The Zen Hospice Blog

Tom, a beloved Guest House Resident

April 3, 2018 | General, Mindful Caregiving, Model of Care, The Guest House, The Guest House Kitchen

Tom, a beloved Guest House Resident Banner LeftTom, a beloved Guest House Resident Banner Right

Tom was just one of the many Residents we served at our Guest House in the past year. Because of the generosity from donors like you, we were able to serve Tom at end of life with no cost to him. Tom’s generosity to others throughout his life prevented him from being able to afford the cost of care at the Guest House. Had he not been cared for at the Guest House, Tom’s prognosis would have placed him with in-home hospice care, under the supervision of a single hospice care nurse for one hour, twice a week. Tom’s final days could have ended in an acute care setting, while connected to an array of machinery. Yet, Tom’s final days were the opposite of that, full of comfort and happiness complemented by the compassionate care of Zen Hospice Project caregivers.

One of our Guest House nurses shares her story:


Tom lived a life of service as a nurse and a chiropractor by profession, and as a valuable friend, mentor and teacher.  He touched many, many lives with grace and healing.  After his intense life-long devotion to the well being of other people, it was especially meaningful for him to receive the nurturing and care from us at Zen Hospice Project.  

In the homey warmth of the Guest House, he was able to deeply receive the love of his friends, family and former colleagues, and of our nurses, volunteers, cooks and staff.  This was a profound process of letting go of old identities and roles to embrace being loved as the beautiful, whole human he was.  A radiant person, Tom glowed with gratitude at the Guest House, often tearing up with thankfulness for his lovely room and for the attentive love and care from our staff.  

Tom loved us right back, adding to the joy and deep meaning of our time caring for him.  He was able to truly live, love, enjoy, heal and grow, right until his last breath with us at his bedside in the Guest House.  We are all grateful for our time with Tom and forever touched by him.

Tom touched us and left everyone with heart-filled gratitude to have met him and his family.  


All of us at Zen Hospice Project thank you for your support and generosity with hope that you will continue to give, so that we can continue to help more people like Tom at end of life.  Please support Zen Hospice Project and people like Tom.  Give today! No gift is too small.

Mary Doane

February 14, 2018 | Mindful Caregiving, Model of Care, The Guest House

One of the Senior Instructors of Zen Hospice Project’s Mindful Caregiver Education Program discusses her path of service, lessons as a teacher and exciting new developments in the education program.


As a youth, Mary had the rare opportunity to gain awareness and respect for end of life care; her mother and stepfather founded a hospice for incarcerated men at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville. She was able to develop a sense for the importance and beauty of hospice and palliative care. However it was her later interest in Buddhism that really opened the door to her career in the field as an adult.

Seeking a structured way to explore her aspirations of using service as an expression of spiritual practice, Mary attended a Buddhist chaplaincy program. A faculty member there guided her to Zen Hospice Project to fulfill the program’s requirement of volunteer service. It was a perfect fit.

Mary completed the 43-hour volunteer caregiver training and continued as a volunteer at Laguna Honda Hospital and the Guest House facilities for about 10 years.


Early on in her hospice service, Mary experienced the moment when the Zen Hospice Project approach fully integrated into her practice.

One day at Laguna Honda Hospital, Mary was asked by a nurse to accompany her at the bedside while the nurse had to reposition and clean a man who was in an enormous amount of pain. The nurse asked Mary to come and be there to support the patient – to give him something else to focus on and to be a soothing presence. Mary realized it would also serve as support for the nurse while she was doing her necessary but pain-inflicting duty. Mary recalled something she learned in her Zen Hospice Project training: There is nothing to fix. She repeated this mini-mantra to herself while keeping herself grounded with her feet on the floor, her attention on breath, and simply being a centered presence in room. She gently stroked his hand and maintained eye contact with loving support, silently communicating “I’m right here with you, you’re doing a great job, this will be over soon…”

Mary embodied the lesson that there are places to draw from inside each of us, to keep ourselves stable in a challenging bedside situation – and to model and offer that presence out to those under care and everyone in the room.


Five years into her volunteer service, as a natural fit for the program, Mary was invited and joyfully became facilitator for volunteer caregiver training. Along the way, she also represented Zen Hospice Project in the local community at organizations and events. So when the Mindful Caregiver Education launched in 2014, Mary was on board from day one.

Mary says she is continually learning and maturing as a facilitator. Teaching these courses is a mindfulness practice in itself. She says of the Mindful Caregiver Education, “What we offer is not mechanical instruction. It is about how caring for others connects us to them and to ourselves. And draws us to universal human truths. Most everyone who enrolls in Mindful Caregiver Education finds it really nurturing. But it also brings up vulnerability and other strong emotions.”

This openness of the Zen Hospice Project approach brings up vulnerability for her as a teacher as well. So over time Mary has developed an exercise prior to teaching each course. She imagines the participants and feels gratitude and appreciation for them, consciously connecting to their humanity and offering her humanity in return, before they even get in the room together. She understands that the whole class will be co-creating something together, students and facilitators alike. And it is never the same experience twice.

The Zen Hospice Project education model is to teach in pairs whenever possible. Mary especially appreciates the opportunity to facilitate classes with a colleague. She feels that having a teaching partner produces a richer experience for everyone. Working alongside those new to teaching brings Mary a deeper level of awareness and responsibility to the work. It reinforces her sense of gratitude to be doing something that is meaningful to her personally, that she loves, and carries real value in the world.


Mary is committed to the Zen Hospice Project model of care and is excited about the opportunity to affect people’s approach to death and dying, and long term chronic illness, and in turn their approach to living. As her teaching experience expands, her personal practice continues to evolve.

Especially enthusiastic about the new Mindful Family Caregiving Education Program she has been co-creating with her fellow Zen Hospice Project faculty, Mary is passionate about reaching out to new communities and the potential broader effect on society.

“I believe so strongly in the importance of this work. I see it as a form of resistance. Not in any political way, but in a deeper human way. The work we’re doing in Mindful Caregiver Education and with Family Caregivers is a path to reclaiming our humanity. To look directly at our mortality and vulnerability can go a long way in helping us clarify and prioritize the best parts of ourselves. We see that there is so much power in simple things like kindness and tenderness, and in experiencing the mysterious beauty that is uncovered by paying attention… even when what we’re paying attention to is uncomfortable.”

Celebrating a Past Guest House Volunteer Caregiver

February 1, 2018 | Mindful Caregiving, Model of Care, The Guest House

Ken Hughes was the Vice President of the Paramount Flag Company here in San Francisco. In 1978 he was approached by Gilbert Baker, the original designer of the Gay Pride rainbow flag. Baker was looking for a manufacturer who could produce many flags for the 1979 Gay Freedom Day Parade. The design originally had eight stripes: pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, indigo and violet. Hughes was eager to help, yet suggested that Baker delete the pink stripe as flag fabric in that color wasn’t readily available for mass production. Turquoise was also removed, yielding the rainbow pride flag we know of today. The Paramount Flag Company is also well known for being a manufacturer of the California Grizzly Bear State Flag.

Ken began his life of service in the late 1980’s when he was a volunteer for The Shanti Project. Shanti is Sanskrit for “inner peace”. The organization pairs volunteers one-on-one with those in need: women with cancer, LGBT Seniors and those living with, and dying from HIV or HepC.

By the early 1990’s Ken was actively volunteering at Zen Hospice Project Guest House. As a practicing Buddhist he was drawn to the intimate environment where he could offer comfort and care to the Residents.

His dear friends were astounded at how quickly his disease progressed and suddenly he died.

Ken wished to acknowledge and celebrate Zen Hospice Project. He bequeathed a major gift to us, and we will be forever grateful for his service during life and his generosity as he left us.

Fly your flag proudly, Ken, you will be missed.

Meet Joan, a Guest House volunteer caregiver

January 23, 2018 | Mindful Caregiving, Model of Care, The Guest House, Volunteer Caregivers

Joan begins her shift by greeting each Resident. She always asks how they are doing, knowing that some days are better than others. If a Resident is able, Joan accompanies him or her on a walk around the Guest House or a visit to the garden. She is ready to listen, if they would like to talk. Perhaps to hear their story; definitely to learn from their insights.

Many times a Resident doesn’t wish to speak. Joan rests her hand on their forearm. She doesn’t ask permission; rarely is her hand brushed away. Joan understands the profound power of the simple human touch. It is mutually satisfying.

Joan discovered Zen Hospice Project in 1995, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, while accompanying a dear friend seeking a place to die. In a time of enormous fear and great lack

of knowledge about the disease, the Guest House was a rare place of understanding and solace for those wanting to die with dignity. Almost immediately she felt that hospice work would be her heart work; upon learning of volunteer opportunities, she applied, was accepted into the program and began her training.

Joan has volunteered for over 20 years at Laguna Honda Hospital and at the Guest House since 2010. With her background in business and in renovating houses, she was a natural choice to help the renovation of the Guest House, overseeing contractors during the multi-year process. She speaks warmly of contractors generously donating above and beyond their bids, giving time and materials to this most worthy project.

Volunteer caregivers arrive for their shift with no agenda other than to meet each Resident where they are at the moment. The concerns of the rest of the world wash away quickly, and then they are completely present and ready to give openly and compassionately to others.

Joan says goodbye to each Resident at the end of her shift.  She often thinks “but I am just getting to know you”, yet she closes the Guest House door behind her fully understanding they might not be there when she returns the next time. And that’s okay. She made the connection and they felt it.

Joan believes death is the greatest teacher.  She has learned much over time,  and yet knows there is yet so much to learn.

For those of you who would like to consider becoming a Volunteer Caregiver at Zen Hospice Project, please click here. 

Our Mindful Family Caregiver Program

January 18, 2018 | General, Mindful Caregiver Education, Mindful Caregiving, Model of Care

 Mary Doane, Educator, muses about Zen Hospice Project’s Mindful Family Caregiver Program

“It is challenging in the best possible way!” Mary proclaims, as a senior instructor of the Mindful Family Caregiver Education Program, launched by Zen Hospice Project in late 2017.

A core faculty member of the education program, Mary first explains that designing and refining the curriculum has brought to her new levels of respect for her colleagues. Her admiration has grown even deeper for people she was in awe of to begin with.

In the Mindful Family Caregiver courses held so far, Mary’s says her primary experience is that of being moved. She has been deeply touched by what today’s family caregivers are contending with. While she’s had some personal experience, in addition to her lengthy professional background, Mary had thought she somewhat understood the full extent of the caregiver experience. “But to be in these classes now,” Mary shares, “To witness people, to see them, to hear their struggles and to feel the overwhelm that people are dealing with… it is truly humbling.”

It is clear to her that the Mindful Family Caregiver Education Program is responding to the enormous and unique need of support for family caregivers. Mary is honored to be part of a program that meets this need in an effective and conscious way.

Speaking further about the Family Caregiver experience, Mary says, “A major challenge family caregivers face is the feeling of being alone – alone in their struggle. What we are finding in our classes is that most people feel isolated in their caregiver role. They don’t feel seen, they doubt if they’re up to the task, they feel overwhelmed and exhausted.” Hesitant to reach out to others, many caregivers don’t want to burden their friends and family by “venting” all the time.

What can best help in this all-to-common situation? “Reminding people of their own inner resources,” Mary has realized. “Each one of us has these inner resources, such as compassion, self-compassion, patience, and connectedness in a broader sense. In our program we offer Family Caregivers ways to access and trust these internal resources… either again or for the first time and to be witness in community with other caregivers.”

Learn more about our Mindful Family Caregiver Education Program here.

The Bloom Project

January 9, 2018 | Mindful Caregiving, Model of Care, The Guest House

In October 2016, Heidi Berkman, founder of The Bloom Project, based in Portland, Oregon, began a collaboration with Zen Hospice Project to bring flower bouquets to Zen Hospice Project’s  Guest House Residents and their caregivers.

The Bloom Project donates fresh bouquets of flowers to local hospice and palliative care patients, demonstrating their mission to beauty, giving and joy during end of life care. Nearby florists and supermarkets donate the flowers they can no longer sell. Each Monday these “cast offs” are brought to the Guest House, where a team of volunteers clean and prune them. Then they are assembled into stunning arrangements that are brought to Guest House Resident’s rooms and can be found throughout the first floor.

Larisa Minerva, Bloom Project Coordinator and Volunteer Caregiver at Laguna Honda Hospital, trains and manages a team of six that assembles an average of ten bouquets per week. The blooms from the previous week’s bouquets are arranged into a beautiful mandala in the Guest House garden, providing the perfect conclusion to each week’s volunteer experience. Larisa is the owner of Bewilder Floral, and has opened a storefront in Berkeley this past Fall.

With 12 successful months of the collaboration with The Bloom Project, we are ready to expand to South Three, Laguna Honda Hospital’s 60-bed palliative ward.  This expansion will deliver more than 10 times the amount of bouquets created each week, and has the potential to expand the program by adding more volunteers and three or more additional floral partners.