What it Means to be a Hospice Volunteer

by Nicole Romansata

“And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years.”

Abraham Lincoln

It is always interesting to note how people will react when you tell them that you are a hospice volunteer. Many of us who choose this work have experienced comments such as, “I could never do that,” or “Isn’t that just so sad?” or “I don’t do death!” Yes, I heard this last one just this week. Because of these reactions I think that a lot of people have a misconception about what it means or what it may take to be a volunteer for hospice. When many people hear hospice, they often have an image that we must be sitting with people on their death bed. While companioning with patients at the end of life can be a deeply meaningful experience, it is only part of what we do. Vigiling at the bedside does not encompass the full spectrum of hospice volunteering. In fact, it is only a fraction of what Hospice of Santa Barbara volunteers do.

Hospice volunteers build relationship and form connections. They also help around the house or grocery shop when a person is too weak to complete these tasks themselves, due to treatments or illness. They also go to doctor’s appointments, take drives to the beach, go for walks, paint, prepare meals, provide pet therapy create life reminiscence videos, companion children in grief and most importantly provide a listening ear.

While hospice volunteering can be sad, it also comes with its rewards. One of our volunteers, Mark Collier, expresses that even though it is sad to lose those he has worked with who have died, he does not regret having known them. After losing someone we care about, would any of us take back having known and cared for them or having had a meaningful relationship with them? Volunteers often say they are better human beings for having met the people they serve. In so many ways, it is a privilege and honor to serve alongside others.

At Hospice of Santa Barbara, the common thread across all 9 of our volunteer programs is the human to human connection that forms between our volunteers and our clients. In so many ways it is a relationship like no other, in a role like no other. Volunteers make the choice to step outside of their familiar circle and draw near to those living with illness and grief, with hearts of compassion. They provide a listening ear and in time they become a safe person to share hopes, joys, and to discuss fears and challenges. They bring comfort and ease journeys by meeting people where they are without judgment or an agenda. There is a reciprocal relationship that forms. The connection that is built holds depth and meaning for both the volunteer and the client and family. Below, I would like to share just a fraction of the comments that we have recently receive, describing how our volunteers have touched the lives of their clients.

“Lyn is so wonderful – I love her and her positive energy. She has made my life so much better”.

-Lyn Essig, Patient Care Volunteer

“Rocky has been a very good friend to me and to my family. He's there for me all the time. I met him almost 5 years ago when I was still struggling to find my place in the world. He helped me through all those years and still does to this day. I'm 17 now, and about to graduate from high school, soon to be 18 in a few months, and I know he will still be there for me even when I'm an adult. Thank You for being there for me even if sometimes I felt as though I didn't need it.”

-Rocky Bellman, I Have a Friend ® Mentor

“Rachelle was really such a God-send to my mother. She has such a gentle, loving spirit that was so comforting to mom; and they had just so much fun together! She really brought my mom a lot of joy in her last few months.”

-Rachelle Fudge, Patient Care Volunteer

“‘Till Jill came into my life I had no experience with volunteer services. What she brought into my life is priceless, endless love and caring, she is totally non-judgmental and always 100% present. I love her and your services beyond description. With deep thanks.”

-Jill Kitnick, Patient Care Volunteer

“Carolyn is such a kind, loving person. She was a huge help to me during my radiation treatment, helping me get to my appointments when I didn’t have the strength to get to them myself. It’s so hard to be in a place of vulnerability, but Carolyn is so understanding – she made me feel so comfortable.”

-Carolyn Phreaner, Patient Care Volunteer

Words cannot express fully enough how grateful I am for the Hospice volunteer program that invites such a generous and capable person as Minie to respond with her magnanimous spirit. She is not only intelligent but also willing to do a variety of tasks from sewing, organizing, driving, preparing food, to planning ahead and responding to any need. Minie is a gift in my life at this time.

-Minie Pompe Van Meerdervoort, Patient Care Volunteer

Arlene is very sensitive and compassionate. She takes an avid interest and is there to do everything to show her warmth and friendship. Bonnie looks forward to her visits and it is an important part of her life. -Arlene Radasky, Patient Care Volunteer

What gifts! Many volunteers share that they receive above and beyond what they give. They express that volunteering adds more meaning and significance to their lives.

 

One HSB Volunteer expressed that she had cancer several years ago and through her own illness she learned to recognize the silver linings in life. She is currently volunteering for a man with ALS and she sees how very precious life is and how very precious it is to recognize the silver linings. Other volunteers have expressed that they are inspired by how hard their patients fight for life and how much spunk and strength they have. Volunteering in this way makes them a better person and in showing up for others they have learned lessons in presence and patience. Participating in this type of service often brings with it a decrease in the fear of death and an increase in the appreciation in everyday moments and a gratitude for life. Embracing the reality that all of us will die one day, can bring us more fully into life and all that it holds today.

There is beauty in the symbiotic relationship that forms through volunteer service. In sharing their talents they are also sharing the most meaningful of gifts. They give of their time and energy selflessly to help people live as fully as possible up until the end of life or up until recovery of illness. They give of themselves to make life better for others. Even through serious illness, there can be a lot of living to do. Our community is a better more compassionate place because of volunteer service.

So yes, volunteering can be sad when someone we have built a relationship with, sometimes over the course of years, dies. Most volunteers will tell you that they have no regrets, for what they gain is immeasurable. While we work with those impacted by serious illness, what we do is so much about life, giving, living with gratitude, and treating others with kindness up until our last breath.

I slept and dreamt that life was joy

I awoke and saw that life was service.

I acted and behold,

Service was joy.

-Rabindranath Tagore

April 23-30th is National Volunteer Week. To show our appreciation for all that our volunteers share we will be celebrating them with a Country Fair Volunteer Appreciation Party on the evening of May 18th. Volunteers will enjoy a BBQ dinner, live music, raffle games and great company. Because all of our volunteers deserve our gratitude, during the program portion of this event HSB and those we serve will have the opportunity to express appreciation for the kindness, compassion and presence that each one of our HSB Volunteers provides.