News & Events

Norwich Hospice Patients Taken on Final Journeys to Favorite Places

By Russell Vermilyea for The Bulletin

NORWICH — For Terrance Donovan, “Terry” as everyone called him, the University of Connecticut-Avery Point was a special place.

It’s where he earned a political science degree in the 1970s. And it’s where he spent some of the last moments of his life.

Donovan, a 63-year-old from Stonington, died of lung cancer Aug. 19. Three days earlier, about 15 family members accompanied him to the Avery Point campus in Groton - his request for his final journey.

“It was really special for everybody in the family to be with him ... all brothers and sisters, friends, nieces and nephews,” his sister Beth Donovan Fague, one of nine children, said. “The ambulance drivers said, ‘stay as long as you want.’ We stayed about four hours. We had ice cream at the UConn dairy. It was a beautiful day.”

The Center for Hospice Care in Norwich offers the Sentimental Journey, a free program designed to help terminally-ill patients like Donovan visit a location or somewhere meaningful to them with family under medical care, special transportation and supervision.

“Terry Donovan requested to be taken to Avery Point and Center for Hospice Care was able to make this happen,” said Sean Mitchell, the center’s director of development. “He was able to treasure one of his final moments of his life with family members to a place that meant a lot to him and it was a pleasure for us here to see that we could make this happen for him.”

The program has been described many different ways: it’s “something not about dying, but about living.” And, “a positive anchor at the end of life,” Cathie Sedlack, hospice counseling supervisor, said.

“It provided a lovely final memory,” Sedlack said of the Donovan family Sentimental Journey, “something precious to remember. A brief respite from the dying process.”

Hospices in 33 states conduct Sentimental Journey programs with medical support. In Norwich, the hospice partners with American Ambulance. Officials believe the Norwich program is the only one in the state.

“A paramedic in Colorado came up with the idea,” Gregory Allard, American Ambulance vice president, said, “and it’s been a hit ever since.”

Added Mitchell: “It connects people with places that provide meaningful experiences of the past.”

While some parties are too sick to meet the criteria for participation, “a lot of logistical work goes into” training EMTs to deal with the journeys, Allard said. EMTs go through a day-long training program to understand what kind of patients and families they will be dealing with. Allard said Sentimental Journey wishes have included trips to casinos and the beach.

“Don’t put off doing it,” Beth said of the program. She added that her brother was on pain killers and that a patient’s condition can change rapidly. Terry’s condition - he was a smoker and diagnosed with cancer about two years prior to his death - “had deteriorated so much, he could have enjoyed it much more a week before.” Terry spent about two months in hospice care.

Terry graduated from Stonington High School and was an exchange student to Brazil. He became fluent in Portuguese and later taught himself conversational Swedish and Norwegian. After college, he was a welder and union steward for Electric Boat. At one point, after Electric Boat laid him off, he worked at Norwich Free Academy as a substitute teacher, his identical twin Christopher Donovan, of Ohio, said.

Christopher said his brother “experienced an enlightenment of a political and intellectual nature at the Avery campus. His favorite professor, Jean Yarbrough, was there.”

He added that Sentimental Journey was “wonderful for the family and for our brother.”

Here’s the link with photos:

Posted on October 25, 2017

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