Your Gifts, Your Impact
Sarah Kobernusz-Gibbs was a passionate quilter, genealogist, and scrapbooker. Her husband, Monte Gibbs, describes her as “a fiber artist,” who made and donated 60 quilts each year to non-profit organizations in the Olympia area such as Safeplace and homeless shelters. Together they had four children, ages 12 to 21, and Sarah homeschooled each of them. Monte, who teaches middle school in low-income Tacoma schools, says, “Sarah saw the best in people, always.”
In August of 2012, Sarah was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her husband describes her diagnosis as triple-negative breast cancer, which does not respond to many of the new targeted chemotherapies or tools which can reduce the risk of recurrence. Six months later, Sarah had a clean check-up, but by August 2013, a scan revealed spots of cancer on her liver.
Sophia, the youngest of the four children says, “She was my hero – I wanted to be like her so bad.” Sophia remembers, “Mom had this great smile. When she was laughing, it would just be this big, wonderful smile.” When Sophia learned of the recurrence, she asked her older sister, Grace, “Is mom going to die?” Sophia says, “Grace just nodded. And I felt like my heart was ripped out.”
Sarah enrolled in a clinical trial, hoping to buy time with her family. But by December, it was clear that Sarah was nearing the end of life. At the urging of Sarah’s physician and close friends, Sarah enrolled in hospice. Providence SoundHomeCare & Hospice provides medical, emotional, and spiritual support to adults and children who are facing a terminal illness, as well as to their families, friends, and caregivers. Monte readily admits, “I was in denial. I wanted to stay in denial as long as I could, to keep the children hopeful.”
Hospice began providing services immediately, and Monte says, “The benefits of hospice were broad, and we greatly benefited.” A bed was moved into the home near the fireplace. “It meant a lot to us that Sarah could choose to be where she was when she died. She was in the center of everything.”
Meanwhile, Sophia kept many of her fears to herself. She says she didn’t want to talk about her feelings because she didn’t want to feel them. Looking back, she says “I felt anger, I felt sadness, I felt hate, I felt like I was a complete wimp because I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t save my mom.” Monte had hoped to get counseling through hospice for the four children, but Sarah declined rapidly and passed away on December 16, 2013 at the family’s home.
The family began counseling following Sarah’s death, a benefit of hospice to guide the family through the long and difficult road of grief. Through the process, Monte and each of his children identified one word they each wanted from their family. They included “Time” and “Trust.” Time to adjust to their new reality; trust in each other to take care of things Sarah used to do. Monte appreciates the references, saying, “They have been helpful to me because it gave me things I could carry forward with. They have become my mantra.”
In January, Sophia began participating in SoundCareKids, a program offered through Hospice for children who are grieving the death of a loved one. Shell St. Onge, the program’s bereavement counselor and coordinator, says “in SoundCareKids, children have an opportunity to tell their stories, express emotions, and find acceptance.” Shell says, “We begin group nights with pizza and play, and then kids, teens, and the adults meet in separate peer groups for discussion and activities designed to explore different aspects of grief.”
Before SoundCareKids, Sophia was not comfortable talking about the day her mom died. She also worried about what to say in the future when friends might ask about her mom. Monte agrees SoundCareKids has been a big benefit to Sophia. “She’s learned her grief is unique, but she is not isolated or alone.”
Sophia is becoming more open about speaking about her mom. She shares that about a week before Sarah died, she was in and out of sleep, while Sophia was sitting by her. Sophia says, “I said, ‘Mom, I feel weak, I feel pathetic.’ And she said, ‘No, you are strong.’ And that was one of the last things she said to me. She kept repeating it to me before she went back into sleep.”
When complimented about the strength of his children, Monte says without hesitation, “They’re a product of their mom.”