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National News

January 3, 2013

NATIONAL: At Fisher Houses, Military Familes Share Roof and Sometimes Grief

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

The Fisher House Foundation mostly relies on donations from the Fisher Brothers real estate firm, along with Defense Department funds and money from private individuals. (President Barack Obama recently reported that his family in 2011 donated $117,130 to the Fisher House Foundation.)

The Fisher Houses range in size, from eight- to 21-suite buildings. They boast flat-screen televisions in the rooms and granite kitchen countertops, and are decorated with elegant, framed artwork.

But the Fisher Houses, which have served more than 160,000 families since their inception, do not work like the Four Seasons. Guests, who stay an average of 10 days, buy and cook their own food and eat in a communal dining room. They take out the trash. They wash their own clothes.

The lack of privacy poses challenges: How can several families — already dealing with a relative's amputations or cancer treatment — get along under one roof without conflict or compounding each other's sadnesses?

"There were definitely a few times when people have come in late, they want to unload their story, I've already been at the hospital for 10 hours," said Fennell, who stayed at Fisher House with her two children for an entire year. "And some woman says, 'My son's come back from overseas. Was your husband in theater?'

"I wasn't open always to making them feel better. I didn't want it to be at the expense of my husband, who was dying, while their son was going to live."

Joseph Krebs, 80, a former Marine staying at the Fisher House at the District of Columbia's VA Medical Center while being treated for a blood disorder, grapples with how much he should inquire into other guests' private lives.

"This past week, three veterans passed away, and their relatives were at the Fisher House," Krebs recalled recently. "I gave one of the relatives a hug. I assured her that her husband was at peace. I share my problems but not to any depth. I don't want to invade others' privacy and pry into their personal hardships."

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