Dying with dignity: Serenity House

Sisters are supposed to stick together through happiness and heartache.

The ultimate in heartache came for Sandy Johnson eight years ago when she learned her sister in upstate New York was dying and in her final days. Johnson, who lives in Morristown traveled to New York to be by her sister's side

"She said 'don't put me in a hospital or nursing home,'" said Johnson and adds her sister's husband wasn't able to care for her at their home. So on a mission to fulfill her sister's dying wish, Johnson found Crossroads House. It's a place where those in their final days are cared for and their families are comforted by people in their own community.

"The support and care we both received was amazing," said Johnson. "When I came back to Morristown I told my friend Stephanie 'We need a place like this in Morristown.'"

Sandy Johnson and Stephanie Hamill's answer to Crossroads House in East Tennessee is Serenity House. It's a simple, two bedroom home provided by the Morristown Housing Authority. Everything inside the house was donated. Patients who come here choose not to be connected to sterile tubes and monitors. Instead, they are surrounded by warm volunteers and a small staff whose soul mission is to make the final days as peaceful and comfortable as possible. It doesn't cost the patient or their family a cent.

Stephanie Hamill is now the executive director of Serenity House. "It's incredible to be a part of the patient's life and the families lives. We call our three months or less here a gift," said Hamill.

Fay Helton suffered years with emphysema. His son and daughter brought him to Serenity House when they realized they could no longer properly care for him at his home.

Helton's daughter, Peggy Hayes, works days and his son, Gary Helton, works nights. "Taking care of him was overwhelming, said Hayes.

Serenity House became their "home".

The volunteers and staff served as their surrogate family. They provided meals, a comforting word and most importantly care for their father.

"We could actually come here and be family and not the caretaker. We came back to being daughter and son," said Hayes.

In October, Fay Helton passed away at Serenity House with his children by his side.

Sandy Johnson remembers that pain following the loss of her sister. But she says through the heartache she found healing and comfort. She hopes others find the same at Serenity House.

"It took a sadness in my life to make a little bit of a difference in some other lives," said Johnson.

Serenity House is part of the non-profit group, Friends of Hospice. It's the only one of its kind in East Tennessee. Patients who come to Serenity House must be under hospice care and have less than three months life expectancy. They must also have no family or family who are unable to properly care for them.

To learn more about Serenity House, visit http://foh-serenityhouse.org/


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