For a quarter century, Susan Mascola looked after Randolph-area children while their parents worked. As director of Robin’s Nest, Gifford’s on-site daycare, she and her team led activities and lessons, bandaged knees, and played with their young charges. On any given day, Susan could be found crawling into a playhouse with toddlers, tending to the needs of an infant, or leading a parade of little ones around the hospital campus. She loved the kids, and the kids loved her.
“From the moment I met Susan I could tell that she really enjoyed working with children,” said Carrie Wright, who was Susan’s right hand at the center and serves as the current director. “She developed a center where the children could learn through play. She was a strong advocate for early childhood education, and enjoyed interacting with the children by reading books and singing with them.”
Each year, Susan, a mother of two, looked forward to the annual family barbecue and potluck at Robin’s Nest.
“She loved seeing the families connect with one another,” said Wright.
Ashley Lincoln’s two boys were enrolled at Robin’s Nest from ages 3 months to 5 years, and, when they were older, participated in the center’s afterschool program.
“Susan was incredibly committed to creating a safe environment and an environment of learning,” said Lincoln, who works as Gifford’s development director and coordinates the annual Last Mile Ride event to support end-of-life care.
If there were challenges at the daycare, Susan dealt with them head on, keeping parents informed with detailed communications.
“As a parent, I found this very comforting,” said Lincoln. “I knew my kids were safe and loved. Susan was their advocate.”
Advocating for the Advocate
Susan’s battle with cancer began in 1999 when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She received treatments on and off for years, including a stem cell transplant in September 2001.
“The cancer stayed away for five or six years, but it was an ongoing battle,” said Jerry, her husband of nearly 37 years.
In April 2016, during her annual physical, they discovered the lymphoma had returned, and Susan passed away Dec. 23, 2017. In the intervening months, Jerry did what he had done for years: He advocated for his wife.
“I was always interested in learning about techniques to help her—physically, mentally, spiritually,” said Jerry, who met his future bride in early 1978 when they were freshmen at Norwich University. “I’d ask her, ‘How do we take care of you?’” Her only request, Jerry said, was to have her husband stay by her side.
And he did, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, sleeping in a chair or on a cot in her hospital room. “The floor’s fine, too,” said the United States Army veteran who continues to serve in the National Guard. “I was her watchdog.”
That commitment wasn’t a surprise to anyone who knew the Mascolas and their marriage-long habit of always doing things together. Jerry drove Susan to and from work at Robin’s Nest, joined her for biweekly salon appointments to have her nails done, and made regular runs to Dunkin’ Donuts for Susan’s favorite drink, a watermelon Coolatta.
When Susan decided she was through with cancer treatments at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, she transferred to Gifford and, later, to the hospital’s Garden Room for end-of-life care.
“Ashley [Lincoln] and Gifford really took care of her,” Jerry remembers. “We spent her last month or two in the Garden Room. Staying there was a comfort for me, too. Ashley said, ‘We’re going to take care of you. You are family. You are back home.’”
“Susan took care of our kids, and now we saw that we could do something meaningful for her,” said Lincoln, whose Last Mile Ride team had a holiday meal catered for the family, ordered custom hats for Susan, and arranged a spa day complete with a colorful manicure.
“She felt beautiful, and the look on her face … She loved it,” said Jerry.
And while they couldn’t see her, in December, children from Robin’s Nest sang carols outside Susan’s Garden Room door.
As Christmas drew closer, Susan decided she wanted to go home. Jerry packed her off to the house they shared with their beloved Pomeranian, Sophie, just a few blocks from Gifford. He brought in a hospital bed, and a hospice nurse visited daily. But Susan never wanted morphine, Jerry said. “She said she wasn’t in pain.”
When Susan passed away, it was on her terms, at home with her husband.
Jerry credits his faith, his routine, and support from the community for keeping him going in the months since. He meditates daily, takes care of Sophie, and meets friends for regular check-ins downtown at One Main.
“I’m not going to lie to you and say I don’t have bad days,” said Jerry. “But the support I’ve felt has been amazing. Last Mile Ride has helped with things large and small. It’s also amazing how helping others has helped me. And if ever I have the money to give, I hope to support Last Mile Ride and do for others.”
Last Mile Ride: Providing Comfort at the End of Life
Gifford continues a central Vermont community tradition Aug. 17-18 with the 13th annual Last Mile Ride to support end-of-life care for patients and their families. The two-day, family-friendly event features a motorcycle ride, 5K run, and 1- and 2-mile walks to raise funds for palliative care and special services.
Since 2006, Last Mile Ride has raised nearly $650,000, with all proceeds used to help ease the end-of-life experience and support grieving families. Services supported by Last Mile Ride include massage and acupuncture for pain management, music therapy, catered meals, family legacy photo shoots, and more. Last Mile Ride also fulfills unique wishes, including in previous years paid travel expenses for family members to visit a loved one, a trip to a Red Sox game, estate planning, and a wedding.
The walks and 5K run begin at 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17, with registration starting at 4:30 p.m., at Gifford Medical Center. The registration fee is $25 per person. Participants are encouraged to create teams with friends and family.
Registration for the motorcycle ride begins at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, at Gifford. The entrance fee is $50 per driver; $75 per driver and passenger. The ride, which starts at 10 a.m., takes participants on an 80-mile journey through central Vermont.
In addition to the scheduled Last Mile Ride events, funds are raised through raffles for a motorcycle from Wilkins Harley-Davidson in South Barre and a quilt made by Gifford nurses. For more information about Last Mile Ride, including routes and registration, visit www.lastmileride.com, follow on Facebook, or call 802-728-2380.