After Darlene Hilderbrand put in nearly 20 years of work with Homer’s sick and terminally ill, the town decided to give a little something back to her.
Under the impression she was walking into an art show featuring her friend, Jane Regan, Hilderbrand walked into a surprise party instead on Sunday at the Homer Council on the Arts. There, friends from not only hospice but all over Homer had gathered with food and refreshments to celebrate her transition into retirement.
Hilderbrand worked at Hospice of Homer for 19 years, and as its executive director for the last 15. She retired last year, at 70.
Regan made Hilderbrand a quilt which dozens of community members signed with words of love and encouragement, which was presented to her at the gathering.
“She affected so many people’s lives,” Regan said in regard to why she wanted to hold the celebration.
She said she made it a surprise, “just for fun.”
“I had no idea,” Hilderbrand said. “I thought it was a show for Jane, and I’m still a little confused.”
Not long after Hilderbrand arrived, a queue had formed in front of her, with friends and well wishers eager to get in a hug and a moment of conversation.
Hilderbrand said the party was fun, as it was a mixture of friends from business to her life outside of Hospice.
“In some ways, what you do at Hospice is beyond words because you go to places that are beyond words,” she said. “So you get to … be invited in by people and stand with them and support them as they go through that part of their life. … It’s a great gift to be able to give that from the heart, to learn so much from people. I feel really fortunate that I was able to have a job where I could make a living and I feel like I contributed.”
While hospice is generally seen as a service to others, Hilderbrand said that in a lot of ways those who work in that business end up learning how to improve their own lives in the process.
“Hospice really teaches us how to live, because it’s a place where you can talk about love, you can talk about rage, you can talk about peace, you can talk about compassion,” she said. “And those are so much of the things that we do in training and people have it in their hearts, but (they) have an opportunity to really grow those muscles and become better human beings, not just for the people they are volunteering for, but for themselves and for other people.”
Now, Hilderbrand said she’s looking forward to just getting back to the simple things in life she might not have had as much time for in the past — things like reading, spending time with her dog. There are no large adventures immediately on the horizon, but rather taking more time with nature and herself.
“It’s ordinary extraordinary things,” she said. “It’s not like I’m planning to fly to the moon or anything like that. It truly is just enjoying life and just sort of opening up to what’s coming next. So it’s an unplanned adventure.”