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Finding out ‘why we care’: friend’s journey inspires hospice giving

Nancy Olivi PaintingA student once painted a picture of my dear friend, Nancy Olivi, who dedicated nearly 40 years of her life to teaching in Chicago Public Schools. In the portrait, Nancy’s hair is adorned with four ribbons blowing in the wind.

Each bears an inscription that describes her perfectly:
She was a teacher
She talks to angels
She raised 10,000 children
She sees the future


Nancy Olivi and Dayle DuchossoisNancy was a treasure from my past. She was my best friend since we met in sixth grade at summer camp. We stayed close through college. But soon, Nancy delved into her teaching – truly raising 10,000 students – while my life took a different path. We drifted apart.But 16 years ago, our paths crossed during a camp reunion and we were instantly best friends again. Not long after our friendship rekindled, she was struck with a serious case of vertigo. Nancy’s doctors ultimately diagnosed her with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare, degenerative and fatal brain disorder. The diagnosis was blunt: no cure, no treatments.

With this news, Nancy’s lifelong partner, Nelson, his son Jose, and I vowed to care for her together. Their family friend, Lumy, moved from Florida to Chicago to learn how to attend to her daily medical needs. With guidance from a visiting nurse, Lumy proved to be a natural at patient care. I suspect Nancy was still somehow acting as a teacher, just like the painting portrayed.Nancy

Despite our devoted care, Nancy needed more. She could no longer leave her bed or respond to us. I told everyone it was time for hospice, but Nelson and Jose were apprehensive. I convinced them to meet with JourneyCare, since it is a respected agency in the Chicago region and my sister, Kim Duchossois, sits on the Board of Directors.

Our experience was wonderful from the beginning. Nelson and Jose met with the intake nurse, who helped them feel comfortable. I also learned that someone I knew socially, Michael Murray, served as a JourneyCare Regional Director. I already trusted Michael, and I was grateful when he visited with Nelson and Jose and reassured them of their decision to choose hospice. JourneyCare also took care of everything, from providing all of Nancy’s medical equipment to details like insurance, prescriptions, clinical home care and knowing when to call the doctor. They were incredible liaisons!

Nancy Olivi and friendsDuring each day with JourneyCare, we knew Nancy could feel the positive energy of the women caring for her and they could feel hers, even though she could not communicate. As it read in the painting, Nancy truly talked to angels. The JourneyCare team also inspired Lumy to pursue a career in hospice and palliative care nursing.

After Nancy’s death, JourneyCare helped us orchestrate appropriate time to grieve, handle friends and family, and plan with the funeral home. The nurse had become part of our family. We felt even more assured of this when – among the throngs of Nancy’s former students and friends at her memorial service – we saw members of Nancy’s care team there, too.

Today I still see Nancy’s impact everywhere. She inspired me to donate to JourneyCare, so the organization can continue supporting other families in need. I’m certain that her story will help others understand the importance of hospice. Lumy is now in nursing school. I believe, like the painting revealed, Nancy envisioned this bright future all along.

– By Dayle Duchossois-Fortino