pain made it difficult to communicate any further, and as she had wished, Jami was by her side, holding her hand, when she passed the morning of April 7.

Staff also made it possible for Patty to have quiet moments with her friend at the end, as well.

“It is a powerful and overwhelming thing, what NorthBay was able to do for my mom and me, especially at a time like this when there is so much uncertainty and people are scared and afraid for their health and their lives,” Jami said. “I never expected anything like this. I will hold those days in my heart until I meet her again. I am beyond grateful.”


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