Sakura House Stories

The Weger Family

On September 9, 2012, Darren Weger passed away at the age of 39 at VON Sakura House. His wife, Elaine, shares her family’s story.

My husband, Darren, was only 39 years old when he died of cancer. Our boys, Owen and Oliver were only 3 years old and 18 months old. At first, Darren didn’t want to go but he moved to Sakura House for me, for our boys, and he was thankful he did.

We arrived at Sakura House and were surprised by the quiet, respectful atmosphere and beautiful surroundings. All the volunteers and staff were so friendly and helpful. Darren sat in the comfy arm chair while I sat beside him, holding hands.

Our boys visited Darren only once at Sakura House but the experience was amazing. I wrote about the boys’ last visit with their daddy in a letter to them and we read it together now and then. “…after lunch (you) came to the ‘party’ at Sakura House. There were lots of family and friends there already to visit with Daddy… Momma decided to bring you, one at a time, into Daddy’s room to visit.” Next, I explained what each of them did with their daddy the last time they saw him. They were wonderful visits and goodbyes. I was so proud of them both. After some quiet time and a nap, both boys went outside to walk and play in the sunshine…”

On the day he passed away, the family decided to “clear the tree” and purchase all the items on the donation tree located near the patient wing. “We have continued with that family donation every year,” says Darren’s sister, Stephanie.

The past four years has also seen the Weger family actively involved with VON Oxford’s Hike for Hospice, an annual fundraising event. The Weger Walkers always look forward to it. They’ve even printed their own t-shirts. “We feel this is a great way for Owen and Oliver to keep their dad’s memory alive,” says Elaine.

Hazel’s Story

(Excerpt from a letter sent to VON Oxford from Hazel’s daughter)

Hazel with puppy
“Mom was referred to Sakura House on April 16th and exactly three months later to the day, July 16th, Mom passed away. When Mom arrived at Sakura House in April, the nurses and our family expected that she may survive for a week. She was so frail and sick. However, she surprised all of us and was with us for an additional three months. We, the family, attribute this solely to the care she was given at Sakura House. Our mom was a very strong lady in spite of her diminutive size but her strength and strong will were only part of why she lasted until just 14 days shy of her 90th birthday.

“Mom was reluctant to leave her home as are so many elderly folks. We told her that Sakura House was the next best thing to being in your own home and it truly was. In fact, we could honestly say that Sakura House was far superior to being in her own home. The gentle, loving, compassionate and professional care that was extended to our mom by the doctors, nurses, and personal care workers and volunteers was so incredibly beneficial for our mom that it is difficult to find words to describe how she thrived under their watch. Mom improved in so many ways. Because of the catheter and power bed, she was able to conserve her energy for visiting with friends and family. She loved the idea of choosing her food from the Sakura House menu. It was akin to staying in a fancy hotel where she would order room service. She looked forward every day to the many volunteers who became her friends. We are forever indebted to Cathy who did her hair every week, to Joanne who sang along with mom and even made a CD for her of her favorite songs and to Krista who painted mom’s nails blue to match her outfit for her birthday celebration. Mom’s life was enriched by her caregivers: all of them – from the doctors who knew just what meds she needed to ease her pain and nausea to the nurses who lovingly administered her meds to the personal care workers who so gently dressed her every day in her jazzy clothes and jewelry, just allowing her to be a pretty gal right to the end. And, the bubble baths. Oh my, how mom loved her bubble baths and the spa experience.

“Mom would not allow the use of a wheelchair prior to arriving at Sakura House but soon she was enjoying trips around the house and gardens lovingly guided by the volunteers who persuaded her that she must see the beautiful gardens. She told us that she would live long enough to enjoy her amazing patio and so she did. Her favourite pastime at Sakura House, apart from her bubble baths, was to sit in the beautiful Adirondack chairs on her patio and enjoy the Oxford County countryside. These moments were made even better when one of the staff would join her for a little visit.

“I think you can understand the immediate impact that Sakura House had on our mom when I tell you that she was there just two short days when she said to us: “When I go, I want you to donate $1,000.00 to Sakura House because they take such good care of me here.” Well, Mom looked after her decision to make a donation to Sakura House all by herself because she had three amazing additional months of life in which she was able to write letters to friends, communicate to her family all the things that she wanted to say before she left us and, in essence, make certain that she had everything in order so that her work here on earth was done.

“We, as her family, are so incredibly grateful and forever thankful to the amazing staff and volunteers of Sakura House, not only for their exceptional care of our mom but also for the care and compassion that was shown to all of us. We consider that all of us are exceedingly blessed to have this amazing facility right here in Oxford County.

“I know Mom would join me in thanking you all from the bottom of our hearts.”

Tom’s Story

Tom got into his wheelchair and arranged for a cab ride from the hospital one day while his family was visiting in September 2009, so they could tour Sakura House together. He asked to be admitted the very next day. He says, “I came to Sakura House knowing I needed 24 hour care. Since my arrival, my experience has been really wonderful. The facility is marvelous, but the people here have made this house a home away from home.

“And it’s not only been a comfort for me, but more importantly it’s been a comfort for my family. You see, they live far and wide and were worried about my care and how I was going to manage. But when they visit and see the degree of care I receive, they are so marvelously happy and pleased. All the worries about me are gone, because they’ve seen the level of care and dedication.

“I don’t think I can emphasize enough the level of care and caring that is shown in people’s actions here. It’s not just words; it’s their actual actions. They have helped me beyond the call of necessity. They do things willingly and out of their heart. That’s their great strength and that’s what will make Sakura House a real success.” Tom called Sakura House home for 5 weeks.

Ron’s Story

(Sakura House was not yet built when Ron’s story took place)
Ron (Hawk) loved laughter and was famous for his constant jokes. He found using laughter in his last days made it easier to enjoy the precious company of  his wife Cathy and his family and friends. In those last days & weeks Ron taught everyone around him a lot about how to live in the moment and to take pleasure in the simplest things life has to offer. As his cancer robbed him of mobility, he longed to be outside, spend time with Cali – his “Goofy dog”, to watch sports on his big screen TV and snuggle with Cathy. He wanted to be home. Simple wishes of a man in the hospital and facing his mortality at 56.

Sakura House would have been a perfect match for Ron and Cathy – a place that is wheelchair accessible, with beautiful grounds to explore, and all his care needs met. Family and friends would have come when needed, and Cathy could have leaned on the staff and volunteers while she devoted all her love and energy to sharing time with her husband.

Before Ron died, he enthusiastically endorsed the idea of sharing his story to help explain why Oxford County needs a residential hospice and why Sakura House is the perfect place to create this environment of quality caring and peacefulness at the end-of-life. Ron’s friends and family have honoured this request by speaking up at every opportunity and participating in fundraising events with enthusiasm – in general, becoming Sakura House ambassadors.

Joe’s Story

(Sakura House was not yet built when Joe’s story took place)

Our work to gain community support for Sakura House has been inspired in many ways by Joe’s story. Joe was a promising young athlete, a beloved son, grandson and brother, and a steadfast friend. He greeted everyone with a smile that was almost bigger than he was.

When Joe was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the age of 26 everyone was devastated, but he was so determined to beat the disease that it was easy to believe he would live to a ripe  old age. Two years later, when the news came that Joe was going to  die, it was not something Joe wanted to contemplate or talk much about. He did enjoy hearing about Sakura House and thought the concept was a “pretty cool” idea.

In his last days, Joe came back to his hometown, family and friends, but was back in yet another hospital room. “Joe was  just so sick of hospital rooms,” says his father, Ed. As family and friends gathered to say good-bye to him, the idea of Joe  becoming part of the Sakura House campaign began to take  shape. Joe began his role as the Sakura House “Poster Boy” on October 21, 2006

Today, Ed and his family help to keep Joe’s memory alive by working tirelessly to ensure that Sakura House is there for families like theirs. Through organizing fundraising and awareness building events, they are making a difference! “I know that Joe is watching and that he approves. He would have been honoured to be part of this project. I hope his story helps others understand how important it is to support Sakura House.”  Ed was the Chairperson of the annual Hike for Hospice for three years helping to turn it into a major community event and the hospice’s largest single fundraising event to date.