A Lesson in Finding Laughter and Embracing Each Moment

Samaritan Social Worker Sherri Brake, LSW, has a reputation of pulling props out of the trunk of her car when visiting hospice patients. Nothing too outlandish — just your average red clown noses, funny glasses with big facial features, tiaras, magic wands, and, the recent trend:  black moustaches.

Sherri senses just when an item from this trunk of goodies is a necessary tool to ease a trying moment in her delicate work of caring for patients with limited life expectancy. After a few visits with 84-year-old Elizabeth “Betty” Rizzotte, Sherri appeared with a black moustache sticking to her lips – and laughter filled the room. Betty loved the moustache, and it was the perfect medicine for her melancholy mood.

Sherri Brake and Betty Rizzotte

The moustache made a mark on Betty’s demeanor. When brainstorming funeral plans with Sherri, colorful details appeared as an innovative part of her end-of-life plans.

All guests should wear yellow, pink, or purple to her funeral. No black! And at the post-funeral luncheon, her friends and family should drink martinis. It’s her favorite drink.

However, as these plans evolved, Betty started to feel sad and remarked, “I don’t want to miss the party. It sounds like fun.”

And with that, life celebration planning coincided with funeral planning.

“Well then, everyone should also wear mustaches!” added Betty.

She created a guest list filled with all the people who cared for her most — neighbors, friends, hired caregivers, her Samaritan team, and Father Terry Odien of Christ Our Light, an instrumental participant in her funeral planning.

It was a beautiful May afternoon. Betty’s treasured garden was in full bloom. Her loved ones arrived, and together this special group donned fuzzy black moustaches and drank gin or vodka martinis to honor Betty. (Betty prefers gin!)

“I’m so fortunate to work closely with Sue Pierce, RN [Samaritan hospice nurse] to help ease Betty through this difficult phase of life. She knows her Samaritan team has her back until the end” says Sherri.

“I feel so blessed that I was able to be part of something I desperately didn’t want to miss,” Betty said. “I guess I can die now. It was a wonderful party. Thank you.”

With a mischievous, mustachioed grin she adds, “Can we do it again for my birthday in August?”