Lights in the Darkness
Story 105

By Melinda Guzman and Kirsten Cutler

Sometimes, we honor the victory of surviving. Other times, we honor the journey of letting go. The Sota family’s journey to letting go of their mother was full of heroes who illuminated their days with love and kindness.  

Robin Sota was admitted to the hospital with complications from COVID-19 on January 12, 2022. Over the next nine weeks, staff and caregivers went beyond medical interventions to keep her tethered to the support of her family – especially her husband, Tony, and three daughters, Jennifer, Elena and Sheri.

“The foundation of our family has always been our faith, which is something my mother instilled in all of us,” Jennifer says. “We do everything together. We never do anything alone, and this was no exception.”

Three sisters reading Bible on hospital lawn

The thoughtful actions of staff are like mileposts for the Sota family as they reflect on the weeks their mother was hospitalized. Together, they spent hours outside singing, praying and reading the Bible, where they found peace and courage to support their beloved mother and wife however they could. Staff continuously made considerate alterations to Robin’s environment so her family could see her from outside.

“Manny the nurse marked my mom’s window with a sign saying, ‘Robin’s here,’ so we were able to identify her room from where we were [on] the street corner,” Jennifer remembers. “The nurses would assist her in putting us on speaker so she could hear us praying and singing to her.”

Throughout Robin’s hospitalization, she would break the darkness of uncertainty for her family by flashing the lights in her room using her bedside remote – a beacon of connection when they gathered outside.

“When my mom was intubated, a nurse named Zach Shepherd got help from the respiratory team and rearranged her whole room so we could see her face,” Elena shares. “When things got tough towards the end, he would tell my mom, ‘You’re such a fighter.’ Even when he wasn’t assigned to her, he would come in to check on her.”

Family selfie in front of hospital

The loving gestures of Robin’s caregivers, like ICU nurse Jo-Anne Shaw-Davila, eased the pain of separation.

“Jo-Anne will always have such a special place in our hearts,” Elena recalls. “She would come into my mom’s room and say, ‘OK, Robin, it’s spa day.’ She would comb her hair and rub lotion on her. She made my mom feel like a human.”

“Josie, our palliative care navigator, would sing to my mom,” Elena adds. “She held me as I cried and always honored what we wanted and what we were feeling.”

Candles on the lawn in front of hospital

Robin died on March 15. She had written a note to her caregivers and staff before she lost the ability to communicate stating, “Please, don’t give up on me.”

“They never did!” says Jennifer. “Every day, they fought for her.”

Not only did the staff at Adventist Health Simi Valley fight for Robin’s recovery. They kept her connected to her family – and became like family.

“The memories we have with her are what carries us today on our hard days,” Sheri says, “and the fact that we were blessed enough to be with her in her last days.”