Volunteer Testimonial: Unexpected Gifts From Hospice Care

| By Casa de la Luz
Serendipity  brought me to Casa de la Luz as a volunteer.  After having searched listings online for appealing, available volunteer positions, Casa was put on my list of possibilities.  A few days later, an article about Casa appeared in our local newspaper, and, after reading it, I decided that it must be a sign that this was the one for me.

Having worked as a K-12 educator and librarian my entire professional life, I really felt the need to do something with an older population.  Also, my mother had spent the last few weeks of her life in a hospice-like facility for terminal cancer patients, so choosing hospice work just seemed to be the perfect way to pay tribute to her.

Going through the Casa training program was enlightening, challenging, and extremely informative, with no sugar coating of what we would be dealing with. In that sense, one really gets a good idea of whether this volunteer work is something they truly want to be involved in. I finished my training in November of 2009, excited yet a bit unsure of whether or not I would be able to rise to the challenge.

My time with Casa over the past two years has included visiting patients in their home or facility as well as the Inpatient Unit, bereavement volunteering, and being available at the memorial services and conferences.

Most of my time with in-home patients has been long-term, spanning several months.  Listening to the stories of their lives and loves, sharing in their past and helping them face the future have been unforgettable and deeply moving experiences.  I recall one of my mother’s nurses sharing that she had learned so much from my mother as she was dying and now, I truly understand what she meant by that.  Each visit with a patient is a unique experience and as long as we keep ourselves open to receiving from them whatever they have to offer, without judgment and with unconditional acceptance, the rewards are immeasurable.

With my in-home, coherent patients, I try to focus on their likes, interests, and strengths, steering the conversation toward those things, bringing magazines about their interests, playing music that they enjoy, and maybe putting together a memoir of their life.  With patients who are unable to communicate fully, I often read to them or play music and sometimes even sing along.  Somehow, music seems to awaken something deep within them, often eliciting a smile even from those not fully awake.

Another rewarding part of volunteering is getting to know the caregivers who often rely on the volunteers for their own healing journey and respite from day to day care.  I often spend a bit of time chatting with them as well when I visit.  They truly need the companionship as much as the patients.

At the IPU, I really find peace in sitting with those close to death, focusing very hard on just being in the moment with them. I find it to be a very personal, spiritual, and deeply gratifying experience.

Of course, the volunteer experience would not be as rewarding without the support of the volunteer coordinator and her assistant.  They go above and beyond to assure that our needs and concerns are addressed and dealt with, always in a timely manner. They are an amazing team.

I feel so grateful for having found something that is truly fulfilling, offers so much in terms of teachable moments, and helps in the understanding and acceptance of death in a positive, affirming way.

by Kathy Little, Volunteer
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