By Cindy Baker, Hospice Social Worker & Volunteer Coordinator
Hospice volunteering takes a special kind of person who is flexible, doesn’t take things personally, has good self-awareness, good boundaries, and is able to stand present in hard situations. These traits came to the forefront as we moved through the last two years of the pandemic. Our hospice at least doubled the number of patients we usually have had, and many of these families wanted to use volunteers.
Volunteers who were vulnerable themselves and/or had vulnerable loved ones at home at first stepped back for a time. A minor force of five volunteers stepped up to help out families, often taking on multiple families, which is not the norm when volunteering for hospice. Managing screening, masks, infection control and the unknown took an amazing amount of maneuvering. Little by little, as the pandemic settled in, more volunteers came forward as they felt comfortable about keeping themselves and their hospice families as safe as possible while providing respite.
I saw a level of resiliency and determination in our volunteers that I hadn’t really appreciated before. They didn’t blink an eye about having to learn how to use PPE, “just show me how it’s done” and they understood our staff and the whole health care system was on a major learning curve. And still is. I know of some hospices where the volunteers were not able to provide much respite during the height of the pandemic, and I feel like our hospice never broke its stride with our incredible volunteers and staff.
Our dedicated hospice volunteers provide respite for families so loved ones can run errands, have lunch with a friend, take a nap, or even take a walk several times a week. Many of our hospice families are fiercely independent. It’s not easy to accept help from others, especially if one has always been the caregiver. Laboring out of life can be as challenging as laboring into life. It can be messy, hard and an incredibly sacred time.
I’m in my 26th year as a hospice volunteer coordinator, and I still feel the reward of training volunteers, hopefully giving them the tools they need, introducing them to our families, and then stepping into the background to let them build relationships. Our hospice volunteers give me hope for a better world. One where people give when it’s hard. Stand steady when it’s hard and love anyway.
Follow the link to find out more about our Hospice program: https://www.sheridanhospital.org/medical-services/hospice/