Living with Dying: Conversations on the end of life

This column will work if we get questions from you, our readers.
We want to hear from you, what is on your mind and heart regarding this challenging issue that each of us will need to address in our lives? Send your questions to [email protected].
Here is a frequently asked question:
“Who are hospice volunteers and what do they do?” 
Growing up in Germany I remember nuns with large starched veils in our local hospital. These ladies of the order often filled a humanitarian gap in the system and could be found sitting at bed sites listening to patients, or holding vigil and praying for the anxious and dying.
I also remember doctors making house-calls. Besides reducing the spreading of infectious diseases, it offered the comfort of home to patients who were too sick to leave the house but did not need to be in the hospital.
Eventually, these approaches to health-care were dubbed “outdated” and a brand new county hospital was built in our city, a modern marvel of technology and efficiency, all with a cafe and small store in the entry hall. What was missing was the quiet of being with a patient.
Upon my arrival in Middlebury in the mid ’90s, I remember my first visit to Porter Hospital. I was welcomed by two community members — volunteers — at the front desk, greeting me, asking my name and inquiring how they might direct me. This simple gesture, especially when feeling anxious about a pending procedure, made all the difference.
Within this caring community my two sons were born at Porter — and my husband died in Hospice at home. Beginnings and endings framing the spectrum of our lives. Both birthing and dying are intimate moments, vulnerable, and life-changing. The gift of a caring community cradling us in those times is priceless.
Hospice volunteer work has become part of my personal bereavement journey. As a Certified Life Coach and Facilitator, I work with individuals who are looking for ways through life transitions, that honor their individual values. As a Hospice Volunteer working with patients at their end-of-life, the same holds true.
This country was founded on pioneers, coming from many different corners of the world, all following a dream of possibilities, a wish for a better life, a pursuit of happiness. In crisis, neighbors helped neighbors. It often started with support out of necessity, but goes far beyond that when we truly care.
As hospice volunteers, knowing we can make a difference in somebody’s life by giving of ourselves freely, honestly, and whole-heartedly is deeply rooted in our humanity. It speaks to and is an expression of our soul-selves. It is a gifting forward. We don’t need to necessarily wear starched head veils to do so, the essence of our heart-felt intention is what counts.
— Dorothea Langevin,
Hospice Volunteer
Hospice Volunteer Services (HVS) trains community members to become patient care volunteers for those facing the end of life. Volunteers provide respite for family care givers, companionship, help with daily tasks and projects, reading, listening, emotional support, music, a protective presence, in short, whatever is helpful and needed. Once trained, volunteers may visit patients in their homes, at care facilities such as Helen Porter and Porter Hospital, in ARCH rooms, and local retirement communities.
Hospice volunteers represent the larger community, each time they cross a threshold, communicating to patients and families, “You are not forgotten by your community. You are not alone. You are important even in your last months, days and hours of life.”
Some community members are called to become hospice volunteers because a loved one received hospice services and they wish to return, in spirit and action, what was once given to them. Others simply feel called to do this kind of service. Each volunteer’s story and gifts are unique and valued.
HVS welcomes inquiries about becoming a hospice volunteer. The next 10-week training class starts Sept. 14. Contact Priscilla Baker at 388-4111 or [email protected].
“HVS volunteers provide a unique complement to the care of our patients and residents at the end of life, about half of whom are on hospice. Whether it is providing flowers, sitting vigil when family cannot be there, playing the harp, singing over or helping with the transition in and out of the hospital or ARCH rooms, HVS volunteers make a difference. After someone dies, the HVS ‘Journey with Grief’ support group can be a wonderful aid for families.”
— Rev. Matt Wollam-Berens, Chaplain at Porter Hospital and Helen Porter
“Volunteers enhance the quality of life for our patients and families. My favorite story is about a gentleman who had size 15 feet and who was always cold. We let the volunteers know about this, and the next thing we knew, we had received numerous pair of hand-knitted wool socks for him. It was an amazing example of how the volunteers went out of their way to make a gentleman who they would never meet more comfortable at the end of his life.”
— Marcia Wheeler, Director of Hospice Services at ACHHH
The End of Life Care Partnership next public event: Being Mortal Project, Sept. 18, 6:30-8 p.m., at the Bristol Fire Station.

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