Kavanagh House: 'A Vacation Before Heaven' For Saveria Bonanno

Saveria "Sarah" Bonanno never stopped. Even in her mid-80s she could be found in her garden, baking and spending time with her large Italian family.
When she began to slow down in the winter of 2017, it was clear there was an issue. As her daughter Lil, son-in-law and grandchildren were headed to the Iowa State bowl game in January 2018, Sarah stayed home.
Lil's middle daughter stayed behind in Iowa, as well, and checked in on her grandmother.
"She was sitting on her couch and definitely sick," Lil recalls of talking to her daughter.
Lil's daughter rushed Sarah to the hospital and it was discovered that she had a serious intestinal obstruction that required immediate surgery. 
While Sarah's surgery was successful, complications led to sepsis.
"At that point, my mom, who was very spiritual, said 'I know, I think God is calling me home,'" Lil said. "She rejected any additional care."
With Sarah's diagnosis and age, her medical team felt she would only live for about 48 hours. With that in mind, the team recommended the family reach out to EveryStep Hospice and its Kavanagh House on 56th Street. Sarah was admitted to the hospice house in  January 2018.
Sarah, who didn't speak English, was greeted warmly by the staff at Kavanagh House, Lil remembers.
"You have this big Itailan family overtaking hospice," Lil said of her family congregating to spend time with Sarah. "There are cousins, aunts, uncles. The staff was wonderful, they are worth their weight in gold."
While the family expected Sarah to pass soon after entering care at Kavanagh House, she actually held on for six months.
"It was absolutely God at work," Lil, who spent much of her time with her mother, caring for her and acting as an interpreter, said. "It was a miracle. The people at hospice took care of her every single day. She said that she felt God sent her to Kavanagh house to take a vacation before she went to heaven." 
Lil notes that her mother's time at Kavanagh House was a time of relaxation and reminiscing with family.  She and her mother we able to go through photos and iron out Sarah’s final wishes.
Additionally, the family was able to continue their tradition of large Sunday dinners at Kavanagh House.
"There was love and compassion there," Lil said. "Even the spa room, she thought it was heaven, she was so well cared for."
Sarah and Lil made lasting relationships with the nursing staff at Kavanagh House.
"Mom would dish it out and they gave it right back to her," Lil said. "They just really developed a loving relationship."
Sarah also made an impression on several volunteers. One man would sing for her, while another invited her to help in the garden, allowing her to enjoy her old pastime once again.
Because Sarah didn't speak English, Lil spend the better part of six months sleeping in her mom's room.
"They took care of all of us," she said. "They were extremely responsive, intuitive and the compassion and care, most importantly my mom was very dignified."
Sarah passed away at Kavanagh House in June 2018, and more than two years later, the experience still makes an impact on Lil and her family.
"We met some of the most beautiful people I've been blessed to know at Kavanagh House," Lil says. "It was a life-changing experience."
Lil hopes that other families are able to feel the same love and receive the same compassionate care as her family.
"There is an enormous resource and service in our city and we just need to let people know," she said. "There are beautiful, wonderful people there to support us, use them."
To learn more about EveryStep Hospice’s services, please visit our hospice website.