I'm often asked why I am a hospice volunteer. There are many reasons.
The first is that I know how much hospice helps both the dying person and the caregiver when life is close to the end. Having had the experience of being a caregiver with and without hospice, I feel there was an added level of comfort, confidence and peace when I had the knowledge and support of the hospice team. I had a lot of family to help when I didn't have hospice aid; imagine how hard it is for those who don't have relatives or friends nearby!
The second reason is that it's a chance to give back. Winston Churchill said, "We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give." We often don't get a chance to give back directly to those who help us, but we can pass the caring on to others. There are many ways one can volunteer in a community. Being a hospice volunteer is one. Even if a person doesn't want to work directly with patients, other ways to help are available. I've done office work, helped with special events, baked, transported patients or caregivers, cleaned house and sometimes just visited. Other volunteers sew teddy bears (no one would want one made by me) as remembrances of the loved one, help patients record memories for the family, visit with the bereaved and do whatever needs to be done to aid the patient and family.
The third reason is that hospice people are a wonderful group to be around. They are caring and positive. That may seem strange when one considers that they work with the dying, but hospice is about allowing people to live fully during their final days, free from pain and isolation. I remember, while caring for my husband, how he would enjoy the exchanges with both the professionals and volunteers who came to our home. They often engaged him in discussions about his music, sports and childhood that I forgot about after a lifetime of living together. And they often recognized my needs as a caregiver long before I did, encouraging me to take advantage of extra help available.
The fourth reason is that hospice makes sense from a very practical point of view. I recently saw a report that said a large part of medical expense is used during the final three months of life because patients are hospitalized and then subjected to tests and treatments which really don't prolong a quality life. I suspect that is truer in large urban areas than it is in our small community, but we all know medical care is expensive. Tests and procedures are often necessary, but when they are no longer helpful, I'd prefer those funds be used to make end of life pain free and better for the patient.
All I know is that when the end of life comes for me, if I'm not able to (as my father used to say) die with my boots still on, I hope hospice is available to help my last days be as easy and comfortable as possible for both my family and me.
Editor's note: Judy Pleshe is a hospice volunteer for Aspirus Keweenaw Home Health &?Hospice.