By MAGGIE MENDERSKIHerald-Whig Staff Writer
HANNIBAL, Mo. -- The day before Sarah Roth died, her pastor prayed with her in the hospital.
As Sarah's last hours neared, her conversation was minimal, but when the pastor told her he had somewhere to go, she looked up.
"I have somewhere to go, too," she said.
After a 14-year battle with cancer, Sarah died the next morning. Her parents, Lou and Carl Yates, recalled their daughter's sense of peace in both her life and her death. Sarah saw the best in things and people. The vibrant 44-year-old found joy with her husband, Todd, as they bought homes, rehabilitated them and then sold them to others.
It's only fitting that after Sarah's life ended, her church community rehabilitated a house for others to die a peaceful death. Through donations from estates and companies, First Christian Church has created Sarah's Place in a small house at 1104 Church in Hannibal. This ministry provides a cozy, accessible dwelling space for a person approaching death.
Sarah's Place will host an open house from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday.
"I just want every person to come in here to feel that peace," Lou said.
As Sarah lived her final days, her family struggled to meet her wishes. Sarah didn't want to die at home, but she didn't want to finish her life in a hospital, either.
"The hospital was great," Todd said. "They were awesome, but it didn't have the home feeling."
Todd redesigned the small home on behind First Christian Church for the ministry's purpose. Contractor James Godert gutted living space, plus the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. He widened the doorways to fit wheelchairs. Church members stocked the kitchen with pots, pans, glasses and plates. In the bathroom, a medical-sized shower stands across from a sign that says, "The will of God will not take you anywhere the grace of God will not protect you."
Congregation members Sue Giroux and Angie Wood decorated the house in soft, soothing colors. Todd said the light yellows adorning the walls were reminiscent of Sarah, who liked yellow. Their last home together had been yellow.
First Christian Church Pastor Steve Barker said the enthusiasm to establish the hospice house thrived and funding swelled. The church had more than enough to completely renovate the home. The leftover funds will go toward maintenance and utilities.
"When the Lord gives you a project and it truly comes from the Lord, there's nothing in the world that can get in the way of this," Barker said.
The church will provide the space free to anyone in hospice care, specifically those in Community Loving Care Hospice.
Dr. Lent Johnson with Community Loving Care Hospice said many hospice patients opt to die in their homes and the reasons for seeking other options vary among patients. Parents with young children often feel as though a death in the home might taint the house with sad memories. Sometimes the home might not have enough space for the equipment and personnel needed. When a home has not been well-kept, it might not be a fitting environment for a comfortable, peaceful death.
"Until you make some home visits, you forget how a lot of people live," Johnson said.
Sarah's parents, husband and church community hope Sarah's Place will ease the difficulty of losing a family member or friend. Todd has designed the home with what he wanted for Sarah at the end of her life.
"It's a place you don't want to (have to) use, but it's good to have," he said.
It's been more than a year since Sarah's death, and her family still grieves the loss of the woman smiling from the portrait that hangs on a wall in the small house's living room. Still, Sarah knew she had a place to go.
Now in Sarah's memory, others have a place to go, as well.
"This picture of Sarah is smiling, and I'm sure she's smiling at us all right now," Carl said.