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Gravenhof is called to care for others

Rural Worthington woman has a heart for hospice patients, their families.

Cindy Gravenhof is an LPN at the Sunset Hospice Cottage in Worthington.
Cindy Gravenhof is an LPN at the Sunset Hospice Cottage in Worthington.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

WORTHINGTON — Although she didn’t find the perfect professional fit until her 40s, Cindy Gravenhof is exactly where she was meant to be.

As a Sanford-employed LPN at Worthington’s Sunset Hospice Cottage, the 52-year-old Gravenhof loves every aspect of the job she’s performed since 2016.

“It can be very busy,” said Gravenhof of hospice work, “but when it’s not incredibly busy I love spending time with the people.

“If they’re able to visit with me, I listen to them remembering the things in life they thought were wonderful, and I love to learn about their lives so I can incorporate their interests into my care of them.”

For instance, if a patient had farmed, Gravenhof steers conversations toward agricultural topics.

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“I always keep in mind that this is somebody’s mom, dad, grandma or grandpa, and I want to make them feel important and loved,” she continued. “And I also like caring for patients’ families so they can enjoy the last days of their loved ones’ lives; I’ll do the work so they can just spend their time together as a family.”

Caring from the start

Upon reflection, Gravenhof realizes she was destined for a caring profession.

“I’ve always loved caring for people, starting with babysitting when I was young,” she said. “And I loved music so much — I still do today — and my husband and I sang at church and in nursing homes.”

Growing up on her family’s farm outside of Sheldon, Iowa, the daughter of Bob and Carol Henning joined her brother in both hog barn and field labor. Gravenhof also knows her way around a tractor.

“I don’t know if I thought then about becoming a nurse, but experiences in life led me to it,” she shared.

While attending Faith Christian High School in Bigelow, the 1988 graduate met her future husband, Ryan; they married in August 1989 and farm near Ryan’s home place, about four miles northwest of Worthington.

Post-high school, Gravenhof attended Northwest Iowa Technical College for administrative assistant studies. That led to her job as an assistant to the late but legendary family practice physician Dr. Reuben Samani in Sioux Center, Iowa, while Ryan finished college.

Cindy Gravenhof working at the Sunset Hospice Cottage. Tim Middagh / The Globe
Cindy Gravenhof enjoys caring for, visiting with patients at Sunset Hospice Cottage.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

“I learned a tremendous amount from Dr. Samani in the time I was there,” Gravenhof said. “Even though I was doing clerical things, he taught me how to do some lab work and ‘rooming’ of patients, involving visiting with them, listening to their concerns and finding out what brought them in.”

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The Gravenhofs started their own family, which eventually grew to include five children who currently range in age from 13 to 31.

Understandably, her attention was focused at home for a period of time. She eventually became a daycare provider, ultimately taking in about 15 kids over a 15-year period.

That was another pivotal experience for Gravenhof because in her last years of child-care, a little girl with multiple disabilities was among her charges.

“I so enjoyed caring for her,” said Gravenhof, noting it opened her eyes to other needs because her own children were largely blessedly healthy.

“I administered her medications, took her to physical therapy and learned so much in caring for her,” said Gravenhof. She developed a greater level of calmness, even under stress, because the child’s mood would echo her own.

Gravenhof earned her Certified Nursing Assistant certification at Minnesota West, and when the girl’s family moved away from the Worthington area, she felt the time was right for the next step.

“I applied and was accepted to the nursing program at Minnesota West in 2014,” she said. “It took two years for me because I worked full-time during the program.”

Educational assets

Having been out of the formal educational system for over 20 years, this mother of five, by then in her mid-40s, was definitely a non-traditional student.

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Navigating online assignments and classes was new to her, and conquering the academic demands wasn’t easy either.

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“There were times I cried and thought about giving up, but I stuck with it,” said Gravenhof. “I was in class with students who were younger than some of my children — but with age comes wisdom, and I had a lot of life experiences that helped me.

“I don’t know if I would have done as well with it when I was younger.”

Her biggest challenge was simultaneously wearing the many hats of student, mother, wife and employee.

“I still wanted to be the best mom and wife I could be, and going back to school took a lot of time,” she said. “My kids had activities at school and college I wanted to attend and enjoy, so juggling the family/school balance was the hardest.”

Gravenhof persisted, embraced the hands-on labs and clinical work her program required and emerged with the necessary degree and skills to make a positive difference in even more people’s lives.

Hospice calls

Stints at Ecumen Meadows and Avera Clinic were rewarding, but Gravenhof has found her true calling at Sunset Hospice Cottage.

“The cottage is a tremendous community asset,” she said. “It’s such a neat facility that is able to help so many people, and the board and volunteers are great; they really try to make the cottage the best it can be.”

Sunset Hospice Cottage board member and volunteer Susanne Murphy appreciates all the facility’s wonderful employees — including Gravenhof.

“Cindy is exceptional,” said Murphy. “You never walk through that door without her giving you a kind smile and offering genuine conversation.

“She treats every resident as if they were part of her own family,” Murphy continued. “We have a sensational staff from Sanford that meets every resident’s needs, and Cindy goes above and beyond. She’s professional but also brings a genuine sense of family to the cottage.”

Like the other hospice nurses, Gravenhof works 12 hours at a time — typically, she logs three 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. shifts weekly.

“You have to have a calling to do this work,” said Gravenhof. “And we have such a great group of nurses working at the hospice cottage.

“We all share that love of caring for people, and each one gives such great care to their patients and is wonderful to work with,” Gravenhof added. “We aim for continuity of care so we communicate with each other in between shifts to keep patients and their families as comfortable as they can be.”

Worthington resident Mary Luke, whose mother Mary Thompson spent the last precious month of her life at Sunset Hospice Cottage during October and November 2019, attests to that.

“All the nurses really knew their stuff and the level of care was exceptional,” said Luke. “My mother’s caregivers were lovely and made every effort to get to know her and keep her comfortable in any way they could.”

Emotions are part of being a hospice nurse, Gravenhof affirms.

“You grow to love those who are passing, and their families, and you feel for them,” said Gravenhof. “You might stand at a bedside and cry with a family, but these moments remind me to enjoy the time I have with my own parents and family and to appreciate the gift of good health.”

Gravenhof appreciates her husband’s ongoing support. Longtime members of Worthington Christian Reformed Church, the couple spends time with their family when not farming (they raise grain and a Black Angus herd) or when a hospice shift isn’t on the day’s schedule.

She strives to maintain an attitude of gratitude, even when days are long.

“I pray, ‘Thank you, Lord, that I’m able to do this work and help these people,’” said Gravenhof. “And I have so much to be thankful for at the end of the day.”

Related Topics: WORTHINGTONNURSINGPEOPLE
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