Every day's a gift for hospice house volunteer
By Sharon Brown
Hospice House Volunteer
Volunteering for Treasure Coast Hospice has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life! We have all heard the saying, “It is better to give than to receive.” Volunteering here has truly made this expression come to life.
After we both retired in late 2003, my husband and I moved to Port St Lucie from Miami, where we had both grown up. Over the years, five members of our immediate family had been under hospice care. I told myself that someday “when things calmed down,” I would check out volunteering for Treasure Coast Hospice.
I am not sure life ever really calmed down, but I knew that the time had come and started volunteering with TCH in January 2007. I first started with home patient visits, which I continued for several years. When St Lucie Hospice House opened for patients in July 2007, I found a “home” there, patient visits, reception, family support for new admissions. I am also involved representing the Volunteer Department at the weekly inter-disciplinary team (IDT) meetings at St. Lucie Hospice House. At these meetings, patients' care plans are discussed to make sure the patient and family are receiving the best care possible.
Often people ask, “Isn’t working with hospice patients depressing?” If you deal with hospice patients and their families, you know going in that none of us can change the diagnosis, but we can make a real difference in the quality of their lives. They may have an unfortunate diagnosis, but they are fortunate to be under our care. How do we know? They tell us all the time. Sometimes, you just know it.
I have also come to appreciate the incredible team of professionals and volunteers with whom we work. As a volunteer, if you are positive and proactive, you truly benefit from the interaction and camaraderie.
Our life experiences help to make us valuable patient volunteers, but I often remind myself that it is not about us – it is about the patients and families. Often just being there, just listening, can mean so much more than talking. The important thing I try to remember is that this is part of life. We learn from these experiences and let them empower rather than immobilize us.
We try to avoid being judgmental. We can always discuss special situations with our volunteer coordinator, social worker, chaplain or counselor. We cannot change everyone, nor should we. Our patients and families will have different beliefs, different values and different backgrounds. We meet people where they are in the moment – they enrich our lives and expand our perspectives. They help us to feel what it means when we say, “Every Day Is a Gift.”
In our volunteer training, we discuss recognizing and respecting “boundaries.” We all develop close attachments to our patients and families, some more than others. Being a hospice volunteer is truly a privilege. We are meeting people at a very special time in their lives. Their deaths influence us; we are richer for having known them. On occasion, we all might need an emotional “time-out,” or breather. Our coordinators recommend that highly.
(The calmness that Sharon offers to patients, their friends and families is purely from her heart. It shows in all the tasks that she chooses to undertake as a Treasure Coast Hospice volunteer. For we who work with Sharon, we know that she is a wonderful “gift” every day.)