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“She only wanted to get out of the house.” That simple declarative has become a mantra to JFCS donor and volunteer Nancy Epstein—and it clearly and succinctly explains why she has committed her time, energy, and resources to JFCS’ Palliative Care Program.
Some years back Nancy regularly shuttled between the Bay Area and Los Angeles to care for her mother, Elaine Epstein, an advanced Alzheimer’s patient. As Nancy was leaving her mother’s house one day to run an errand, her mother begged to go along for the ride. “I told her, ‘No, no, there’s no need for you to come. I’ll be back in a few minutes,’” recounts Nancy. “I thought this particular errand might confuse and upset her. What I didn’t realize was how starved she was for company. At a time when her world was shrinking, she was seeking connection.”
After Elaine died in 2008, Nancy wondered if there was a better way to have navigated her mother’s disease. She also wanted to restart volunteer work in her life, which had been put on hold during the years her mother required care. This led her to JFCS’ Palliative Care Program, which connects caring volunteers to JFCS clients with chronic or life-limiting conditions. As a result, Nancy became a friend and confidante to Ester, a Holocaust survivor with advanced Alzheimer’s. The two visited weekly and shared a meal together. They laughed, shared stories, and sang songs in English and Yiddish.
“I call it my ‘do-over,’” Nancy says. “I tried to be with Ester in a way I wasn’t often enough with my mom: present. I’d run back and forth to L.A. coordinating my mom’s care, but rarely managed to just ‘be’ with her. With Ester, I was there for her, meeting her where she was in her life. It was a real gift from Ester to me.”
Nancy, a wealth manager and financial planner, is so invested in JFCS’ Palliative Care Program, part of the agency’s Seniors At Home division, she decided to support it with a significant financial gift. The Nancy B. Epstein Endowment Fund helps underwrite the recruitment, training, and support of volunteers. “I’m very proud to be associated with the program. It is in the vanguard of palliative care. I wish this had been available to my mom. JFCS is in the business of improving the quality of life for all sorts of people with all sorts of problems. No one else does it like JFCS.”
In dedicating herself to the program, Nancy is following in the tradition of her late parents, Erwin and Elaine, who contributed to their communities in many ways. After Nancy’s sister, Marilyn, died at 37 in 1988, only eight weeks before Erwin’s death, Elaine returned to UCLA Medical Center’s oncology unit, where Marilyn had been a leukemia patient. She became an award-winning volunteer for the next 18 years. “Many people thought my mom was crazy for returning to the site where my sister endured months of painful treatments. But my mom viewed it differently,” observes Nancy. “She wasn’t reliving her grief. She was healing. She knew first-hand how difficult leukemia treatments were for patients and their families. She wanted to provide the kind of support that isn’t part of formal treatment plans: comfort, attention, and understanding.”
Nancy was honored with a JFCS volunteer recognition award for her commitment to the Palliative Care Program, which provides services to all Seniors At Home clients free of charge. She balances her gratitude for the agency’s acknowledgment with her appreciation for all of the intangible gifts she is receiving. “I set up the Named Fund and will leave a bequest in memory of my mom and in honor of Ester. But I do it mostly for me,” she says. “By creating a Fund and ensuring that this program is supported, I’m the real beneficiary. I continue to participate in a valuable service that’s as meaningful to me as going to UCLA was to my mom. I couldn’t be luckier for this opportunity.”