An unsung hero: hospice

David Wong
David Wong was able to continue teaching tai chi during the two- and-half months he was at the Our Lady of Peace Hospice in St. Paul.

One of the more important considerations for those of us seniors actively in the business of living our lives comes in the weeks or days before we lose our lives.

Our Lady of Peace Hospice in St. Paul has been involved in this passage for 75 years.

The hospice (the former Lady of Good Counsel Home) has cared for thousands of patients from priests to penitents, old and young, rich and famous and poor and anonymous. And more than 20,000 of them never paid a dime for their room and board and medical care.

David Wong, who had metastatic colon cancer, died a few months ago at Our Lady of Peace.

While he was dying, he was living his life to the fullest, thanks to the efforts of doctors, nurses and family. He was a tai chi instructor, and he continued to hold his classes — with assistance from his son, Hylan — for the two-and-half months he was at the hospice. In fact, he held his last class in the conference center three days before he died.

“He was prideful about his students and classes,” Hylan said. “He was sometimes like a father and a mentor to his students. He told them he would help them take care of themselves — of their bodies and their minds.”

Our Lady of Peace was like a savior for the Wong family. They were paying more than $500 a day at a suburban nursing home for their father’s care, Hylan said, and were running out of funds.

From the time David Wong came to Our Lady of Peace, the family paid nothing. “People cared about him here,” his son said. “When we’d come to visit, he was always interacting with the staff and volunteers. They were like an extension of our family.”

David Wong owned his own restaurant in Oakdale and was a skilled chef. “When we’d bring him takeout food — Italian, Thai, Chinese — he would pass it around to anyone in the place,” Hylan said. That family feeling was no accident.

Founded by the Dominican Sisters in 1941 and now part of the Franciscan Health Community, Our Lady of Peace accepts all comers: Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim or none of the above. “We do the things we do because we are Catholic, not because they are,” said CEO Joe Stanislav. “Our goal is to take over what the former caregivers have done. We’ll take care of your father or mother, and you just be family.”

David Wong
David Wong, who had metastatic colon cancer, died a few months ago at Our Lady of Peace Hospice in St. Paul, where he lived his end-of-life to the fullest for two-and-half months.

Our Lady of Peace hospice service now extends beyond the residence at Cleveland and St. Anthony avenues to patients at home, in senior apartments or nursing facilities. (That’s usually paid for by Medicare or Medicaid or supplemental insurance. The free care at the residence is supported entirely by donations from estates and private citizens.)

Minnesota has about 85 hospices, and roughly half of the state residents who die each year are using their services.

Susan Marschalk, executive director of the Network of Hospice and Palliative Care, would like that percentage to grow.

“Everyone dies,” she said, “and we can make that passage so much easier and peaceful and meaningful.”

And Medicare will pay for doctors, nurses and drugs wherever the patient is living.

When I think of Our Lady of Peace and hospice workers and volunteers throughout Minnesota, I’m reminded of a quote from the spiritual teacher Ram Dass on death:

“I have no right to define how another person should die. I’m just there to help them transition, however they need to do it. In the end, we are all just walking each other home.”

I, for one, will be glad for the company.

Anyone wishing for more information, or to donate, can go to ourladyofpeacemn.org.


Dave Nimmer had a long career as a reporter, editor and professor. Now retired, he has no business card, but plenty to do. Contact him at dnimmer@mngoodage.com.