From Tears to Smiles to Peace: Local Woman Reflects upon the Difference Rainbow Staff Made for Her Dad
When Bill Bilgen arrived at the Rainbow Hospice Care Inpatient Center in January 2018, his daughter Jan felt content and an overwhelming sense of relief. It was just 24 hours earlier she found herself scrambling to find a new place for her Dad to go.
Bill was staying in the hospital after suffering from aspiration pneumonia when Jan received some unsettling news. Her Dad needed more care than his current skilled nursing facility could provide with managing his symptoms related to his cancer, COPD, and difficulty swallowing.
“We were devastated, all alone in the hospital and not being able to take him “home” where he had been living for three years and only 30 seconds from my back door,” said Jan Bilgen. “It felt like a tsunami.”
Now faced with the idea that her Dad had little time left, months or even days, a hospital social worker urged Jan and her family to consider hospice and gave her a list of potential places.
“All I had was a piece of paper with three facility names on it and a broken heart,” Bilgen said.
Jan decided to start with a facility that she didn’t know anything about. A place on her list called “Rainbow IPC.” She reached out to set up a visit for that same day.
The moment Jan pulled up to the Rainbow Hospice Care Inpatient Center (IPC) in Johnson Creek, she felt optimistic by the looks of what she saw from the outside.
“Immediately, I noted how well the grounds and building was cared for,” Bilgen said. “My Dad taught me that it says a lot about a place and the people who work there. I couldn’t believe it when they told me how old the building was. It was seven years old then. I would have guessed three years max.”
As Jan made her way through the front doors, she was drawn in by the comforting atmosphere and the friendly staff.
“I walked in and felt the warmth and feel of not being in a hospital,” Bilgen said. “‘How had I never known this was here?’”
Jan was overcome with emotion when she met Mindy Triebold, Rainbow’s Director of Social Services.
“Mindy was standing by the electronic piano and turned around. I burst into tears,” Bilgen said. “I’m sure it was a bit offsetting, but with those tears came an overwhelming sense of peace.”
After talking with Mindy and Inpatient Center Manager and RN Angie Zastrow and taking a tour, Jan arranged to bring her Dad “home” to the IPC the next day.
“Mindy stood by me while I called my 93-year-old Mom (Gloria) and let her know all was well,” Bilgen said. “I told her ‘I think I found the right place.’”
Gloria devoted much of her life to taking care of others. Not just raising her children but also as a former Registered Nurse. When she visited the IPC, she knew the Bilgen family made the right decision.
“My Mom has very high care standards, but all it took was one look at my Dad’s room, the friendly, capable staff when we arrived with him, and about a 30-second conversation with Angie (Zastrow),” Bilgen said. “My Mom still says “‘what would we have done without Rainbow? These people nurse like they used to, with heart and comfort in mind for everyone. Rainbow couldn’t have been better than if we had dreamt it.’“
Even though Jan and her family were a half-hour away and Bill was in new and unfamiliar surroundings, they now felt confident that he was in great hands.
Bill’s wife Gloria visits him at the Rainbow Hospice Care Inpatient Center.
“We knew how wonderfully my Dad was being watched over and cared for and could call anytime,” Bilgen said. “Every time I left, I knew that if he passed before I returned, he felt like he was at home and loved.”
With his friendly and dynamic personality, it didn’t take too long for Bill to warm up to the Rainbow staff. Besides Mindy and Angie, Bill also got to know all the members of his care team. From his nurses to Certified Nursing Assistants, Bill especially enjoyed talking with them and anyone else who worked at the IPC and stopped in for a visit.
“Dad really loved the staff and had trouble with names but knew each of them by their face,” Bilgen said. “They always took time to talk with him.”
“I was able to view things from the outside looking in,” Zastrow said. “There was this comfort between Bill, his family, and the staff. It was beautiful to watch the interactions between them all. The chef (Jim Schmidt) bringing him his meals, but taking some extra time to just chat about life. Our facility manager (Dave Radke) making his rounds every morning and spending time with him. Everyone wanted to spend time with Bill. Bill had a way of cheering people up, just by being present.”
Jan sometimes made daily trips to the IPC, sometimes before and after work, and brought her mother to visit weekly. Jan got to witness the compassionate care and attention her Dad received firsthand. Bill loved music and one of the nurses who cared for him did too. When they got him ready for bed, they would sing together.
“One time I was lucky enough to be there,” Bilgen said. “There was no sadness or pain as we sang and tucked him in. I laughed leaving the IPC hearing his voice, and drove the entire way home with a smile on my face.”
Bill and Rainbow Chaplain Steve Steele also shared a special bond.
“Dad said they were kindred souls as both were “recovering Catholics,” Bilgen said. “There were some things in my Dad’s past that he didn’t talk much about and hadn’t worked through. But the time he spent with Steve, I think he was able to put his mind, heart, and soul at rest.”
Perhaps most importantly, Rainbow helped Jan and the Bilgen family create more meaningful memories with Bill during his time at the IPC. The whole family, including Jan’s two sisters, Vicki and Karil, were able to gather together with Bill for a final time to celebrate his birthday with a party in the IPC dining room.
Bill and his wife Gloria share a romantic dinner on Valentine’s Day.
Former IPC chef Jim Schmidt and the staff also organized a date night for Bill and his wife in the IPC family room. They cooked a special romantic Valentine’s Day meal for the high school sweethearts. The ambiance was then complete with beautiful china, soft lighting, and background music. Jan’s husband Jay also helped arranged for Bill to surprise his bride of 67 years with a dazzling arrangement of flowers.
“It was so dear to see them smile and talk quietly with one another,” Bilgen said. “I think their faces say it all.”
Mindy also arranged to have Bill honored with a special veteran pinning ceremony in his room. Bill never served in combat, but he coordinated efforts for troops returning home from World War II, and he was humbled to be recognized by Rainbow with his grandson, William, by his side.
“My Dad never felt like a full-fledged veteran, but the presentation Mindy did really meant something to him,” Bilgen said. “He wore the pin and kept the card and told me to make sure my nephew William got it. That pin was the first thing William packed when we moved him last year.”
Bill receives a veteran pin from Rainbow’s Director of Social Services Mindy Triebold.
One memory that Jan will treasure forever is when Angie called the family and told them that Bill had taken a turn for the worse and didn’t have much time left, and they should come to say their goodbyes.
“When Bill had his sudden event, I sat with him until Jan could get there,” Triebold said. “I felt a real bond with him as he was the same age as my Dad, and I just didn’t want to leave him alone. He had an oxygen mask on, so he couldn’t talk, but I held his hand. I think that gave Jan some comfort too.”
“Everyone was able to see my Dad the day before he passed,” Bilgen said. “It was a gift to us all that I know most people don’t get. I stayed and talked to my Dad into the wee hours, played his favorite music, and told him we would all be okay but would miss him terribly. As sad as those hours were, I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”
Bill passed away at the IPC on April 21, 2018, a week after his 91st birthday.
A lovely patriotic-themed quilt that adorned her Dad’s bed at the IPC, made by Rainbow Hospice Care volunteers, was given to her family to take with them. It now hangs in a bedroom in the home that Bill designed and built in Door County. The quilt, along with the hand photos that Rainbow took of Jan and Gloria, each holding Bill’s hand in his final hours at his bedside are some of her most prized possessions that remind Jan of her Dad.
“Because of that picture, I can still remember what it felt like to hold his hand – the best feeling ever!” Bilgen said. “Mindy gave both of us a wood-mounted copy of the photo. Mine is on my bedroom dresser, and my Mom’s is in her room by the coffee pot so she says good morning to it almost every morning and thinks of him.”
The entire Rainbow Hospice Care team at the IPC became like family to the Bilgens, especially to Jan, who thought she was just finding a place for her Dad to live out his final days. But what she ended up getting was so much more.
“Whatever my Dad or anyone needed – company, laughter, solace, a hug, cookies, or music—all was possible there,” Bilgen said. “As someone who had to transition from advocating for my Dad constantly, Rainbow helped me transition back to being a daughter from an advocate/caregiver. I still could tuck a warm blanket around him or help with his inhaler, but I didn’t have to worry about the daily care that he needed.”
Jan hasn’t forgotten her “family” at Rainbow. She attended a Rainbow holiday grief program to prepare herself for her first Christmas without her Dad. Jan also has stopped in to visit the IPC staff occasionally and to drop off donations. She also wants to become a Rainbow volunteer in the future. Jan even sends the staff cards and what she calls special “Valentine pig” gifts each year.
“As a child, I thought there was too much time between Christmas and Easter, so my folks and I created the valentine pig that brings you something on Valentine’s,” Bilgen said. “The IPC staff is part of my family now, so the “pig” has visited each year since my Dad was there.”
Now almost four years since her Dad’s stay at Rainbow, Jan and her family still remember the great experience her Dad had with Rainbow Hospice Care and are happy the inpatient center became a second home for Bill.
“The IPC staff makes special memories with families. I thought they would be all sad because my Dad was dying, but I have significantly more good memories. They helped us be us and be in the moment. They made it okay to laugh and cry. They helped not just my Dad’s physical needs but our emotional and spiritual needs as well. They did that with great grace, authentic care, and without any judgment or pressure. They helped us find our way to a life without my Dad alive in it.”