A life guided by the heart

Hometown Hero Jeanne Lepisto got a glimpse of greatness early in life, and it has guided her heart and spirit ever since. “Our family spent a lot of time with my cousin Ronnie, a wonderfully loving boy with Down syndrome. He was always a bringer of love and life and laughter.

Hometown Hero Jeanne Lepisto got a glimpse of greatness early in life, and it has guided her heart and spirit ever since.

“Our family spent a lot of time with my cousin Ronnie, a wonderfully loving boy with Down syndrome. He was always a bringer of love and life and laughter.

“All the people that I have known over the years like him, have taught me so much. I believe they live without ego. My wish is to be more like Ronnie.

“He lived from his heart, and was the most loving and open person I knew,” she says. “I would like to be that loving.”

It’s easier said than done, however.

“When I don’t allow my ego to run my life, I am able to be more of a steady presence, more giving, less fearful, less reactive, and ultimately…I am happier. Ahh, but how to do this in every situation? I don’t know.”

Those who work with Jeanne feel she is an example of a person that doesn’t lead with her ego. It starts with her business partner and fellow nurse Sharon Emerson.

“For the past 22 years I have been fortunate to have Jeanne as a business partner in Island Home Nursing,” Emerson says. Lepisto can see right to the heart of a situation without getting distracted ,or letting herself get in the way.”

Island Home Nursing is a public service, bringing jobs to Whidbey Island and bringing vital services to the elderly and ill.

“They show that a business can do good while creating a living for a lot of SW people,” says Autumn Preble, Power of Hope coordinator.

“They employed between 80 and 100 at one time, and serve over 200 clients. I observe Jeanne and all at Island Home Nursing as being some of the unsung heroes in our community,” Preble says.

Leena Bennett worked for Island Home Nursing for more than 10 years before recently retiring. Bennett remarked how Jeanne never treated her like her boss, but a supportive co-worker.

“It was the first time I can remember loving to go to work. It isn’t just a business, they care about each and every client and employee,” Bennett says.

“Jeanne took a personal interest in me, she probably does with everyone. She carefully matches up the clients and caregivers. She’s always willing to listen to other people’s ideas,” she adds.

Lepisto agrees, and notes that so much can be gained by listening.

“I used to waste time wanting to be ‘right.’ I would argue and defend my point of view,” Lepisto recalls.

In reality, she says, very few viewpoints are “truth.”

“The more times I can let go of ‘my reality’ the more my ego loosens up and the knots I’ve created untie and life flows easier. Of course I have to work on this daily. I have to take baby steps toward this ego-less desire,” Lepisto adds.

Tamara Guthrie, who has multiple sclerosis and is in a wheelchair, contacts Island Home Nursing when her husband travels for work.

“Jeanne came over to meet me so she could match up just the right nurses for me. She cares about me, looks out for me, and listens to find out what I want. Island Home Nursing is the most personal and caring nursing care I have ever used,” Guthrie says.

Lepisto says they don’t try to pretend to know what’s right for another person.

“Even if a person says they don’t know what they want, if we learn to ask good questions, and listen with patience, people figure out they really do know what is best for themselves.”

She says everyone at Island Home Nursing is remarkable at listening. She recounts a story of a young woman in a wheelchair who moved here to die with her best friend.

Unfortunately her friend had to fly out because of an emergency. Not knowing anyone, the young woman called Island Home Nursing and Lepisto answered.

The young woman was fearful and all alone, and said she wished to see the ocean. Lepisto followed her heart, canceled her appointments, picking up the woman and drove her to the Sound.

“I wheeled her to the edge of the bluff, and there we watched two orcas; a mother and her baby play. We watched and cried together in silence, after which she said, ‘Now I know why I came to Whidbey.’” The young woman died the next morning.

Lepisto started out as an oncology nurse, where many of her patients had less than a 10 percent chance of survival.

“I have had many people die in my arms. This is never comfortable, but is always a privilege.”

Her first introduction to death came through a 21-year-old young man who had cancer. He needed a bone marrow transplant from his healthy twin brother to save his life.

But unbeknownst to the healthy brother, it was found through blood tests that he was dying of AIDS. Now the parents faced losing both of their only two children. “Through this tragic time, I found I was able to help hold that space for them to grieve and love each other. I learned that I was not able to fix it, and knew this was not about me. I was able to be fully present without fear allowing what was to just be.”

In her presence, people feel good about themselves; they become the center of Lepisto’s universe as she becomes completely focused and listens intently. Such easy acceptance was obvious on a recent visit to her home.

Lepisto sits crossed-legged on her couch, wearing a brightly colored shirt and knitted scarf. Her home is decorated with paintings, with splashes of tangerine, lime and lemon colors. Crochet blankets she has made drape the furniture. She has prepared a homemade lunch from scratch including her garden garnishes. The table is set with a yellow pastel lace tablecloth, china, glass goblets, and fresh flowers.

She talks about how fortunate she was to be raised by generous and loving parents.

“Together we went to church every Sunday, but more importantly, I witnessed them living their faith as committed helpers in the community.” She pauses, and her voice cracks as tears slide down her cheeks. “How lucky I am.”

Kerry Mann, her 21-year-old daughter, feels lucky, too. She says her parents put her needs first. Even though Lepisto and former husband Frazer Mann divorced when she was 5, they still live a few miles apart so they could both raise her.

“I know I am loved and if I need anything they are here for me,” Kerry Mann says.

Lepisto says family is important.

“My grandfather often sang me a song in Finnish, while I sat on his lap. It’s about mundane life, not the big moments but the simple moments that get us through.”

She softly sings it in a sweet, humble voice, but giving the song everything she has — as if there was an audience of more than one. Everything she does she gives herself fully to.

Last month an elderly man called her in a panic and told her his wife had just died in their bed. She asked the man if he wanted her to come right over.

But he was afraid. “Don’t leave me, please stay on the phone,” he asked. She did, for about three hours.

“Much of that time I was there in silence while he held his wife’s hands and stroked her hair and said goodbye to her.”

The man and his family are now so grateful she encouraged him to take that time.

Lepisto remarks, “Once the funeral home is called, our loved one is whisked away and it is not until later that we wished we had taken more time to say goodbye.”

Gail Fleming, a close friend writes, “Jeanne and I raised our children as close cousins. We would take turns caring for and even nursing one another’s children.

“The unconditional and unwavering love of Kai’s ‘other mother’ is a very important element in Kai’s life. Jeanne’s whole life is about manifesting awareness and compassion for others. She is totally dedicated to providing people with the services that they need to stay at home,” Flemming notes.

She doesn’t have a big ego to be concerned about, she saves her concern for others and helps them with her big heart.