As Ivan Holmes’ breathing slowed, his beloved wife, Leilani, gave him her blessing to “go and stand with your ancestors.” Moments later, he did just that, and Leilani feels blessed to have been by his side until the very end.
In 2020, Ivan, a graphic designer and prolific musician, was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, a type of cancer often caused by the inhalation of asbestos. As a young man in England, Ivan had renovated his home, performing the construction himself, when the use of asbestos was not yet regulated in the U.K. However, his mesothelioma diagnosis came at the age of 78, decades later.
“We were really blessed to be married for more than 26 years before Ivan’s diagnosis,” Leilani says. “Our marriage was a blessing — together, we had tremendous luck. Our only concerns were related to our health.”
Leilani had twice been successfully treated for breast cancer and Ivan had overcome prostate cancer. It was not until his mesothelioma diagnosis that their life was devastatingly altered.
“He was told that as a result of his mesothelioma, he was terminal,” Leilani says. “But he faced his end with courage, compassion, humor and grace.”
Blessed together in life — and at the end of life
Leilani and Ivan performed together in their church band and occasionally performed for local retirement and rehabilitation facilities. They both sang, he played lead guitar and harmonica, and she played ukulele and rhythm guitar.
They shared a deep love of Hawaiian music and often accompanied dancers from a traditional “hālau hula” — or hula school — during performances as part of the school’s band. Ivan also designed Leilani’s book about Hawaiian history, “Ancestry of Experience: A Journey into Hawaiian Ways of Knowing,” which was published in 2012. They were working on her second book together at the time of his diagnosis.
“We were a team,” Leilani says. “Everything we did together, I am now doing alone. But it makes me feel like we’re together.”
And together is how the two were most happy, even as Ivan’s health deteriorated. At first, Leilani cared for him with the help of friends, family and their church family. But it was when Sharp HospiceCare was recommended that things fell back into the familiar rhythm of their relationship.
“Ivan always wanted to be the one to do things for others,” Leilani says. “He hated to inconvenience people and it really upset him that I needed to care for him. But when the hospice nurses began to come to our home to help, he told me, ‘Now we’re man and wife again.’”
Hospice gives the gift of a full life before death
The hospice nurses focused on providing Ivan with pain and symptom relief to enable him to live as fully and comfortably as possible. Leilani loved that Ivan still felt well enough to take long walks with her.
Like Ivan, one of the nurses was a musician, and the attention he received felt tailored to him. “The care was so individualized to Ivan — body, mind and soul,” Leilani says.
However, his illness progressed, and it became difficult for Ivan to remain at home. The hospice team recommended that Ivan move to Sharp HospiceCare’s ParkView hospice home in Del Cerro, where he could be cared for by the hospice team of doctors, registered nurses, social workers, spiritual counselors and volunteers.
“‘It’s like being in a nice hotel — I’m so happy to be here,’ Ivan said when we first arrived,” Leilani remembers. “It was a huge gift for us both to have him there.”
Leilani was able to stay by Ivan’s side throughout the 12 days he was in the hospice home. He was without pain and happily received friends who came for a visit. They were also able to plan his celebration of life together.
“They really guided Ivan, supported him and helped him from day one to his last minute,” Leilani says. “Ivan was a generous, kind and radiant spirit — Sharp HospiceCare fit him perfectly.”
A gift to honor Ivan and support others
Leilani was so touched by the care Ivan received that she wanted to donate to the Grossmont Hospital Foundation to help ensure that other families received the same extraordinary attention. Friends and family agreed.
“After Ivan left us, some of his friends and relatives said that they wanted to donate something in his honor,” Leilani says. “I knew that Ivan would say that Sharp HospiceCare is the one he’d want to support.”
Donations to the foundation were encouraged during a virtual celebration of both Ivan’s birthday and his life. Leilani also worked with the foundation on a planned gift, one of the many ways to support hospice and high-quality care across Sharp.
According to Kate Wayne, director of the Grossmont Hospital Foundation, such generosity truly makes a difference to the patients and their families that come to Sharp HospiceCare in a time of need. Sharp HospiceCare accepts patients based on their health needs, Wayne says, not on their ability to pay, and caters not only to physical needs, but also patients’ emotional needs, offering reflexology, music therapy and spiritual guidance, as well as bereavement care for loved ones.
“The generosity that Leilani has shown is not only a testament to her kindness, but also to Ivan, a spectacular individual that shared his kindness and love with everyone,” Wayne says. “Her support allows us to bring that kind of care and compassion to others who are also facing terminal illness and going through a difficult experience.”
And as Leilani looks back on their own challenging time, she finds comfort knowing that Ivan was in such good hands. “When Ivan went to stand with his ancestors, he was pain-free, peaceful and in the arms of the Parkview hospice home. It was such a blessing.”