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Hospice Counselor Breathes Life Into the Dying Experience

Kathryn Hill and Tahoe Forest Hospice
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ROCKSTAR: (noun) ordinary person doing extraordinary things in the community.

    I’ve done the research and statistics show that 10 out of 10 people die. Americans work pretty hard at avoiding the aging process as a whole – Botox, facelifts, liposuction, knee and hip replacements – we’ve perfected the art of looking 12 years old when we’re 40. Therefore the idea of actually dying generally scares most people to death. Why is it that we are so fearful of death, so paralyzed by its coming, that to even utter the word leads us to believe we will keel over and perish at that very moment? Other cultures embrace death; some even celebrate it. It is the finish line to a life lived. The Buddhists actually help one prepare for death. In this tradition it is considered to be of the highest merit because by assisting one to the next life, you are influencing two lives. Eventually we will all lose someone we love. For some the loss will be sudden, unexpected. For others, even if they are blessed with more time to say goodbye, it will not make the departure any less painful. Where do you go when you experience a loss so profound that crafting a life unwrapped by pain seems impossible? There is one angel here on earth that can help – Kathryn Hill.

    As the Spiritual Care and Bereavement Coordinator at Tahoe Forest Hospice, Kathryn is a delight, and it's easy to see why people find solace in her words and company. She is lively and jovial, but posses a profundity that leads one to believe she is deeply spiritual and understanding.

    What in the world would possess someone to specialize in the dying process? How does one deal with death on a continual basis, and not die a little themselves along the way? Kathryn is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with over 25 years in the field.

    'As a MFT I discovered that therapy was really all about loss and rebirth,' she said. 'The move to hospice was very natural for me. I’m originally from Amarillo, Texas, and as a child from a large farming family, I witnessed birth and death often. You normalize what you are around all the time.'

    Kathryn describes hospice as the arm of medical care for people with a terminal illness, with no life extending services, who desire a peaceful death. 'Hospice is all about shepherding the dying experience. I love empowering families to become present for the passage of their loved one's life,' she said. 'If all goes well people and families walk into this passage with love and faith, and they do what they can for each other.'

    After the death, through Hospice services the family of the deceased is offered the support and education they need through home visits, counseling, support groups, phone calls, mailings, and referrals to additional support services required by the bereaved.

    Though Kathryn spends most of her time providing services to Hospice patients and families there are other programs she is involved in and attempting to grow. Renee's Place is an extension program open to any child that has experienced a loss due to a death.

    'I looked around and realized there was no program in the community for children trying to make sense of the loss they had endured,' Kathryn said. 'With the money donated by Randy Hill (no relation), a man who had lost his wife to cancer and had used hospice services, we were able to get bereavement literature into all of the local public libraries and all of the elementary and middle schools throughout the district. This is great, but there was still a need for more than just books.'

    Over the past two years Renee's Place has provided support services to over 60 school aged children and teens throughout the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District. 'Renee's Place offers an environment where kids share a common bond through the loss of a loved one,' Kathryn said. 'Middle and high school students often prefer support groups as part of their healing process, where elementary students prefer more one-on-one interaction. Most of what we do with kids is simply listening and paying attention. We want to offer them a language for expressing their grief.'

    Renee's Place is still in its infancy and hopes to obtain the funding and volunteer base to have a presence in all schools throughout the district.

    Hospice is based out of the hospital, but Kathryn hopes to open a bereavement center for the public that has regular business hours and is community-run. 'It would be wonderful to have our own facility where we can have group meetings, mourning services, MFT interns for counseling, literature or just a quiet place to sit,' she said. As a nonprofit organization, Tahoe Forest Hospice currently provides bi-weekly group meetings free of charge and open to the community. The Tahoe Forest Gift & Thrift helps out with funding for hospice, but more help is needed so additional donations and volunteers are vital to the programs success.

    'If anyone out there would like to write a grant, donate paint or furniture, or volunteer their time, I would love to meet them,' Kathryn said. With all she does, I’m sure the woman desperately needs a vacation, but what about just slowing down a bit – any chance of that? Kathryn laughs and replies, 'I have had to learn to conserve energy for myself. I think about quitting every two hours, but I am possessed by the archetype of the wounded-healer and I will be a therapist forever.'

    One way she does this is by teaching music to children through her MUSIC TOGETHER classes at the Sierra Mountain Community Education Center. Kathryn smiles as she thinks about the kids she works with and responds, 'I get such satisfaction from being with kids. It is a great joy and an outlet for me. I love inspiring families to play and celebrate the sweetness of their time together.'

    To donate your time, talent or money please call Kathryn Hill at 530-582-3534 or email

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January 10, 2019