Dying with Dignity, and Living with Love
By John O’Brien, Jr.
We have given away more than $200,000 in support, about $20,000 a year, since we started the Ohio Irish American News in 2006. Since I bought out my partner in 2018, I have been looking for a charity to “adopt,” to help out. I was looking for one that maybe that didn’t get as much notice or press.
They didn’t have to be Irish, but they do have to live the ideals we Irish also live by – at the end of each day, we have traded that day of our short life for something. Let it be worthwhile.
Each day of our lives, we must try to make the world a better place for our being here; we too, have to make difference. We have received such a gift, and such a responsibility, for this gift of life. I wanted the support of the Ohio Irish American News to make a difference for those we support and love, not just by adding a few bucks to their coffers, but impacting on a deeper level – I know we are made better, by giving. I share this story in the hope you will join me and the Ohio Irish American News in supporting Malachi House.
I first “met” Jena Olsen from Malachi House on Facebook. I was caught by surprise at her heart. I followed her posts to learn a little more about the work that she does, and quickly decided that this was the charity that we wanted to support.
Jena took me on a tour of Malachi House, and I fell in love. The facility, the faith, the family, and most of all, the love the family exercises each day, reassured me that this was the organization that I wanted to help, to be a part of, as they delivered love, and dignity, to the dying poor.
“To tell our story, let’s focus on the beginning. There was a seed, a lot of prayer and vision, and divine intervention,” began Jena. Her words are soft, as those who have found peace often are. I didn’t take any notes, because the story was too good to be distracted from or miss.
“It all began with Father Paul at Saint Malachi’s. He saw a lot of trouble of people dying alone – outside the rectory, under bridges, beside the dumpsters. Like any person who wants to make a difference, he said, ‘I want to do something; I have to do something.’ Then he was given these houses, divine intervention; he prayed a novena to St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
“The work from the parish helping the poor became these houses. The first house was in 1988.
“Malachi House was the only place in Cleveland to help those with HIV- because no one else would take care of them. In the begging, people were afraid of HIV; they didn’t know much about it.
“Funding has always been through foundations, fundraising campaigns and such. Malachi House gets no government money.
“Hospice handles the medical and spiritual. The staff kind of love and assist residents, our family, with their needs.
“We expanded in 2013, which brought our capacity to fifteen beds. We are not a nursing home, not a hospice house. We are a home for the dying poor. We take care of them. You don’t have to be catholic to live here. All faiths are welcome, though we were founded by the Catholic Church.
“Hospice teams take care of the clinical side; palliative care. Our staff takes care of the individual needs, like a family member.
“Hospice has a Dr., a spiritual caregiver; these cover the medical side. We do the lovin’ and the feeding – we do a lot of night sitting, sitting vigil, so they are not alone. We all, as a family, stay with that person, because they are our family.
“How do you get here? You have to be referred by a Hospice Dr. or team. Fr. Paul’s philosophy is to take people from the streets, there are so many, and bring peace, dignity, to those dying.”
Hospice handles the medical billing side. Staying at Malachi House cost residents no money.
“Malachi House is not a sterile nursing home, but a home, their home. We do art therapy, pet therapy, music therapy. This is the last stop. It is very final.
“We try to make them feel at home, to feel loved. Sometimes love is something they have never experienced. Once acclimated, they are happy to be here. Food, pop, love, it is unlimited. We strive to walk their final days with them, with love. The stories come full circle, and they are softened by love.
“It’s all about comfort – making sure we are managing the pain well. It is all in our mission statement, their care for the final stage of life. We are always filled at Malachi House; we can’t take everybody; we always have a waiting list.
“Every year we put the names of those who have passed away for the year on this memorial wall; since we started, more than 2,500 total names been engraved.”
I asked Jena, Are these your donors? She responded that, “certainly there are our angels. God takes care of Malachi House. Who God brings to us, when they come here, you see the face of God.
“Of course, we get attached, this is our family. We always look at the people who come here as gifts. Most hospice houses have a place of spirituality; we call ours the chapel.”
The chapel is a place of spirituality: palpable, small, peaceful, with windows to souls: others, and your own. Three stained glass windows feature water, rivers, light out of the darkness. Baptism, 1st Communion, Wedding, Confirmation- all the sacraments can be (and have) been done here.
“I have come here myself many times, just to connect, Jena said. “This is what I wanted to be when I was growing up. I wanted to work with dying children. I worked with Hospice of the Western Reserve. So, when this position opened here, I immediately applied. My father was friends with Fr. Paul, so I like to think they worked it all out in Heaven.
“I want to make my gift be to work with the dying; this touches my soul. What a great honor to be able to hold someone’s hand as they go home to God. It is not sad for me; someone dying under a bridge is sad, dying in the cold and alone is sad.
“For more than thirty years, we have been here 24/7. We’re not looking to expand. We can only have fifteen beds. We’d love to [assist someone to] open another one on the east side; we’d tell them the keys to success, so they could do it.
“Fundraising, sponsors, volunteers, donations, all help us. We’d love for people to sponsor a room or rooms – to know that room – it’s costs, expenses etc. are covered, would be such a relief. The outside costs that we have to do, too. Like security and maintenance, things that we have to have, have to be paid for.
“We hope awareness will also keep the 3rd generation of supporters with us, that they don’t decide to choose another charity because they are not aware of us and their family’s deep connection to us and what we do.”
I know we are made better, by giving. I share this story in the hope you will join me and the Ohio Irish American News in supporting Malachi House. Let the days we exchange be worthwhile.
*John is the Publisher and Editor of the OhioIANews, a spokesman, emcee and author of four books.