By Marianne Bloomberg
In 1988, when my sister Carole Lasser was 38, she was diagnosed with multiple meningiomas — benign brain tumors. “It’s not cancer,” we were told. But as the years moved on so did the tumors and, while they were not cancer, they caused enough trouble: several surgeries, procedures and countless MRIs. They eventually left her with a recalcitrant left arm, which ended her professional piano playing career.
In fall 2015, Carole began having a hard time. Walking was getting more difficult and she needed to use a wheelchair more. It was getting tougher to play the piano with her right hand. In the beginning of 2016, she noticed a bump on her forehead. We had a sick feeling one of the tumors was growing. Carole’s doctors recognized she was not doing well.
We called Rabbi Joseph Krakoff, senior director at Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network (JHCN). He suggested the newly created LifeLinks program — home-based palliative care for people not yet ready for hospice. The program is designed to enable JHCN to bring comprehensive and compassionate palliative care directly to the home.
In February 2016, Carole’s doctors told her what we had feared. The tumors were going to end her life and there was nothing they could do about it. Surgery would only make things worse. She should spend her final months with the people who loved her. The doctors prescribed hospice.
Rabbi Krakoff was among the first people we told. He spent many hours with Carole, talking about her situation, her fears and helping ease her emotional pain. He was there for us, her family, as well. On June 26, 2016, Carole passed away. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her.
Shortly after my sister died, my parents created the Carole Jo Lasser(z”l) Music Fund at JHCN to provide music visits to home-bound patients. As of today, they have created multiple other life enrichments, including Tai Chi, salon services, art, pet visits, guided meditation, massage and reflexology, and a life-review and memoir-writing project.
In fall 2018, Pamela Applebaum and Andrew Echt of the Applebaum Family Foundation offered me the opportunity to serve as an Applebaum Fellow for JHCN. While I had a huge appreciation of what JHCN did for my sister, I had no sense of the depth and scope of the agency as a whole. Becoming a fellow gave me the chance to learn and participate in the agency’s activities firsthand.
I met with Rabbi Krakoff twice a month to discuss every part of the organization and attended many different types of meetings. I helped JHCN put on two educational programs for potential donors and those interested in learning more about the services it provides. I spent a handful of hours each month working as a fellow.
One of my initial visits was to a JHCN client having a music enrichment, and I got to see Carole’s fund in action. Rabbi Krakoff and I walked in with Hazzan Daniel Gross who quickly set up his keyboard. The client was slumped on the couch, looking exhausted and despondent. As soon as Hazzan started playing a few notes on the keyboard, he sat up and became totally alert. Hazzan started singing “Henei MaTov,” and the man joined right in. It. Was. Amazing. The man, his wife, his son, Rabbi Krakoff, Hazzan Gross and I were all singing along. It was truly beautiful.
In 2018, more than 300 individual music visits took place in homes across Metro Detroit. Carole told me that music was her best friend. She would be happy to know that in her name, melodies are played in homes, songs are being sung and her spirit is soaring, as peace and comfort are brought to the homes of those who need it.