Guest Story: Sanctuary

In Jacksonville, Florida, a house on a peaceful street sits against a backdrop of a rushing river, tall pine trees, and bustling wildlife. It is the picturesque home of Michael and Elaine, Caring House guests. They speak fondly of their woodsy oasis, where bald eagles make nests in the trees and stray cats wander over for the food Elaine gives them twice a day. “We do miss our kitties. We have our little furry friends,” Elaine says as she mentions the black and white semi-feral cats that roam the couple’s property and sneak their way into their hearts. 

Michael and Elaine have been married for 54 years, and with the ease and patience that comes with decades spent together, they share their story that led them to Caring House. 

A routine check-up revealed a cancer diagnosis for Michael in January. Upon receiving his diagnosis, a family member recommended Duke for care, and the couple arrived in North Carolina for Michael’s six-week treatment at Duke Cancer Institute in early July. A social worker recommended Caring House for their stay, and not only were Michael and Elaine impressed with the cleanliness, peace, and quiet here, but they found themselves surrounded by kind people in similar shoes.

“Besides all the amenities that you furnish so graciously, everything is here for us. The kindness of everyone, the understanding, the patience from everyone. They help us with this experience. That’s the top of our list. You can’t beat the personal connection that we’ve had with just about everyone here that we’ve met,” says Michael.  

Michael and Elaine speak of Caring House fondly. They mention the bonding experiences with other guests, the comforting volunteer-provided dinners after tiring days, and the convenience of daily transportation to the cancer center. It’s not only good for the patient, but the caregivers too,” says Elaine. 

The couple has spent evenings chatting with other guests in the library and trading stories in the kitchen. You can spot them sharing coffee in the mornings and greeting others with bright smiles. Michael and Elaine say they have found comfort in the grace and dignity of the people that walk Caring House’s halls. There are rarely complaints here, just people bonding over their journeys together. “I really believe this is a sanctuary for the soul,” says Michael with a gracious smile. Elaine nods in agreement. 

Soon, the couple will return to their home in Florida, where Canadian geese (nearly 30 at a time) have started to appear every year, cementing their residence in Michael and Elaine’s backyard. The couple have no shortage of empathy or generosity it seems, as they mention the 50-pound bags of cracked corn they buy each year to feed the geese. They tell me that the wildlife that surrounds them is a blessing. But for the animals that wander to their street and find food, shelter, and love from Michael and Elaine, it is a sanctuary of their own.

Is it surprising that the same people who have provided a loving refuge for animals in their own backyard have found sanctuary at Caring House? 

Perhaps it is their own spirits that provide a safe harbor.

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Written by: Kristen Luft, Communications Associate