In our naïveté as new owners, we put out our sign when we first bought the Heart & Hearth property. Leila’s sister stopped by to check us out and decided that this was the place for Leila to come. Leila was living in Florida, but her mother had recently died, and Linda, Leila’s sister and her new guardian, needed Leila to be closer.

Linda was very patient with our process, and when we finally opened our doors a year later on June 5th 2007, Leila was our first resident. Being a middle-aged woman with a cognitive delay, Leila lived with the exuberance of a child and the wisdom of her years. She loved coloring books and storybooks. She was also an artist whose works have been in galleries in the area. Leila was very social. She loved people. If she was really taken with someone or happy to see them, she would sidle up, lean in a bit and declare “I’m gonna take you to the movies!” When anyone came to Heart & Hearth, from inspectors, to nurses, to others’ family members, Leila would always say “Oh, thank you for coming to see me!”

Leila loved music and she loved to dance. We took her to the drumming circle at Pritchard Park in downtown Asheville on a Friday night. She danced until we had to stop her. On music nights when Steve and I got out our guitars, her first request was always “Puff the Magic Dragon.” We now know that song by heart!

Leila would never allow us to get away with missing any holiday. Halloween was her favorite. Not only did she get to dress up, but her birthday was two days before, so she had plenty to celebrate. The last year of her life, Leila was in heart failure and had to go to the hospital right before Halloween. She had planned to be Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz that year, and her sister had already gotten her the costume. On Halloween day, Linda took the costume to the hospital and Leila was able to Trick or Treat on the heart floor with the tremendous support and love from the hospital staff. Serendipitously, the staff from the pediatrics floor had all dressed in the Wizard of Oz theme that year as well. Leila was thrilled to see them and be a part of their celebration.

Leila was terrified of doctors, needles, and hospitals, yet during these last days when she was sick, she was so gracious, patient, funny, and tolerant of all that she had to endure. Everyone that she encountered fell in love with her.

Leila came back to Heart & Hearth and died there quietly and peacefully soon after. We were truly blessed with Leila’s presence and forever grateful to her sister for choosing us to care for her.

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