I've got mad love for our volunteers :)
Updated: Feb 15, 2020
When you or someone you love receives a Hospice order, it is with the understanding that there is only 6 months or less to live. That alone is a hard pill to swallow, and the process moving forward is so full of the unknown that fear is almost always present. Very rarely is anyone prepared for death and what that might entail.
One of the benefits of having Hospice care, is the team that is assigned and who will collaborate together to make sure fear, pain, and distress is relieved and that you, or your loved one does not feel alone. In some cases, there is a large family presence but it doesn’t always happen that way and from my perspective it is those times when our team truly blows me away.
While I have mad love and respect for all members of the team, it is the volunteers who I hold just a tad bit higher than the rest. The way they give so unselfishly to others, fills my heart with happy. I feel honored and blessed to work with our volunteers and know that if they have been to, or are about to see one of my patients, they will be in very good hands. Whether it is sitting completely still, holding a hand, singing or reading to a patient, it is done with such kindness and presence and is a true gift to all of our patients.
I have shared this story before, but it is one worth sharing again. It was Christmas Day and I visited a patient who was actively dying. Alone. He was agitated and restless and his process was anything but peaceful. I stayed for three hours until I felt him calm, but leaving him to die alone was difficult for me. I called our volunteer coordinator and asked if there was any way we could have someone sit with him; and I would have been grateful for just an hour. A vigil request was sent out to our volunteers and I was pleasantly surprised by how many responded. Volunteers took turns every two hours sitting at his bedside.
As he took his very last breath 24 hours later, he did it while one volunteer played beautiful music on his hammered dulcimer and another was about to step in for his next shift. They were both fully present for him as he passed away and he did not die alone. My heart is full.
End of life care takes a village; a team of people who each bring a unique and special gift to someone at the end of life and our volunteers play a huge role in this. They are a very important part of the team, usually spending more time with the patient than any of us do and in ways that we are not always able to provide. And while it is usually at the bedside being fully present, it is not always the last hours or days of their life. Often times, our volunteers meet the patient early on when they are still alert and oriented and just need someone to talk to, someone who will listen, to be a friend and a companion.
I remember a patient who looked forward to every Wednesday when her volunteer brought ice cream, another who enjoyed visits from his volunteer who brought his dog, and so many family members who appreciated the visits because it meant their loved one was safe and cared for and they could step away and run an errand or just take a few minutes to breathe. Everyone benefits from the volunteers who visit, the patient, the family, and the team.
The peace, the comfort, and the gentle kindness our volunteers bring, is so important to the work we do and a day does not go by that I do not feel honored to share space with them. I admire them, I respect them and from the very depths of my heart I say “thank you” to them.