SAN ANTONIO - Just hours after he lost his father to a lingering illness, Peter Falleta returned to the Abode home one last time to reflect on the experience of helping his dad pass on.
“It's been amazing. Quickly, I realized we were being counseled. We were being prepared for what was coming. To be honest with you, when the event came, we were sad but we were also happy. We're happy his pain and suffering is over," Falleta said.
Abode: Contemplative Care for the Dying is a private home that relies on donations and volunteers to help the most vulnerable among us, people who are dying who might otherwise die alone.
"People come here when they don't have a place to live or they don't have someone to care for them," Abode Executive Director Dr. Martha Jo Atkins said.
Atkins said there are many different reasons people need help at the end of life.
“Someone not caring for them could mean that they're homeless. They don't have family. It could be somebody who is elderly, and all their family is gone. It could be somebody who is elderly, and their elderly spouse does not have the physical capacity to move and care for them. It could be someone who makes too much money and can't get the kind of insurance or care they need because they make a little too much, but they don't have enough for somebody to come in their house all the time,” Atkins said.
Atkins said people of all faith traditions find comfort at this oasis of peace in north San Antonio.
“We have people from all kinds of faith backgrounds, all kinds of spiritual traditions that come here and work with our guests, sit with our guests and extend their presence to help the people who are dying leave the world as peacefully and gracefully as they can,” Atkins said.
Designed for the dying, Falleta said the home is even more valuable to the living. Falleta said his father’s long illness took a toll on his family, and it was a great relief to find a community rich in resources.
“For nine years, it's been a rollercoaster of difficulty. Within a day of being here, I felt like everything was taken care of and I didn't have to worry. I didn't have to worry if someone would be here and if he got sick. I didn't have to worry about mom because mom stayed here with him 24/7. She did not leave his side, and we couldn't have had that anywhere else but here,” Falleta said.
"Time after time after time, there's a peacefulness that happens and a comfortableness that settles in the room when people are able to shift into the space of letting go, and man what a privilege to be a part of that," Atkins said.
"I couldn't compensate anyone for what they have given us. It's immeasurable," Falleta said.
Abode has a small paid staff, but much of the most important work is done by volunteers.
“Volunteers do everything around here from cooking meals to cleaning the floors to sitting at the beside and humming to reading. We have a volunteer that's working on a scrapbook to document all the guests that have been here. We have volunteers who work out in the yard. Everything, people who sit vigil, people who work in the office," Atkins said.
Atkins said people who help the dying cross over consider the experience exceptionally valuable.
“One of the most beautiful things here is the community. When a volunteer decides to become engaged here, they don't just get engaged with the people in the room, the family, they get engaged with all the other volunteers. It's a lot of like-minded people who want to help and have experienced some kind of loss themselves,” Atkins said.
“There's a holding that happens here with each other and for each other that's really beautiful. So they get to see the beauty and the pain and the joy and not only get to see it but get to feel it," Atkins continued.
They get a deepening of experience for themselves.
Abode survives on donations and volunteers. A shortfall this month almost caused them to close the doors.
"I just can't imagine that my dad would be one of the last people to receive a benefit like this. I really hope and pray that they get the support that they need," Falleta said.
They have secured bridge funding for the next six months, but more help is needed because the need is great.
"There is always a waiting list. Emails and calls for help come every day," Atkins said.
Atkins said Abode is one of only four homes of its type in Texas.
“We can provide a level of excellence that gets transmitted and helps the family and helps other people who come here to understand about how dying can be, how meaningful it can be and how those of us in the midst of it can help them,” Atkins said.
"I want more people to have the benefit that we did," Falleta said.