If it takes a village to raise a child, here on the Vineyard it’s the community that helps Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard do its work with those at the end of life and their caregivers. Dealing with dying is never easy, but Hospice does crucial work in making a difference in people’s lives, and without charging anything for its services. They are one of a handful that do so in the country, out of some 6,000 hospices. They rely on their endowment and — as the famous playwright Tennessee Williams wrote in “A Streetcar Named Desire” — “the kindness of strangers.” Except in this case, the people who handmake some 40 shopping bags full of crafted gifts for the sale, business owners who donate food, individual financial supporters, and countless volunteers are not really strangers at all, but the Island population coming together to help this vital facility.
Speaking glowingly about Handmade from the Heart, Tom Hallahan, executive director of Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard, explains, “We’ve done the sale for many years. It’s part of the Christmas in Edgartown festivities. We do it at the Dr. Daniel Fisher House. And it’s so beautifully decorated, with all the poinsettias and holiday ornaments.”
Hallahan continues, “Also, Joanne and Kevin Ryan do their Christmas concert for us. They’ve been doing it for 22 years. And we don’t have to do anything. We just show up and get a check at the end! This year it will be at the Whaling Church. In the past, at the end they have given all the women a rose on the way out.”
Handmade, unlike some of their other events, doesn’t raise a great deal of funds. But Hallahan says, “It’s really not about the money. It’s really about community, because in July, when I’m not even thinking about Handmade, somebody on the Island is knitting for us. That’s what’s neat, that you are focusing on taking care of somebody at end of life and at the same time there is somebody doing a task that’s going to raise funds, but more important, build community, because in that knitting there are men and women knitting together, and they know they’re knitting for Hospice.”
Hallahan is particularly pleased about their high school volunteers. “Because we’re somewhat older, it’s so much better having students setting up tables and stuff like that. But what’s neat is it’s intergenerational around death and dying. Ultimately, we’re raising funds for people at the end of life, and also for people to continue life after they’ve lost a loved one,” Hallahan said. “Having young people as part of that intergenerational teamwork is very powerful visually, but also it starts the discussion around death and dying that we don’t do really well as a society.”
When I mentioned Hallahan’s spectacular view from his office windows, he said, regretfully, “This space doesn’t work for us anymore. It’s just too small. We’re talking with a number of partners about a possible home, and looking for financial support. Our number of patients has essentially doubled over the years because of the baby boomers. That means there is a 20-year cohort coming down the line, and that’s going to be huge. Our staff and space will need to increase significantly. It could be in a field or in town, but it’s got to be a sacred space. A quiet, welcoming space to be able to sit, process grief and loss.”
Handmade From the Heart takes place at the Dr. Daniel Fisher House in Edgartown on Saturday, Dec. 8, from 9 am to 3 pm. The annual Christmas Reflections of Peace Concert takes place on Wednesday, Dec. 12, at 7:30 pm at the Whaling Church. Tickets are $20 and are available at the door.