BRISTOL — Christmas came early this year for one of Rutland’s former women in blue.
Former Rutland Sheriff’s deputy Betty Kaszuba has heart disease and interstitial pulmonary fibrosis, a condition that causes the hardening of the lungs, which restricts her ability to breathe and keeps her on six tanks of oxygen, and her condition has worsened in her old age to the point that she fears she won’t live long enough to see one of her favorite days of the year: Christmas.
But that wasn’t going to stop Christmas from coming to her: Bayada Home and Hospice has a special squad of people on staff — they call them the Joy Patrol, and on Saturday they were dressed head to toe in shades of red, white and green ready to bring Kaszuba some holiday cheer a little early this year.
Not all angels have wings.
“I started on this middle to end of September,” said Volunteer Coordinator Martha Peratoni. “Little end-of-life requests — if you had a certain amount of time left, what would you want to do? We make that happen.”
Peratoni said Kaszuba has been hospice certified since 2018, which means the patient may have six months or less left to live. The Joy Patrol invoked their inner elves and decorated a tree outside Kaszuba’s home with the help of local boy scout troop Bristol 543 and local scout Caleb Moran, his father and assistant scout leader David Moran, scout leader Rick Barnes, and Bristol Fire Chief Brett LaRose.
With the help of a Crossbow Communications cherry picker, the group took down the old, broken lights on one of Kaszuba’s enormous pine trees on the left side of her house, and in their place, new bright, white Christmas lights were strung all the way from the very top of the tree in full view of Kaszuba’s window, so that — despite her compromised mobility — Kaszuba could gaze out her window and see Christmas whenever she wanted.
“(Christmas) is the one day everyone gets together,” Kaszuba said, smiling. “That’s the day of all days. That’s where your attention and all of your thinking should go.”
Red and green watermelon-flavored candy canes and homemade and decorated Christmas cookies were passed all around. Stapled copies of Christmas carols were passed out so the group could sing “Frosty the Snowman” and other classics while Kaszuba watched her tree get a whole new look.
Hospice Clinical Coordinator Lisa Navarette said the Joy Patrol regularly takes note of the special loves and interests of its clients and works magic to make their last wishes come true. The group asked their client, a former track coach, to coach them in preparation for a half-marathon.
“He said ‘if you can walk faster than you can run, why bother?’” Navarette said, laughing.
“He made a comment, saying ‘I could do this everyday,’” said Bayada Executive Director Phyllis Tarbell. “He didn’t feel like a patient anymore.”
Another time, one of their clients was an elderly woman who absolutely loved horses, so the Joy Patrol put their heads together and found someone with a horse trailer to bring a horse to her.
“She was so excited,” Navarette said, beaming. “And when she got really tired, she went and sat on the patio. The horse walked up to her and put its head on her lap.”
Tarbell said not all of the requests are grand: one client wanted to hear the poem “The Raven,” read by a practiced and powerful poetry reader, so his volunteer found him a recorded copy and managed to bring it to him on a Friday, three days earlier than she had said she would, for him and his wife to enjoy.
The client passed away that Sunday, Tarbell said.
“It was so simple,” Tarbell said. “If you just ask … sometimes it’s big things, but sometimes it’s just a simple thing like listening to a poem.”
One of their clients was a former farmer with dementia, and all he wanted to do was go out and bring in the cows.
So, Bayada and Hathaway Farms teamed up, and opened their doors to welcome an old farmer back in the barn.
“It’s not about dying, it’s about living,” Navarette said.