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Humor and heartache. Laughter and loss. Scott Caulfield knows from first-hand experience these things can — and maybe even need to — coexist. And when it comes to finding the funny, even in the hardest situations, he learned from two of the best. Scott was born in New York, but grew up in Bloomington, spending his days in his family’s music store, where his mother and grandmother shared their love of the harp with nearby Indiana University students and professional musicians.
Scott had the benefit of being raised by not one, but both of these strong women. He traveled often with his grandmother, from road trips to visit family in Kentucky to more exotic locations like Paris. When she suffered a fall in her home in 2008 at the age of 97, IU Health Bloomington Hospice House began in-home hospice care. Scott traveled from his then home in St. Louis, and, while staying with his mother, received the call saying it was time to say goodbye.
“I’d never been with somebody when they died,” he says. “It was a very peaceful experience. They did a great job of guiding us through it. I was holding my grandma’s hand when she passed. I’m blessed I was there for it.”
At the time, Scott’s mother had been battling non-Hodgkin lymphoma before going into remission. Months later, she again faced a cancer diagnosis — this time, a form of leukemia. In 2013, she had exhausted most of the available treatment options, and announced she was done with the fight. She was taken to Hospice House at her request, where she entertained the staff with her unwavering sense of humor, joking that the facility was like the world’s best hotel … with the worst checkout policy.
One year earlier, Scott had suffered the devastating loss of his first son, Austin, at birth. In 2013, he and his wife welcomed their second son, James. On Father’s Day of that year, Scott decided to take a reprieve from the frequent back-and-forth to Hospice House and spend the day with his wife and child. However, a call from his mother’s nurse — the same nurse who had cared for his grandmother — beckoned him back to Bloomington, where his mother passed a short time later.
“It’s a treasured memory,” he recalls. “Just sitting there with my mom, letting her know it’s going to be okay. I’m going to be sad, but don’t make that the reason you’re holding on. I think we had to cross that bridge together.”
Through his grief, Scott was always aware of the support and comfort Hospice House provided. “It was just amazing,” he says. “It’s a gem. It’s such an emotional time. It’s such a hard time. But it’s so great to have staff there who understand and are shepherding you through it.”
Scott’s memories at Hospice House and the experience he had with the staff inspired him to give back. But he says it wasn’t enough to donate a plaque with his mother’s name. He wanted to show his gratitude to the people who made his experience — and his mother’s and grandmother’s — so peaceful.
Two years ago, Scott decided to fund a yearly retreat for staff members, with catered food and a motivational speaker, to give them a respite from their tireless work, and thank them for all they do. COVID-19 put a halt to the retreat planning, and a new gift took shape for this year — a picnic area where staff members could take a break, surrounded by Hospice House’s serene gardens.
Why did he choose to give back in this way? For Scott, it’s simple: “I think you find what’s important to you — what has meaning and value. And you create your own kind of philanthropy journey.”
It’s a welcome gift to those who work at Hospice House, including Director Stephanie Cain. “I’m inspired by Scott’s donation,” she says. “When you’re a family member who’s here with your loved one, and the staff can allow you to just be a family member and not a caregiver, it’s such a relief of that burden that the staff carries for you.”
The picnic area will be a place of quiet reflection, but also conversation and socialization for staff who, much like Scott’s grandmother and mother, rely on laughter to get them through even the darkest times.
“There’s a lot of joy,” Cain says. “There’s a lot of humor, and there’s a lot of prayer. It’s whole-person care. We really count on and care for each other and hold each other up. And we try to do that for our patients and their families. That’s really what it’s all about.”
Interested in donating to IU Health Bloomington Hospice House? Contact IU Health Foundation Director South Central Region Diane Buzzell at firstname.lastname@example.org or IU Health Senior Development Officer Emily Trinkle at email@example.com.