In 1988, when my sister Carole Lasser was 36 years old, she was diagnosed with multiple meningiomas — benign brain tumors. “It’s not cancer,” we were told, and we were relieved. But as the years moved on — the tumors grew — and while they were not cancer, they caused enough trouble. They forced her to have several surgeries, procedures, countless MRIs and eventually left her with a recalcitrant left arm, which ended her professional piano playing career.
In the fall of 2015, we noticed that Carole was having a hard time. Walking was getting more difficult. She needed to use a wheelchair more often. While she could still play the piano with her right hand, it was getting tougher. In the beginning of 2016, she noticed a bump in her forehead. We had a sick feeling the tumors were growing again.
When our fears were confirmed, we called Rabbi Joseph Krakoff at Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network (JHCN). He thought that because of her chronic illness, she was a candidate for a new program, called LifeLinks, created for people dealing with pain, or illness, without the diagnosis of hospice. This program was designed to enable JHCN to bring comprehensive and compassionate palliative care directly to the home. The LifeLinks team preserves the dignity of every client while fulfilling their mission/purpose that no patient or family ever face terminal illness alone.
In February 2016, Carole’s doctors determined that the tumors were significantly larger and pressing on vital brain tissue. She was told that the tumors were going to end her life. Surgery wouldn’t help, in fact it would make things worse. She should spend her final months with the people who loved her. When the doctors prescribed hospice, we once again called Rabbi Krakoff.
Rabbi Krakoff spent many hours with Carole, talking about her situation, her fears and helping ease her emotional pain. He was there for us, her family, as well. On June 26, 2016, Carole died. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her.
Shortly after my sister died, my parents created the Carole Jo Lasser (z”l) Music Fund at JHCN to provide music visits to home-bound patients. As of today, JHCN has created multiple other Life Enrichments including Tai Chi, Salon Services, Art, Pet Visits, Guided Meditation, Massage and Reflexology and a life review and memoir writing project.
In the fall of 2018, Pamela Applebaum and Andrew Echt of The Applebaum Family Foundation offered me the opportunity to serve as an Applebaum Fellow for the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network. I have spent almost three decades working in the Detroit Jewish community. I’ve worked at agencies and spent a significant amount of my career working for The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, where I currently serve as part of the Philanthropic Advancement team. So, when Pamela and Andrew called me about this Fellowship, I had some concerns about how I would be able to divide my time and energy appropriately. Scott Kaufman, CEO of the Jewish Federation, was supportive, and appreciative of such a collaboration. He encouraged me to challenge myself in this new role.
While I had a huge appreciation of what JHCN did for my sister, I really had no sense of the depth and scope of the agency. Becoming a Fellow gave me the chance to learn and participate in the agency’s activities firsthand. One of my initial experiences was to a JHCN client having a music visit, and I got to see Carole’s fund in action.
The client’s wife opened the door and explained that she had almost canceled the visit because her husband was having a really bad day, but because they were so looking forward to it, they didn’t.
Rabbi Krakoff and I walked in with Hazzan Daniel Gross who quickly set up his keyboard. The client was slumped on the couch, looking exhausted and despondent. As soon as Hazzan Gross started playing a few notes on the keyboard, the client sat up and became totally alert, looking straight at Hazzan Gross. Hazzan Gross started singing Henei MaTov – and the man joined right in. It. Was. Amazing. The man, his wife, his son, Rabbi Krakoff, Hazzan Gross, and I were all singing along, and it was truly beautiful.
I was stunned to find out that in 2018, over 300 individual music visits took place in homes across Metro Detroit. Carole often told me, “Music is my best friend.” I think she’d be happy to know that in her name, melodies are played in homes across our community, songs are being sung and her spirt is soaring, as peace and comfort are brought to those who need it.
This is only one aspect of JHCN that goes on multiple times a day. There is so much more. In my many meetings with Rabbi Bunny Freedman and Rabbi Krakoff, their cell phones are buzzing and ringing incessantly with individuals needing their immediate attention throughout the community. Yet, when I talk to many of my friends, they have no idea what JHCN is or what they do.
The Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network is truly… a gift. It’s a gift that you might need, or a friend might need, and it’s there for you. Especially when you don’t know where to turn, JHCN is there.
JHCN is constantly expanding and looking for ways to be there for our community. Realizing that close to 80% of our elderly population will exhibit some form of dementia, Rabbi Krakoff, Rabbi Freedman, Director of Patient Care Natalie Rosenfield, Social Worker Barbara Haddad and the entire JHCN team are developing a plan that will help those people. JHCN never charges for their services. This agency is here for you and your family. Every client is treated with dignity and respect. Watching someone you love go through the hospice experience can be painful and heartbreaking. Having the support of Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network was a great comfort during the darkest days of my life. This Fellowship has shown me how powerful and necessary this support is, and how fortunate our Detroit Jewish community is to have JHCN in our midst. I will forever be grateful for this life changing Fellowship.