Sometimes things are meant to be and fall into place. That’s what happened when I became a hospice volunteer for Care Dimensions.
After spending 15+ years in the corporate world working in advertising/marketing and online compliance and fraud prevention, I realized that I needed to change careers and follow my passion. I took time off to figure it out. In the spring of 2016, my mom showed me a newspaper article about hospice volunteer training.
I wanted to do something meaningful. During high school, I had worked in a nursing home. I wanted to move back to my passion of working with and helping people. Volunteering for hospice seemed like good way to start. I filled out an application and Care Dimensions’ Senior Volunteer Coordinator Jane Corrigan called me.
My hospice volunteer training
I took hospice volunteer training for three hours each Wednesday for seven weeks at Emerson Hospital in Concord. I didn’t know too much going in, but the training was in-depth. Every Care Dimensions department came in and talked about their services and various aspects of hospice, including:
- Care for the patient and family by a team that includes a nurse, social worker, hospice aide, and chaplain
- Different types of dementias, and how patients sometimes do not recognize family members and feel lost
- Advance care planning, and how to make sure you have documented your health care wishes before your time comes
- Complementary therapies like music, pet, and massage therapy to help the patient relax
- Grief support
We also took a trip to the Kaplan Family Hospice House to see how Care Dimensions cares for hospice patients who require pain and symptom management that cannot be provided at home.
The training was interactive and got better each week. It kept us captivated.
For example, the volunteer coordinators told each of us to write 10 notes – one each for something we really love – such as our kids, spouse, or home. We then had to make choices about which ones could be taken away from us. It hurt, I actually had tears. It felt so real. It gave me some insight of what hospice patients in long-term care facilities could be going through.
I also took vigil training, which is learning how to sit with a patient who is close to death and offer comfort, or just be present. I was always afraid to die, but having gone through the training, it’s not as scary as I thought. I have a sense of comfort now knowing I don’t have to die alone.
My first hospice volunteer assignment
Jane gave me a choice of two patients for my first hospice volunteer assignment. I picked a middle-aged woman with multiple sclerosis who was paralyzed from the neck down and lived in a long-term care facility. I was with her for about six months.
In reviewing notes about the patient’s interests, I found out she liked classic rock, so that’s how we made a connection during my first visit. I played music on my phone and we talked about music – Led Zeppelin was one of her favorites. She had been a concert goer and told me how she once had a third row seat for a Rod Stewart show. We also discussed food, hair, and fashion from the 1970s and 80s. Everything just kind of clicked. It was like having time with your girlfriends.
My final visit with her was about 15 minutes. She was actively dying. I talked to her and rubbed her hand a bit. I knew the way she was breathing that this was the time. I said goodbye, and gave her a hug and kiss. Then just as I had done after every weekly visit, I called her parents.
I attended her wake. I didn’t know how to say goodbye to the parents, but the mom made it easier when she asked, “If I ever live at a nearby nursing home, will you visit me?”
Jane had me go to a Care Dimensions volunteer support group. I also spoke one-on-one with a bereavement counselor for an hour. It really helped. I had a special bond with the patient, so after she passed, I got a ton of support, which was amazing.
Lessons learned as a hospice volunteer
I’ve since volunteered with two more hospice patients. Every time I see a patient, I am so thankful. I remind myself that life is precious and we should count our blessings. This especially rang true upon seeing my first patient. We were close in age. Just listening to her journey was a lesson in how to appreciate my life. I was able to go to my car and leave and she was paralyzed and in bed. She had such a wonderful attitude. She never complained.
I always learn when volunteering with a hospice patient. It’s important to ask questions. You gain wisdom from their life experiences that you can’t get anywhere else. I feel blessed and lucky to have the opportunity.
Before I became a volunteer, I thought hospice was solely for the end of life, but it’s much more. It’s about getting the most out of every day, and as a volunteer, part of my role is to help patients do just that.
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