Dying woman gets wish to watch Pittsfield parade where she met her husband decades earlier

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PITTSFIELD — Strapped in a gurney decorated in red, white and blue streamers, Marguerite Sherman waved at passing parade floats with a smile stretched across her face.

Sherman, 76, a resident of the Hillcrest Commons nursing center, was placed in hospice care this week, after ending dialysis for her kidney disease. It was her dying wish to attend the same parade where she met her late husband decades ago, and within a day, her care team made it happen.

"We met at the Fourth of July parade," Sherman said of her husband, Daniel, while holding a bag of popcorn, waiting for the city's annual parade to begin.

As for whether it was love at first sight, she said, jokingly: "No, I thought he was an idiot."

To be placed in hospice care, patients must have a prognosis of fewer than six months to live. During intake, social workers will ask every patient two things, said June Green of Hospice Care in the Berkshires.

"One: What do you want us to know about you?" Green said. "Two: What goals do you have? That's when we get to the bucket list stuff."

On Tuesday, Sherman met with social worker Kerry Gattasso.

"She said that she was having a lot of pain and was really sad," Gattasso said.

When Gattasso asked if there was anything she could do to make her happy, Sherman hesitated before mentioning that she never had missed a Fourth of July parade in her life and was sad that she wouldn't make it this year.

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Gattasso then inquired about whether Sherman thought — if it could be arranged — that she could handle going out.

"She said, `I might cry, I might yell and I might look ungrateful, but I promise it will mean the world to me,' " Gattasso recalled of their conversation. "Those were her exact words."

Gattasso and Green immediately began making calls, and within hours, County Ambulance had offered six volunteer paramedics and an ambulance to get Sherman to North Street. Gattasso's husband reached out to police officers, who arranged to save a space for Sherman and her care team at Depot and North streets.

By 10 a.m., paramedics had placed her gurney under a tent, and a team of nurses and social workers worked to ensure that she was comfortable and hydrated. With Sherman suffering from pain from kidney disease, it was essential for the team to make sure she was medicated enough to enjoy the parade.

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"We wanted to keep her comfortable without knocking her out. It's a balance," Green said a few hours into the parade. "We didn't know if she'd be able to stay even a half-hour. She's determined."

As groups passed Sherman's tent, many people recognized her from the many years she was involved in the community. Sherman, a graduate of the now-closed St. Joseph Central High School, was an active member of the Elks Lodge and a receptionist at Volunteers in Medicine.

Mayor Linda Tyer, state Sen. Adam Hinds, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, and a lengthy list of officials and community members stopped by to thank Sherman for watching.

On multiple occasions, Green ran into the parade route to flag down members of the community who she thought Sherman might want to meet. Every few minutes, Sherman was greeted with hugs and kisses.

Last year, Sherman rode in the truck with the Irish Sister City group. Thursday morning, Sherman yelled from her tent at the organization's passing float. It stopped in front of her tent so she could have a front-row seat to the step dancers.

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"She does know a lot of people in the community," Green said.

Sometimes people lose track of friends when they move into a nursing home, or feel uncomfortable visiting people in hospice, Green said. Most people, especially those at the end of their lives, want to have visitors, she said.

"We're hoping that being here will generate more people coming by to see her," Green said.

Hospice Care in the Berkshires carries out an end-of-life wish every month or so, either by using money donated to the organization or by reaching out to members of the community who can make it happen for free, Green said.

For many patients, their bucket list item is to attend one last family event or wedding; for others, it's a trip to a lake or a ride on a boat. But when patients have more out-of-the box requests, say, to climb a tree or to go on a countywide quest for the best french fries, volunteers make those happen, too, Green said.

Sherman's cousin, Mary Cahill, 92, sat by her side all morning Thursday. Despite being almost 20 years apart in age, the two have grown close over the years, she said.

"This is her last couple of days, so this is a very kind thing," Cahill said.

"People think we're all about morphine and death," Green said. "We're all about quality of life. We'd move mountains to make this stuff happen."

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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