Healing the Heart

December 17, 2021, Caregiving, Counseling & Support, Counseling and Support Patient Stories, Grief, Hospice Patient Stories

Healing the Heart.

Kelly Lekas had just turned 30 when she lost her dad, Mitch, to melanoma. She was extremely close to her dad, having lived with him her entire life, and though Kelly knew his cancer had spread throughout his body, she thought he had years left, not weeks. He was still active, managing his business, going to work every day and playing golf.

So it was a shock when in September 2019, Mitch suffered a seizure that led to a rapid decline. Four days later, he was admitted to Gilchrist Center Towson. In early October, Mitch died. Looking back now, Kelly realizes she was in shock after his death. At home, the house was silent, and she felt a sick, painful feeling in her gut. Her amazing, smart, funny and kind dad was no longer there, and she had never felt so alone.

“I wasn’t allowing myself to grieve—I was trying not to think about him because it was extremely painful,” Kelly recalls. “It was tearing me up inside and affecting my health.”

Needed Support

Grief can be intensely painful, confusing, overwhelming and isolating. Left untended, grief can impact a person’s well-being and ability to cope. That’s why Gilchrist offers professional counseling services to family members and anyone in the community who has experienced a loss.

Kelly began counseling sessions with Gilchrist clinical counselor Laurel Freeman. Until she met with Laurel, she hadn’t spoken much about her grief. She says Laurel helped her “get things out of my brain that were stuck”—things she didn’t even realize were there.

Through counseling, Kelly began to feel a semblance of peace. She says coming to terms with the loss of her father was the hardest thing she’s ever been through. But she can now, a year and a half later, reflect back on the time she spent with him in his last days and find profound meaning in the experience.

She recalls how Gilchrist Center Towson briefly became their home, as she spent the days by her dad’s bedside. Each time she visited, she felt an inner peace. She was comforted by how the staff took such good care of her dad while the nurses and doctor showed her exceptional kindness and patience. It meant so much that her father was treated with respect and dignity. Even the little things, like bathing and shaving him each day and combing his hair, made a difference.

A Lasting Memory

There are certain moments from that time that are ingrained in her memory—how a chaplain would visit each day to say a blessing, with her father chiming in to say, “Amen.” The way a tranquil breeze would fill her dad’s room when she opened the doors. How he loved sitting outside on the balcony, listening to the birds among the peaceful backdrop of greenery and flowers. And the way he reached out his hand to her when he could no longer speak.

Every moment together was imbued with meaning, and she will treasure this bittersweet time always. Kelly is grateful to Gilchrist for the wonderful care her dad received, and the grief support that has been so integral to her life now. In addition to counseling with Laurel, she participated in a Gilchrist grief support group. After the group ended, the members all continued to keep in touch. Kelly says that talking with them has now become a bright spot in her life.

Although she will always feel the loss of her father deeply, she now has the tools and support to help her cope. “I still hold back tears sometimes, but I’m a very happy person,” says Kelly, adding, “I’m strong because my dad was strong.”

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