Person of the Week
Karen Miller: Knowing Her Values and Living Them
A nurse at Connecticut Hospice and longtime Madison resident, Karen Miller volunteers much of her time to the ministries of the North Madison Congregational Church. (Photo courtesy of Karen Miller )
Growing up, Karen Miller lived in a multifamily house with her cousins.
The older cousin was a nurse and Karen admired her. The younger had juvenile diabetes, and when her blood sugar level dropped, Karen learned what she had to do to help.
Both cousins inspired Karen so much that it’s no surprise she decided to become a nurse.
Today, Karen lives in Madison with Dave, her husband of 48 years, together they have two grown children, Sarah, 41 and Adam, 37.
She also continues to work as a nurse. She’s been a hospice nurse for the past 14 years at The Connecticut Hospice in Branford, where she cares for five to six patients each shift.
The job can be tough. Her work involves providing care to her patients and their families during the end stage of life.
“There is sadness, loss, and at times, conflict. I do my best to help patients and families to cope with these feelings and to live what time is left with peace and dignity,” she says candidly.
She explains that her job involves meeting the goals of patients and families—which can include symptom control of pain, anxiety, nausea, and shortness of breath—and giving spiritual and emotional support.
But Karen keeps a positive perspective.
“I try to accept what I cannot change [and] change what I can. I am basically hopeful,” she says.
She also admits that there have been moments of satisfaction as a hospice nurse.
“It’s very fulfilling to relieve a patient’s symptoms and support families to savor the time left with their loved ones,” she says.
Maybe it’s the somberness of her job, but Karen’s learned valuable lessons and insights that become part of treating patients at the end stage of life.
“I’ve learned to be grateful for every day because it is the only thing we really have,” she says. “You can’t get a wasted day back. Working with people who are at the end of their lives helps me to focus on what is really important.”
Ministries and Missions
Outside of her professional job, Karen has been heavily involved at the North Madison Congregational Church (NMCC), where she has been a member for 20 years and served as a deacon.
With the disruptions brought about by the pandemic, the church has had to shift its worship services and other activities online.
“Our worship service can be seen via Zoom and Facebook. We also have virtual Tuesdays in the Garden, Wednesday evening vespers, Thursday Bible study, and a book club. My husband gave a tour of our garden. It was fun to share our efforts and educational to learn from others as they share their plantings,” Karen says.
She’s also been involved with the church’s ministries and mission work.
“I became [a] ‘champion’ for these missions for the last two years. My role is to bring their needs to the congregation, coordinate the response, and collect the donations,” she says.
These missions include helping the students at St. Martin de Porres Academy, a school in New Haven with the expressed goal to break the cycle of poverty through education and opportunity.
Karen says 15 members of the church have volunteered to be tutors, music teachers, Boy Scout troop leaders, and library volunteers. The church has also made contributions based on the needs of the school.
“The congregation donated 50 books to the library and gift cards. This year due to the pandemic, the congregation donated 55 headsets and microphones to help students learn remotely,” she explains.
In addition, the church donates to organizations that help people in need, including Connecticut Quest for Peace, a nonprofit which seeks to improve the lives of the people of Nicaragua by sending provisions and humanitarian aid.
“[We] donated clothing, school supplies, medical supplies, kitchenware, musical instruments, garden tools, and hygiene supplies,” Karen says.
And then there’s Continuum of Care, a nonprofit organization in New Haven that provides residential support and crisis care to adults who struggle with mental health needs, PTSD, developmental disabilities, and substance abuse.
“The director of Continuum of Care is a member of NMCC. He requested homemade masks at the beginning of the pandemic. Members of the congregation and I were able to provide him with over 400 masks,” Karen explains.
“I enjoy sewing, and making masks was a way to calm my pandemic nerves,” she admits with humor.
But perhaps the volunteer work that is truly dear to Karen’s heart is with SARAH Tuxis Residential & Community Resources, a Guilford-based agency that provides support services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.
“My daughter has a development disability. She brought me to SARAH Tuxis. I’ve been on their board for about 30 years, on and off,” Karen says.
At SARAH Tuxis, individuals and families can choose the type of support they need and in the setting they desire. The agency also expanded its services to the Tuxis Harbor in Westbrook.
Karen says she’s been involved with the agency’s Circle of Friends and Development Committees.
“The Circle of Friends’ goal is to enhance the lives of the people the agency serves. We visit homes of residents to learn how to enrich their lives. We also provide a holiday fair and a gift program,” she says.
“The Development Committee oversees fundraising plans to meet the financial needs of the agency,” she adds.
Juggling her commitments has made for a busy schedule, but Karen knows her work has enriched the lives of those she serves—and that’s what matters to her.
“I ask myself what is important and what I can do to live my values. I find I receive more than I give. I’ve learned so much and met so many dedicated people. I’m part of a supportive community and that helps me be a hopeful person,” she says.