The VNA Hospice House is not only for the patient, it’s also for their loved ones

Images of Lara McDonald and her family with a backdrop of Hospice House

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Even from a young age, it was clear that Lara McDonald had a fabulous flare for fashion, an attribute her mother, Jill McDonald, noticed while watching Lara play with her Barbie doll. “There was a distinct, edgy change in Barbie’s clothes. I am not sure Barbie would have approved and very rarely did it involve pink,” quipped Jill. 

Indeed, Lara ended up in fashion, rising swiftly through the ranks of Anthropologie to become a Senior Stylist for the iconic American retail company known for its beautiful, unique style in everything from women’s fashion to home décor. When Lara tragically passed away due to colon cancer at 34-years-young, Anthropologie’s CEO, Tricia Smith, sent an email to her staff highlighting Lara’s significant impact on the company. And to honor her memory, Lara’s colleagues compiled a book of photos sharing their interpretations of Lara’s favorite fashion looks that she had posted on social media as part of her job; it’s available to peruse in the Philadelphia stores where Lara was based.

But what really set Lara apart was her incredibly generous spirit. To the very end, she was concerned about others’ welfare, evident when a nurse in the emergency room informed her that she didn’t have long to live and asked if she’d prefer hospice at home or at the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) Hospice House in Vero Beach. Lara’s initial response? “She told the nurse that she was sorry for having to put her through this,” said Lara’s sister, Alix Otwell. 

Jill wasn’t surprised: “Lara was a compassionate soul. She always was good about seeing the positive in people, and she always wanted to make sure that they realized how much she appreciated them.” 

Lara, with her family’s support, chose the VNA Hospice House where nurses could provide excellent care for her 24/7 in an elegant yet cozy home-like setting that includes 12 private beautifully appointed patient rooms, each with an attached porch. She spent her final days in tranquility, for which her family is incredibly grateful. “You could see such a change once she went into VNA Hospice House; she looked a lot better and seemed more at peace. The nurses and staff were able to manage her pain in a way that not only did it provide our sister with solace but our family as well,” said Alix.

But it was not only the excellent pain management Lara received that gave her so much comfort, her family recollected, but also staff going out of their way for simple things, like going to the store to buy the kind of ginger ale that Lara preferred, Canada Dry. And when she wanted to explore the beautiful VNA Hospice House gardens in a wheelchair, but her family knew she was too fragile, they brought in one of the nursing staff to help out. “She looked at Lara and said, ‘Maybe you’re not up to it, getting in a wheelchair, so why don’t we push your bed outside,’” recalled Jill. And that’s exactly what they did.

Seeing Lara so well cared for helped provide enormous consolation for Jill and her three other children: Alix, Graeme McDonald, and Caitlin Freedman, all of whom were by Lara’s side at Hospice House. In addition, the family felt well looked after by the staff. “It’s not only the care you provided my sister that was incredible but also the care that you gave us that was so profound,” said Caitlin.

Jill concurred, noting that it was a lot of little things, like the many peanut butter and jam sandwiches that Hospice House’s Head Chef Jason hand-delivered to her. And the Easter egg hunt arranged for Lara’s nieces and nephews. And the nurse who taught Caitlin how to turn Lara on her side and bathe her. “To be able, in those last moments, be taught how to do that was so beautiful,” said Caitlin.

The McDonald family was so grateful that they made two incredibly generous donations to VNA Hospice House. The first was courtesy of a fundraiser by Cross Schools in Bluffton, South Carolina, where Alix teaches that raised $2,641 and that was matched by an individual donor, ultimately raising over $5,000. The second donation was thanks to proceeds from sales of a beautiful hand clutch that the Savannah-based Garland Bags company made in Lara’s honor.

Three days after arriving at VNA Hospice House, Lara passed away. It was the Monday after Easter Sunday. “We truly believe Lara held on until after Easter so we could have one last holiday together as a family. Family was everything for Lara,” said Alix.

For more information on how you can help support the VNA Hospice House, visit here.

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