Fifty-seven year old Veronique Jeffers loves Christmas.
Veronique has a happy, full life as a wife, mother of four, and grandmother. She also has a devastating life-limiting disease – thyroid cancer.
Veronique and her family, with the support of Celtic Hospice employees and volunteers and an outpouring from her Litchfield, Illinois community, however, are not letting cancer limit her ability to enjoy life, even at this stage of the journey.
Who says Christmas HAS to be celebrated on December 25th? The Jeffers family celebrated Christmas this year in September. September 13th to be exact. A day that just so happened to be Veronique’s 57th birthday.
During a Celtic Hospice IDT (Interdisciplinary Team Meeting) several weeks ago, where team members discuss and collaborate on care plans for patients, Sarah Spencer, Celtic Hospice Volunteer Coordinator, was deeply affected when she heard the news of patient Veronique Jeffers.
As a mother of three herself, one being the same age as Veronique’s 12 year old son, Sarah listened thoughtfully and empathetically as Hospice Nurses Nicole Fenton and Vicki Law reported on Veronique’s status. During the course of the discussion, they briefly mentioned Veronique’s love for Christmas and how she shared her sadness at the thought of likely not being able to participate in their yearly tradition of visiting the Christmas tree farm, cutting down the tree together, and taking a family photo this year. They shared how heartbroken her 12-year old son was over his mother’s illness, and how wonderful her loving husband was, taking a leave of absence from his Department Manager role at Walmart, to stay home and care for Veronique.
A light bulb went off in Sarah’s head. Why can’t we give Veronique one last Christmas? We don’t need to wait. Let’s do Christmas now. So Sarah made a visit, along with Vicki, to Veronique and her family’s home to discuss the idea. The family and Veronique were overjoyed and excited about the prospect of celebrating Christmas in September.
Sarah contacted all 17 of her volunteers who overwhelmingly responded with willingness to help provide Veronique with possibly her last Christmas with her family. Churches and businesses were contacted and responded with donations and money and gift cards.
Gifts were bought. Legos and PlayStation games for Veronique’s 12-year old son, a new vacuum cleaner (which Veronique requested as her and her husband’s gift), mud boots for all three of them, birdfeeders and bird seed for the older children, and Little Debbie Cakes and a hummingbird feeder for her Mom. All of these were specifically chosen by Veronique and purchased by Sarah and her team of Christmas angels, who wrapped the gifts beautifully to place under the tree.
Daniken Christmas Tree Farm opened for a few hours in September just for the Jeffers family. The whole gang gathered, chose two trees – one for the living room to be decorated and one to be planted in the yard as a memorial to Veronique and her special Christmas in September celebration. Celtic Hospice Nurse, Vicki joined the family on this trip and was there to make sure Veronique was medically assisted. Vicki was invited to be in the family photo this year too, which is being printed and framed for each family member.
Maddie VanDaele, Celtic Hospice Volunteer, belongs to The Hospice Volunteer Initiative* at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville. When she told her friends there about Veronique and her family’s Christmas wish, they decided to shop for and donate all the food to give the family their proper traditional Christmas dinner. Sarah prepared the meal in her own kitchen and delivered a fresh baked ham and turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, corn, and rolls as well as the three cream pies Veronique requested: coconut cream, chocolate cream, and banana cream. Veronique’s best friend baked Christmas cookies.
Sarah delivered the wrapped gifts Saturday evening after the tree was put up and decorated by the family and in preparation for Sunday’s celebration. Christmas at the Jeffers home this year was on September 13, 2015 – Veronique’s 57th birthday!
There is a saying that sums up the hospice philosophy quite well in this and many other cases:
Cancer is so limited. It cannot cripple love. It cannot shatter hope. It cannot corrode faith. It cannot eat away peace. It cannot destroy confidence. It cannot kill friendship. It cannot shut out memories. It cannot silence courage. It cannot reduce eternal life. It cannot quench the Spirit.
Cancer did not limit Veronique from Christmas with her family this year thanks to the amazing volunteers and team members at Celtic Hospice, the Hospice Volunteer Initiative, and the many other supporters from the community.
Merry Christmas Veronique!
*About the Hospice Volunteer Initiative:
The Hospice Volunteer Initiative was founded by members of the Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville Campus (SIUE) School of Pharmacy Class of 2015 in the Fall of 2012. James Langley and Loren Kormelink took the lead in building the club with the help of their faculty advisor Dr. Chris Herndon, faculty member for SIUE School of Pharmacy. A second faculty advisor, Dr. Chris Rosnick, psychology professor at Main SIUE campus, later joined. The goal of the group is to create awareness and increase hospice volunteerism among SIUE students. This year, they received their 501c3 tax-exempt status, so when people donate to them, they can use it as a tax deduction. Current officers are Maddie VanDaele (President), Ashleigh Lupton (Vice President), Jessie Johnson (Secretary), Erika Kuenstler (Media and Outreach), and Katelyn Fryman (Membership).
About Celtic Hospice:
Our highest calling is to provide comfort and compassionate care to those facing end of life by meeting the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the whole person and their loved ones. Celtic Hospice has a philosophy of care recognizing death as the final stage of life.
At this sacred time, our purpose is to enable patients to continue an alert, pain-free life and to manage other symptoms so they may live each day with dignity. We value the quality of life even more than the duration of this journey together. Our mission-focused hospice care is not about death; it is about living life as fully as possible. At Celtic Hospice, we affirm life and do not hasten or postpone death. It is our privilege to care for our patients and their loved ones as if they were our own.
Thank you to the following churches that graciously donated to help make Veronique’s Christmas special: First Baptist Church of Litchfield, Holy Family Catholic Church (Knights of Columbus) (St. Ann’s Committee), Litchfield Assembly of God, Union Avenue Christian Church of Litchfield.