There wasn’t a dry eye in an audience Thursday when Lianne Perretta, 26, spoke in honor of her mother Carletta S. Perretta, who passed away from throat cancer on October 21 at the age of 64.
She shared her sentiments at the 21st annual Circle of Love and Light Holiday Memorial Ceremony at City Hall, which was hosted by Hospice Care of VNA of Care New England for the community to remember deceased loved ones with candlelight, prayer and song.
With help from Hospice, Lianne was able to nurse Carletta during her final days at their home in Warwick. She described her mother, who was a stay-at-home mom before working as a volunteer at Cedar Hill Elementary School, as the most amazing woman she has ever known. The Volunteers of Warwick Schools gave her an award in 1998, the year Lianne graduated.
Lianne credited Carletta for bestowing upon her a love of animals, as Lianne is studying Animal Science at the University of Rhode Island and the Community College of Rhode Island.
“She always accepted stray animals in our house,” Lianne said following the event.
They owned five pets, including two dogs, a black lab, Bo, and a Lhasa Apso mix, Cloe, as well as three cats, Mamma, Bam Bam, and Skittles. Skittles slept with Carletta nearly every night during her treatments and her time in Hospice care.
“When our animals have been sick, I watched her stay up all night with them just to make sure they weren’t alone,” Lianne said to the audience of about 100. “When my mom was in the hospital, I did the same for her.”
During her speech, Lianne said Carletta’s friends remember her honesty, sense of humor, and generous nature most. Following the ceremony, her family agreed.
“Any time she came to my house she’d have a bag of toys for my two little boys,” said Carletta’s niece, Terrie David. “She was so loving and carefree.”
“She was a close friend, not just a sister-in-law,” said Bill Perretta. “I loved her dearly.”
Emilie Perretta, her sister-in-law, felt the same. She visited Carletta nearly everyday and was impressed with Lianne for aiding her.
“My niece did a wonderful job,” she said.
But Lianne and her father, Adolph, Carletta’s husband of 37 years, gave a lot of praise to Hospice. They said they will be forever grateful for their support.
“The nurses and CNAs made it so much easier,” Adolph said after the event. “They were always there for us and I have the highest respect for them.”
Carletta was diagnosed with stage-two throat cancer in February and began chemotherapy and radiation treatments in March. A tumor was pressing against her windpipe and she had surgery to have a tracheal tube inserted. She finished treatment by June and her doctor said everything looked good. When he asked her what gave her hope Carletta told him, “My daughter and my dogs.”
Unfortunately, doctors discovered another tumor shortly after. She underwent surgery but the prognosis was grim and she spent another few weeks in the hospital.
“I slept in her hospital bed next to her almost every one of those nights,” Lianne said during the ceremony. “The nurses and CNA’s in the Oncology Ward were so caring and kind to our family, but it still wasn’t home.”
At that point, Lianne and Adolph decided to take Carletta home. Lianne helped her get dressed and they were driven to their house via ambulance.
“As soon as she got home you could see she was relaxed and happy,” said Lianne. “She finally was able to sleep without getting woken up to be poked and prodded.”
Their Hospice team consisted of RNs Jeanine Santos; Amie Cordeiro; Dawn Stevens; and Chris Kelly, the hospital liaison; CNA Janet Reynolds; and Chaplin Leslie Simonson. Lianne said they taught her and Adolph ways to keep Carletta at ease.
Together, they enjoyed Carletta’s favorite pastimes with her, such as playing country music all day and night with an occasional switch to 50s music, eating ice cream, the only food she was still able to eat, looking at photographs and talking. She communicated either by motioning to things or writing her thoughts.
Just a few weeks after her birthday, Carletta died at home surrounded by her family and pets.
“With the help of all these wonderful people, my dad and I were able to keep my mom completely pain free and comfortable until she passed,” Lianne said. “ It takes a special breed of person to be able to do what these women do. They made a difficult time so comforting and [provided] my dad and I with an incredible support system that we definitely needed.”
Reynolds, who attended the ceremony, was moved by Lianne’s words. She began visiting Carletta and her family three days a week for an hour to an hour and a half. When Carletta’s condition progressed, she was with her everyday.
“People ask me how I can do this job and it’s indescribable because it’s so rewarding,” said Reynolds. “You take the whole family in your arms and help them relax.”
President and CEO of Care New England Nancy Roberts was in attendance, as well. She said she feels proud and fortunate to work with such caring, committed and giving individuals.
“They are able to put their emotions aside and be there for the families because they know their prime job is to help them through a difficult journey,” said Roberts.
Further, she commended Lianne’s poise for sharing her heartfelt speech.
“All of us had tears in our eyes,” Roberts said. “Sometimes people think it’s not professional when you cry but the truth is it’s real.”
Mayor Scott Avedisian related how his parents died three months apart almost nine years ago and if it weren’t for the service of Hospice his family would have been in turmoil.
“It is important for the city and the community to say, ‘Thank you very much,’” he said. “We don’t say it enough.”
From there, Hospice staff lit the Circle of Love and Light wreath, which will shine through Jan. 1, 2012 at their Warwick office and be accompanied by the Circle of Love and Light Tree that will bear the names of those honored through donations to the cause.
Simonson led the litany of light, as well as the benediction, and The Perretta family lit the tree. Directed by retired Pilgrim High School Teacher Jo-Ann Phillips, The Ocean State Women’s Choir shared their voices throughout the ceremony, which ended with a reception.
VNA of Care New England is a nonprofit Medicare and Medicaid certified home care and hospice agency, serving the home health, hospice, and community health needs of adults throughout Rhode Island. The agency was founded in 1908 and employs more than 200 health care professionals and paraprofessional. It is accredited by the Joint Commission and is a member of the Care New England Health System that includes Butler, Kent, Women & Infants Hospitals, and the Care New England Wellness Center.