Helen Lester, new Hospice del Valle director, appreciates the sentiments of the plaque: "Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass … It is about learning to dance in the rain."
Courier photo by Ruth Heide
ALAMOSA — Although the face of leadership has changed at Hospice del Valle, the nonprofit organization remains as committed as ever to serving the needs of terminally ill residents and their families throughout the San Luis Valley.
Long-time Hospice Director Lois Booth retired in late 2012, the year Hospice del Valle turned 30, and new Director Helen Lester, RN, is taking up the leadership position as hospice begins its next 30 years of service.
“Lois had been talking to me about coming to work with her, and I started in October,” Lester said. “I am absolutely glad I did. I wish I had come a lot sooner to have had her for a little bit longer to work with me.”
Shortly after Lester joined hospice, Booth broke her hip, so the retirement she had planned to enter later on occurred sooner. When she retired, so did long-time Hospice Board President Lorraine Ross.
Hospice will host a special reception in the spring for the two women to recognize all their efforts for hospice through the years.
“They were just fabulous,” Lester said.
Lester had equally high praises for the hospice staff.
“I am so blessed to be here. The staff here are just awesome. I can’t say enough good things about how wonderful they are. This journey that everybody has to take it takes some really special folks to help guide them and nurture them on that journey, so I feel so blessed to have the staff here that I do.”
Hospice has 28 staff members including full, part-time and contract staff. They serve 25-30 hospice patients as well as 20-25 palliative care patients at any given time throughout the entire San Luis Valley from Antonito to Villa Grove and San Luis to Creede. The staff provides a comprehensive service to hospice patients including physical, emotional, spiritual and social.
“It’s not just a disease situation. It’s the whole being,” Lester said. “That’s what’s so wonderful about hospice. It takes in all of those elements, physical, emotional, spiritual and social.”
She added that dying is a journey everyone takes, and it does not need to be feared. She has lost her parents and others loved ones and realizes death is a part of the circle of life.
She recalled the song from “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Sunrise, Sunset,” and likened the end of life’s journey to the sun setting.
“The sun is going to set for all of us … It is just as beautiful as the sunrise.”
Hospice can help people find peace at that time, whether it is a peace with family or their own emotions, and Lester hopes she can help “give them the opportunity to be at peace and be comfortable.”
For Lester, working with hospice is returning to a comfortable home where she lived before. She had worked for hospice many years ago when Judy Lamb was the director.
Since that time she has worked in about every aspect of healthcare.
“I feel so blessed to be a nurse because there’s so many things you can do that help people,” she said.
She worked at the veterans center for about five years, began and operated At Home Health Care for eight years, began the oncology center at the hospital and worked there for a couple of years and served in the chief nursing position for about four years.
“I have done just about everything you can do in nursing,” she said.
She had taken time off last summer when her daughter had a baby and was just enjoying being a grandmother. “That’s the best blessing you can have,” she said.
Helen and husband Whaylan have three children, a daughter in Greeley, a son in the San Luis Valley and a son currently working as an airplane mechanic contractor in Afghanistan. The Lesters have 10 grandchildren.
They moved to the Valley in 1968. They celebrate 45 years in the Valley and 45 years of marriage this month. Whaylan is a rancher between Alamosa and Monte Vista.
“That’s a good way of life,” Helen Lester said, “a great way to raise your kids.”
In addition to her work as a nurse, Lester is an advocate for nursing through her participation in the local and district nursing associations as well as the nursing program advisory boards for Adams State University and Trinidad State Junior College.
She also serves on the La Puente board.
“I love that work too,” she said. “That’s kind of my mission.”
She concluded, “I feel pretty blessed. Life’s been good to me.”