Angels of Hospice

Lori Miller, executive director of Kaua'i Hospice, and her staff ensure that terminally ill patients as well as surviving loved ones receive medical, emotional and spiritual support

When death is imminent, Kaua’i Hospice is there to support the dying and their surviving loved ones

Kaua’i Hospice executive director Lori Miller sees Christmas as a sacred time of remembrance.

That’s why her organization holds a candlelight vigil each December to cherish the memories of loved ones who have passed on.

“This time of year is highly emotional for people anyway,” she says.

When people lose someone they love, their emotions are heightened during the holidays as family traditions abound.

Honoring lost loved ones also can be done through Kaua’i Hospice’s Trees of Remembrance located at Kukui Grove Center, the Shops at Kukuiula and Princeville Center. By making a suggested donation of $7, people can place an ornament with a written message to the ones they have lost on the tree.

Lori Miller and her staff at Kaua'i Hospice help comfort those who have recently lost loved ones and provide care for those who are terminally ill

Pets also can be memorialized with ornaments.

“To many people, pets are their family,” says Miller, adding that a portion of the pet ornament donations support Kaua’i Humane Society.

Kaua’i Hospice not only offers support during the holidays. The nonprofit provides high-quality end-of-life care year-round for people who have a lifelimiting illness and have been given a prognosis of six months or less to live.

The staff of 25, including eight registered nurses, partner with patients, families and physicians to develop a plan and give care and comfort to all who need it.

Hospice services are provided for 20 to 25 individuals in their homes at any given time. And those who come into hospice care earlier rather than later end up living four to six weeks longer, on average.

“Because we’re making everybody more comfortable and we’re providing that layer of support,” says Miller, who has served as the organization’s executive director since 2007.

Kaua’i Hospice also helps after the death of a loved one.

“I really think hospice is just as much about helping family members and survivors after the death,” says Miller, a Wailua resident.

The Kaua‘i Hospice staff at Kaua‘i Hindu Monastery

Bereavement care is offered to anyone who has suffered a loss for as long as one year after his or her family member has died.

Support groups such as Journey Through Grief and Journey Beyond Grief are among the healing options.

Moving past grief is something to which Miller can personally relate. While she was studying accounting and English at Lee University in her hometown of Cleveland, Tenn., her 54-year-old father, Dr. Norman Jordan, suffered a massive heart attack. Nicknamed Long Shot Shorty for his sportsmanship, the special education professor died throwing a jump ball for a girls’ basketball game.

“It was a very, very dark, difficult time for me,” says Miller. “My foundation in life was shattered. My goals that I thought I had set for myself, I began to realize that they were only there to make my daddy proud of me. So I struggled.”

Miller left her mother, Betty, an English professor, behind, dropped out of college with only one semester left and moved to Honolulu, where her oldest brother Darrell was living. Having spent a summer with him and his partner Kent Rodgers in Waikiki, Miller had already fallen in love with the Islands. She landed a job with a downtown bank, working in the mortgage loan-processing department.

Kaua‘i Hospice volunteers Flo Abrams (right) and June Kodan pose by one of the Trees of Remembrance at Kukui Grove Center. Photos by Coco Zickos/cemter photo courtesy Lori Miller

“That job was such a gift because I got exposed to the beautiful cultural diversity of Hawaii,” she says.

Unfortunately, her time on Oahu was cut short when her brother, a hairstylist at Kahala Hilton, was diagnosed with AIDS.

“Back then, not a lot was really known,” she says. “What we did know was that everybody who got AIDS was going to die and that it was believed to be highly contagious.”

She and Darrell moved back to Tennessee, and nearly two years later his health rapidly declined.

“Living in the South with a brother who had AIDS in 1987 was hard enough. But a brother who had AIDS and a sister who wasn’t ashamed of it was even more difficult,” says Miller, who recounts stories of community members not wanting to come near her brother for fear of catching the disease.

She finished her degree in English while at the same time caring for her brother and working full time at a printing company.

That was when she realized the toll caring for a terminally ill loved one could take on friends and family members.

Lori Miller at Kapa‘a First Hawaiian Church

“But people are doing that every single day here on Kaua’i,” she says.

After Darrell died in 1989, Miller also cared for his partner Kent, who died of AIDS 11 months later.

Miller put all her energy and passion into HIV and AIDS care for the next nine years. She helped found Chattanooga CARES, an organization dedicated to AIDS service, and worked as a part-time coordinator of approximately 100 volunteers and 50 clients.

Miller also worked for the Tennessee Department of Health, helping communities build efforts around AIDS care and prevention.

But restlessness settled in as Miller longed to be back in Hawaii again, and to work in the nonprofit industry.

“It never went away,” she says.

In 1999, Miller applied and accepted the position as executive director of the AIDS Community Care Team on Oahu. She moved to the island with her husband Ivo Monroe Miller, and started her job Dec. 1, World AIDS Day.

Rev. Caroline Miura, Kaua'i Hospice Spiritual Care coordinator, and Kamika Smith, Kaua'i Hospice Board of Directors president, with Lori Miller

“He’s very supportive,” she says of her husband of 17 years, who plays piano and sings professionally (ivomonroemiller.com).

By 2002, Miller and her family, which now includes son Jordan, a fourth-grader at Wilcox Elementary School, moved to Kaua’i, where she served as chief operations officer of Ho’ola Lahui Hawaii, the office of minority health. This was where she learned to understand the Hawaiian community.

Five years later, Deborah Duda helped her land her current position at Kaua’i Hospice.

“Lori is an extraordinary hospice director,” says Duda, one of the original founders of the organization, which was started 29 years ago. “She combines great heart and vision with knowing how to get things done.”

Miller says of this year’s candlelight vigil: “There was a sweet spirit there this year of love and support.”

She adds that her role at KHS is to “lead the team … to keep us all moving in the direction of meeting our mission.”

With husband Ivo Monroe Miller and son Jordan

KHS is involved in fundraising events such as the Concert in the Sky on July 4, a firework show set to music. It has been going on here 20-plus years and is the island’s largest single-day family event.

Miller jokes that her son, “Gets a built-in birthday party every year,” because his birthday is July 4.

Though she admittedly works hard and doesn’t have much down time, Miller likes to stay connected with people via Facebook and has attended Kapa’a First Hawaiian Church since 2002, where she serves on the Board of Christian Education.

“What I really like to do is spend time with friends and philosophize,” she says. “I’m about creating heaven on Earth and how are we doing that consciously every day.”

Visit kauaihospice.org for more information.

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