Many people have careers that they adore but a select few are designated for the difficult industry of hospice. Complete with close patient and caretaker relationships and bittersweet goodbyes, the hospice business takes a special sort of person to dedicate their life to its worthy cause.
Janet Smith is one of those special people.
Smith was born and raised in Cañon City and, having only spent 10 months away in Houston in the 1980s, has dedicated her life to Fremont County and the many people who live there.
She attended many schools throughout town, such as Harrison Elementary, Cañon City Junior High, and Cañon City High School.
Smith’s lifelong love of hospice work started at the relatively young age of 16 when she got a job at Skyline Nursing Retreat and Rehabilitation on Fifth Street — now Skyline Ridge Nursing Home — as a Certified Nursing Assistant.
She married young at 21 and raised a beautiful family of four children, two boys, and two girls, and also worked at Hildebrand Care Center’s Home Care before moving on to hospice care.
On June 11, 1997, Smith started her hospice journey at Sangre De Cristo Hospice and Palliative Care. Back then, the office was located in Florence and only had one full-time and one part-time CNA, of which Smith was one.
As the years rolled by, Sangre De Cristo Hospice grew and Smith now finds herself working alongside 25 coworkers who serve to fill her days with laughter and joy. Smith attributes much of her success to both her coworkers, her love for the job, and the colorful assortment of people she has the opportunity to meet every day.
“It has to come from your heart,” she said. “I love what I do and I get one on one personal time with patients and families. It’s been the most rewarding — I don’t even want to call it a job — it’s the most rewarding position I’ve ever had. I just, I love it.”
Although Smith knows that she will have tough losses, as she gets attached to many of her patients, she knows the value of the services she provides. She’s even had cases where patients have “graduated” from hospice and gone on to live full, happy lives. Though every case may not turn out that way, Smith finds comfort in knowing she does all she can to bring a smile to her patient’s faces.
“During my 13 years as a hospice nurse, I served alongside Janet,” said friend, coworker, and former patient’s wife, Jane Ann Carver, “She was always willing to go above and beyond, even rescuing me at 3 a.m. with another pair of needed hands. When my husband was dying, I requested her as our CNA. As she cared for him. her kindness, expertise, and wit could get him to do anything for her. Talk about T.L.C. Sangre de Cristo Community Care could not have a better representative of their heartfelt commitment to this community.”
Twenty-five years is a long time to dedicate to any service and hospice is no exception. Smith has been across Fremont County and knows countless families and has made many friends through the dedication she devotes to her work.
“Some of my fondest memories are the people that still come up to me and say, ‘You took care of my grandma, or you took care of my mom, or my brother or one of my family members and we just loved you,’” Smith said. “Those are the memories — knowing I made an impact on somebody’s life, even if it was just for a day or a year. I made an impact somewhere in there.”
Smith also enjoys her extended family — of which there are many. She has six grandchildren with one great-grandchild and three of her four children live in the local area. Needless to say, they enjoy getting together and making memories.
“I don’t know what I’d do without a big family,” Smith said.
She also enjoys plastic canvas work and cooking, but a lifelong love she’s harbored has been for animals. At a young age, Smith knew she was always destined to be a pet parent. From horses to ducks, she’s had them all. She currently has a home of furry companions and thoroughly enjoys every moment of it.
At 63, Smith has started to ponder retirement but acknowledges that, although it might be nice for a few months, she would likely get bored.
“I think I could maybe be semi-retired. I probably have five years’ worth of work to do at my house, but it’s not the same as going in and holding somebody’s hand or holding them in your arms or giving them that hug,” she said. “That would definitely be missing.”
Fremont County has been lucky to have a CNA/CHPNA like Smith and, though she may be on the cusp of retirement, she plans to attack every day with passion and drive.
“I really think I’m where I’m supposed to be, I really do,” Smith said. “Mind, body, and soul.”