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Peter Benavage, Wilmington DE

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The same positive attitude that helped Peter Benavage survive Iwo Jima now helps him meet the challenges of caregiving.

Peter Benavage’s positive outlook, which carried him through 26 days of artillery and mortar fire on Iwo Jima during World War II, has contributed to a long, healthy and happy life with his wife of 65 years, Corliss, and their son.

But now, during what Pete says are “some of the most difficult times,” he needs more than a positive attitude—he needs help.  Delaware Hospice is honored to be at his side, assisting him in caring for his ailing wife.

Peter Benavage enlisted in the Marines at the age of 17.   He said, “Britain and France had just declared war on Germany.   Five days later, I went to Philadelphia to enlist.  I had to lie about my age, but I was prepared.  The recruiting sergeant was busy running around, when he suddenly turned to me and asked, ‘How old are you.’  I had it rehearsed and was ready.  Later on, another asked, ‘What year were you born?’, and I had that ready, too.”

Peter joined the military with the intention of doing 20 years.  He said, “Conditions at home in the coal mining region of the Shenandoah area were very bad, especially during the depression.  There was no future here.   Joining the military was the perfect solution.”

Through stations at Parris Island, Quantico, Cuba, and then the Pacific—Marshall Island, Saipan, and finally Iwo Jima, Pete said, “Luck was with me.  I never got a scratch.”

But there were frightening moments; the worse of them when bullets and shrapnel were flying around.

Pete recalled, “I landed with 230 men in the 2nd wave on Iwo, going in early.  No sooner had we hit the beach when all hell broke loose.  Artillery fire was so dense at one point that nobody moved.  Everybody just huddled on the ground, looking for a deeper hole.  We were under fire for a total of 26 days.  During that time, we received 101 replacement troops—all were either killed or wounded.  Only 87 of us walked off the island.  That was the one time that I wondered if it would it really come out okay.  But I always had a positive attitude that nothing would happen to me, and that’s how it turned out.

Asked if he witnessed the iconic flag-raising on Mt. Suribachi, Pete answered, “I forget what day it was in terms of the battle, but they said over the radio to look back at Mt. Suribachi.  So we looked back and there was Old Glory flying.  That was more than a good, warm feeling inside.  We realized that now the enemy could only fire at us from one side.  Before that, we were being fired upon from both Mt. Suribachi and the northern end of the island.  Now we wouldn’t get fire from the Suribachi region, so we felt great to see that flag on the mountain!”

As Pete reminisced, he said, “It’s all part of life.  You look back and wonder why did you escape getting wounded and not others?  No one can answer.  All you can do is count your blessings.”

Pete kept his commitment and stayed in the U.S. Marine Corps for 20 years, achieving the rank of Major upon retirement.  Upon leaving the service, he earned his B.A. Degree from George Washington University, his M.A. Degree from Catholic University, and pursued a 30 year career in teaching social studies and geography at Herndon High School in Fairfax County, Virginia.  Along the way, he met and married his wife, Corliss, who also serving in the military.  He said, “Marrying Corliss 65 years ago was the second best thing that ever happened to me!”  Together they raised a son, who followed his parents’ example and joined the Navy.  He now resides in Alexandria.

Pete feels fortunate in having called Delaware Hospice to help him care for Corliss during these last few months.   He said, “The last time Corliss was in the rehabilitation center, someone recommended that I call Delaware Hospice.  I expressed my concern that it meant ‘near death’; but they explained to me that it’s about helping us live a better quality of life.  This is a good aim.  Some people work all their life; and it’s not fair for them not to be taken care of in their later years.”

“As it turns out, Delaware Hospice has been wonderful.  I’ve been impressed with their willingness and ability to work and help out in so many unexpected ways.  For example, Corliss was down in the dumps.

I asked her aide, Susan Summerfield, to find out what she’d like for her birthday and anniversary gift, which were coming up.  I said, ‘you’ll get a different answer than I will.’  When she asked, Corliss immediately answered, “A cat.’  I agreed, and Susan proceeded to do all the work.  She went to the SPCA, and picked out a cat and we presented it to Corliss, who hasn’t stopped smiling since!”

He said, “Susan is also outstanding in the delivery of care.  I couldn’t ask for anyone who would do more than she does.  She’s absolutely great–not just working, but working to perfection.”

“Having all of the Delaware Hospice team come in takes a big load off my shoulders.  They are friendly; they really work at their job to get it done well; and they know what to expect when they walk in the door.  They put my mind at ease; but also everybody seems to be concerned about me, too.  I can understand why, as caregiving is no easy task.”

Pete said, “But I can’t complain.  I’ve been so fortunate.  I’ve had a very fortunate life, in terms of surroundings, marriage, all the way around.”

Story Credit: Beverly Crowl, of Delaware Hospice

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Stan Cesaro, Wilmington DE

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Stan Cesaro’s world came crashing down on April 29th of 2010, when his wife was diagnosed with cancer. Her decline was devastatingly rapid, and within just a matter of months, Stan found himself sitting in an empty house.

A Delaware Hospice team cared for her during her final days, and Stan felt that the staff was dynamite and the care was excellent, as he had expected. But what he had not anticipated was the after-care and support they offered him as he struggled to cope with his loss.

“A Bereavement Counselor was here the week after my wife passed,” said Stan, “and she was with me every week. She would come to the house, I would cry, and she would talk to me. We talked about what I should and shouldn’t do. I was ready to pack up and sell the house, because everywhere I looked, my wife was there. She advised me not to do anything immediately that I might regret later.”

He realized he needed to get out of the house, and he decided to attend one of Delaware Hospice’s six-week grief support groups. Then he learned about a monthly, drop-in grief group meeting nearby at MOT in Middletown, and he began to attend that group. Reading Delaware Hospice’s bereavement newsletter, he discovered another group that was meeting in Dover for monthly dinners and he began to go there as well.

Stan said, “I didn’t do much talking in the beginning, only listening. I was in a deep funk. But I just knew that I had to keep attending those meetings and getting out of the house.” At one point, Stan was trying to figure out how he knew the guy, Bill, sitting across the table from him at Franco’s in Dover, and Bill was wondering the same thing. He said, “Finally, when I attended the next MOT meeting, there he was again. I said to Bill, ‘I knew that I had met you, but I didn’t remember how.’”

Gradually, the camaraderie among several members of the group grew. Stan said, “I really appreciated the warmth of a few people, who made me feel so welcome and willing to return each month. Then, someone said, ‘Why don’t we get together and do this, or the other?’  All of a sudden, we started loosening up. I began to open up and participate more actively.

I met John, who lives right around the corner. We began planning dinners and luncheons on our own, and this social life began to move us over the hump. We started to focus on other things, and we had places to go and things to do. It has just mushroomed from there.”

It’s not been smooth sailing, by any means, for Stan. He tragically lost his son a year after the loss of his wife. He said, “That was very tough, but the friendships that I had with the people I’d met through the Delaware Hospice grief support groups really helped me through it.”

John Fahey also lives in Middletown, and his wife also became a victim of cancer, but struggled with it longer. John said, “She was going in and out of treatments. When they told us the medication was killing her faster than the cancer, we went home and Delaware Hospice came in. They came to the house, set up a hospital bed, brought oxygen and equipment. She lasted only three more weeks, but the hospice people were with us when we needed them. They were terrific.”

“Afterwards, the bereavement counselor called to see if I needed help. She told me all the options of support groups where I could go for more support. That’s where I met Stan and some others. By then they were further along in their recovery. Even though we had been through similar terrible losses, I could see they had a great humor about them. They always made me feel comfortable.”

The gazebo in Stan’s backyard has become a “man cave” for Stan and his new, fellow-widower friends. He said, “When these guys come over, the neighbors think we’re having a party. We eat, we drink, we laugh, and we go home, and it’s not so hard.”

Not everyone is at the same place in their grief journey, but they find great support and understanding among them. Stan said, “Both John and I met our wives at the age of 17 and experienced a long, wonderful marriage. We really know what each other has been going through.”

Stan will always be thankful to Delaware Hospice, not only for the care of his wife through her illness, but also for helping him along the grief journey. He said, “Delaware Hospice did it for me. I always found the meetings to be a sort of cleansing.”

John also credits Delaware Hospice for the impact on his life. “Losing a mate is the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. It’s like half of your brain dies. The grief groups helped. At each session, we would go over various topics, talk through our feelings and thoughts. Everybody would listen, tell their stories, or give advice. I had kept a photograph of my wife which was on her coffin at the funeral. They advised me to take it down because it would always remind me of the funeral, which I finally did. Delaware Hospice was responsible for organizing those sessions that got us together. They got men out of their empty houses, and I’ll always be grateful.”

Story Credit: Beverly Crowl, of Delaware Hospice

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Maureen Reiss, Wilmington DE

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Life’s journey can sometimes take a rough path and you just need someone special to help you along—or in Maureen Reiss’ case, a team of special Delaware Hospice professionals. It was Maureen’s turn to care for her mother.  Always an active and healthy woman, June Keenan had suffered a stroke while vacationing in Florida.  Along with other symptoms, she lost her ability to communicate her wishes and needs.

Maureen’s home near Milford was too small to take her in, so she found an assisted living facility 30 minutes away.  Maureen said, “My mother was so frustrated that she was not able to express herself, and she became very challenging.  She would grind her teeth constantly, spit out her medications, and throw things on the floor.  With her physical disabilities from the stroke, she could only eat with her fingers, so no one would sit with her at meals.  From being a lovely, sociable person she had suddenly become someone that few could understand or communicate with, and she was furious about it.”

One of the few things that worked well to calm her was Maureen’s therapy dog.  She said, “My mother loved the dog.  She would make soft sounds and pretend to kiss the dog.”

With a few hospitalizations for minor health issues, she suffered additional setbacks in her physical rehabilitation.  Simultaneously maintaining a family household and caring for her mother grew to become a tremendous burden for Maureen.

In the doctor’s office one day, Maureen met someone from Delaware Hospice who recommended she make a call.  Her mother was admitted as a patient immediately, and Maureen found the help she needed.

“Most important,” remembered Maureen, “was their help in putting a ‘do not hospitalize’ order in effect.  They became advocates for my mother, closely monitoring her medications and working through her particularly challenging situation with smart solutions.”

A lot of caregiver stress comes from wondering what’s happening when they are not at the patient’s side.  Knowing that Delaware Hospice’s team members would be visiting on a certain day, gave Maureen relief.  She said, “I would receive messages on the answering machine just letting me know someone had been to visit my Mom and everything was okay.  It was wonderful to realize I wasn’t in it alone anymore.  I could take a few minutes to do my own laundry and get there a bit later because I knew she was okay.  It was really great to feel that somebody else cared.  I still have those messages on my answering machine!”

“During my mother’s final days, our regular nurse couldn’t be there, but the on-call nurse was at our side and it was as if she had been with us the entire time. It was amazing how she took us through the last hours.  They were hard; but at the same time, I treasure those moments.”

Maureen said, “It’s difficult to put into words all that Delaware Hospice did for us.  It wasn’t just the care and comfort the team provided my mother, but for our entire family. I knew I wasn’t alone, that someone else really did care.  I knew that any time of the day or night I could call and seek advice.  The team empowered me in a way that left me feeling comfortable with a situation that seemed unmanageable at times.”

“Uncertainty can be unnerving, but I knew that I had support.  The team would patiently answer questions that often the medical professionals didn’t have time to answer. They helped me navigate the complexities of many end-of-life issues.  I learned that, ‘Yes, you can do this alone,’ but sharing the load was beneficial not only to me, but also to my family and, most important, to my mother.”

Maureen felt that having Delaware Hospice nurses visit her mother at her assisted living facility was instrumental in avoiding unnecessary hospital visits, as minor ailments were addressed in a timely manner with the assistance of the hospice nurse.

She said, “Most important, since my mother didn’t have very good socialization skills due to her communication disability, the hospice team ‘befriended’ my mother.  During my 34 years teaching experience with children with disabilities, I would often ask parents, ‘What do you want for your child?’  The answer was universal:  ‘I want my son to have a friend.’  You know, that’s exactly what I hoped for my mother, and members of Delaware Hospice’s team became her friends!”

Story Credit: Beverly Crowl, of Delaware Hospice

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