The Gathering Together Provides a Peaceful Place for the Terminally Ill

Years ago, Rita Fiorentino, a former hospice nurse from San Francisco, recognized that there was a missing piece of the puzzle for families as their loved ones neared the end of life.

“It’s a difficult period of time because patients are often bedbound and incontinent,” Fiorentino says. “They need someone to care for them and keep them clean but don’t want to put that burden on their loved ones. At the same time, they want their family around.”

God put it on Fiorentino’s heart to do something bold. Since she couldn’t go stay with every person during their time of need, she decided to bring people to her place instead. In 2001, she started house hunting in the Bay Area, but nothing felt right. Then she flew to Indiana for a wedding. When she stepped inside the church prior to the nuptials, she heard God whisper, “Come back to Indiana. This is home to you now.”

By week’s end, Fiorentino had made an offer on a house in Plainfield, naming it “The Gathering Together” because a minister once told her that their meetings were “the best thing this side of The Gathering Together.”

Though she fell in love with the property — especially the gorgeous winding staircase — the interior was in shambles.

“It looked like a bomb had gone off inside,” Fiorentino says. Renovations, which included ripping out the kitchen and replacing the woodwork, took about a year. She wanted guests to be able to walk on a floor that was soft on their feet and sink into a couch that felt like a fluff of heaven. In short, she longed to create a relaxing sanctuary.

“I wanted everything about the place to be inviting so that folks would feel safe and peaceful,” Fiorentino says. She clearly achieved her vision as people always comment that they feel the peace of God here.

The Gathering Together is neither a nursing home nor hospice care. Each room has two beds in it — one for the patient and the other for Fiorentino. The family quarters are located upstairs, accessible by that winding staircase. If rooms are full, family members can bunk in the spacious living room.

Though some guests have stayed at The Gathering Together for several months, a week is the typical length of time. Some have only resided for a few days or even hours.

The home is unique in that it not only cares for the needs of the dying but for the living as well. It relieves family members of burdens that can keep them from enjoying those final precious moments with their loved ones.

“I’ve had women tell me, ‘This place was a gift because I could stop being my mom’s nurse and just get to be her daughter,’” Fiorentino says. “I’ve had men confide that they’re grateful to take off the caregiver hat and step into the loving husband role.”

To keep the house running, they hold three fundraising events a year. One, held in June, is The Gathering in the Garden.

“We serve a beautiful dinner and have live music, as well as a cake/dessert auction and silent auction,” Fiorentino says. A second event, held in October, is called Soup’s On at The Gathering Together. It’s a thank-you to the community for their ongoing support. They make a number of soups as well as pies, sold for $10 apiece. Last year a local girl scout troop partnered with U-Paint Pottery and arranged a community painting party.

“We ended up with 283 soup bowls, which we sold for $10 each,” Fiorentino says. The third event is December’s Holiday Open House — an affair that has grown into a huge Christmas boutique. “Hundreds of people come to that.”

Many of these events are sponsored by organizations like Hendricks Regional, IU West, Heart to Heart Hospice and St. Vincent Hospice. In addition, a number of local establishments regularly donate, including Chicago’s Pizza, Dairy Queen and PTI Industries.

Active Grace has sponsored a 5K walk, and Eagle Riders sponsored a ride to raise money for the house. In addition, the Gathering Together staff hosts craft and gardening workshops, bereavement groups and caregiver support groups. They have crafting volunteers who coordinate weekly projects, including sewing, stained glass, ceramics, felting, mixed media, basket weaving and cupcake decoration.

“There’s something for everyone and every ability,” says Fiorentino, noting that sometimes friends all sit down and have a meal together. “Though we’re not a social club, it becomes an outlet for people who don’t have a lot of social interactions.”

The home’s name is appropriate on so many levels. Church groups and women’s groups, social clubs and nurses all gather together for parties, meetings, even Celebrations of Life.

“We love to share our space,” Fiorentino says. “We’re open to anyone who wants to use it.”

Fiorentino is happy to open the home to the community because the community has been so welcoming of her.

“I’m so thankful that God plunked me in this unique Quaker town,” Fiorentino says. “The people of Plainfield are good to me.”

Folks have gotten to know about The Gathering Together mainly through word of mouth since Fiorentino doesn’t advertise.

“There’s no appropriate place in the Yellow Pages for what we do here, really,” says Fiorentino, who has had people knock on her door to share their burdens, their hopes and their dying wish. An Avon woman brought her dad down from Ft. Wayne. Another woman checked the place out for herself several months prior to getting really ill. She lived alone and didn’t want to die alone.

“She told me, ‘When I’m ready, this is where I want to come,’ and several months later, she did,” Fiorentino says.

John Hall, a 67-year Plainfield resident, had never heard about the Gathering Together until his wife, Pam, got sick, and they met with Fiorentino.

“Rita and her staff of volunteers provided such an outpouring of love that really made my wife and I feel comfortable,” Hall says. “Rita is a miracle worker. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

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