About Jillian

Jillian Brasch, author of The Last Gifts with Lafayette Peruvian Paso

Jillian Brasch, author of The Last Gifts with Peruvian Paso Lafayette

I have been an occupational therapist since 1978. Besides a background in psychiatry and rehabilitation, I worked in a hospice for nine years. I co-led art classes for AIDS patients for three years and led bereavement support groups for six years. I have served on two non-profit boards providing education on dying and bereavement. I have led workshops and spoken at state and national conferences.

I probably became interested in hospice work because of my own dying parents.

When I was sixteen, my father had a stroke and I was his primary caregiver the summer between my junior and senior years in high school. I cooked his meals and made sure he was safe but other than that, I really didn’t know what else to do. When I went back to school that fall he had to go into a nursing home. I hated going to see him in the nursing home. He had dementia and didn’t know my name. He died about a year later.

When I was in college, my mother had a stroke. I was in occupational therapy school at the time and couldn’t be her primary caregiver. When I came home on an occasional weekend, I had activities I could do with my mother. I knew how to get her in and out of the bathtub safely. The elderly woman that stayed with her during the day only gave her sponge baths when I wasn’t there. I knew that bathing was the sweetest, most relaxing, most comforting activity that she had left and I tried to make it perfect for her. It wasn’t work. It was a very simple way to show my mother that I loved her. Then I’d comb her hair, polish her nails, or massage her shoulders with lotion. After her stroke, she was bored and spent all her time watching TV. I taught her how to do longpoint, which is like needlepoint but easier. So now she had a hobby. We had casual but serious talks during our activities. Our heart-to-heart talks became a by-product of the activities and we got to know each other better. She died two years later.

I always wonder how much better my relationship could have been with my father if I’d just trusted myself to try something new.

When my parents died there were no resources or bereavement support groups. Mental health professionals weren’t trained about loss and grief and so there was no one to talk with about the grieving process. My friends hadn’t lost their parents so they didn’t understand. It wasn’t until I went to a week-long workshop with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross that I understood that there were others like me. With ninety other people revealing their personal losses that week, I finally had a safe place to let myself experience my feelings. Nowadays, I like to provide that safe place for others.

Now I use my book to encourage others to spend time with the dying. I lead workshops based on my book, teaching others how to use their own creativity to engage in activities with the dying. For me, spending time with the dying is a sacred gift. The lessons they have taught me help me live a fuller, richer, more engaged life, taking nothing for granted.

I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico on the edge of a national forest with my husband, Eddie, our horses, and dogs, Fettucini and Alfredo. I divide my time between writing, speaking, visiting with old friends, making new friends, hiking, riding, playing with the dogs, and my favorite—hanging out with Eddie.

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