The Power of Friendship
Just one week after Gary Richardi’s retirement from a successful career owning a spice company, he and his wife Judy embarked on a celebratory month-long trip to Italy. Unfortunately, the celebrations were short-lived.
“It was around then that we knew something wasn’t quite right,” Judy explains. “After we came home from our trip, it took another six or seven months before we learned it was PSP.”
Gary was diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), a rare degenerative neurologic disease that affects balance, vision, speech and other body functions. There is no clear cause for the onset of PSP and no cure. “He was such a brave man,” Judy says of her husband. “We contacted UCSF to participate in clinical trials, knowing it wouldn’t benefit Gary, but hopefully the next person who is diagnosed.”
Judy and Gary traveled to San Francisco for the trials from their home in Forest Meadows for a few years until Gary could no longer travel. Eventually, his condition declined to the point that hospice care was the best option for him, and that’s when the Richardis were introduced to Hospice Chaplain Skip Ferris, MDiv, PhD.
“Have you ever met someone, and you just have this super connected feeling?” Judy says. “That’s how it was with Gary and Skip. The two of them just clicked, and it didn’t take much time for them to become fast friends.”
“There was just this immediate connection that Gary and I had,” Skip – who is a chaplain with Adventist Health Sonora’s Hospice Program – remembers.
A chaplain with the program for over two years, Skip provides emotional and spiritual care for patients and their families in hospice, offering comfort and companionship through some of life’s most difficult moments.
“Judy told him, ‘Skip is here,’ and he opened his eyes and looked at me. It was this look of friendship that we had developed, and I was so glad the family got to be there for that moment.”
Skip and Gary spent many hours together, talking about religion, football and everything in between. When Gary’ reached the final moments of his life, Skip visited him one last time at home.
“He was in a hospital bed at home, not communicating,” Skip recalls. “Judy told him, ‘Skip is here,’ and he opened his eyes and looked at me. It was this look of friendship that we had developed, and I was so glad the family got to be there for that moment.”
For families like the Richardis and the hundreds of others receiving hospice care at Adventist Health Sonora, hospice is about more than helping someone to die, Skip explains.
"We get to come in and take some of that overwhelming feeling and carry it with them.”
“It is support and comfort during the most difficult time,” he says. “Our job is both to help someone die with dignity and give the family what they need to get them through it. We'll provide a team around the patient and family to help answer questions, deal with legal issues, help with arranging services. We get to come in and take some of that overwhelming feeling and carry it with them.”
Though it’s been over a year since Gary passed, the power of the friendship he and Skip developed carries on, and Skip and the Richardi family stay in touch.
“I can't thank this organization enough for what they did for me and Gary and our whole family,” says Judy. “Gary and Skip built the most amazing relationship, and Skip is a blessing to any family."