For just over 25 years, I have been a volunteer with The Hospice of Windsor and Essex County.Most of those years were spent visiting the oncology wards at our local hospital. I always feel privileged to be able to listen to people who need a listening ear and a caring heart. I admire their courage in the face of a possible terminal illness and their hope of having some quality time with their families.
Hospice has a wonderful program to teach us how to help patients in hospital and at home. I have done the course of eight weeks twice and found I have learned so much about how to respect a person’s privacy and choices and how to recognize when I need to stay or leave a room. We are given many clues to recognize pain and when to ask if we may get a nurse for someone. I have recently done an advanced palliative care course to have a deeper understanding of the level of support needed.
Doctors, trained palliative nurses and social workers have given us talks over the years. Not only has it helped us improve our own responses towards patients, it has also made us more knowledgeable for our own families if someone is ill. In addition to Hospice training, I have had extra courses from my own Anglican Church which have made me see the importance of spiritual care for anyone who is sick. These courses have given me more confidence and made me more competent to pray for or with terminally ill patients.
One of the services we have done for patients is to help them tell their life stories. Some years ago, I was visiting a lady who had a short time to live and she asked a nurse if anyone could write her life story. As an author, I was called in to see if I would do it. I was delighted to help and, using a digital tape recorder, I sat by her and just let her talk about her life. Then I went home and wrote up what she said. We had three sessions before she died and I was able to give her husband and daughter a CD of her speaking as well as making a small book for the family. The husband was glad to have something to do and chose pictures to put with the text. He told me a little more that I added and , in all, I felt rewarded by giving him and the family something to treasure. Since then other Hospice volunteers and I have recorded patients’ stories and usually written them up for the family.
Another way we volunteer is by visiting people at home;they are often at a low ebb and a visit can make them feel better. We can help with a snack or just listen to their concerns. On occasions I have driven someone to an appointment; the person is so grateful for that help that again it is a privilege to be involved in a caring way.
My own belief as a Christian is to be “God’s heart, hands and feet” here on earth while I can be. This kind of volunteering is not strenuous and adds so much joy for anyone who is sick. I also do pastoral visiting in my parish and find it rewarding as we have many lonely people who look forward to visitors. I know I can do none of this work without God’s help so prayer is important in my life.
As a result of one experience at the hospital when i was asked to speak to a small girl who was upset by her grandmother’s illness, I wrote a book. It is called Nana, I miss you. The Hospice director loved it and I wrote a little of the history of our local Hospice in the book, after the story. The book is still available from me for use with children.
Working as a volunteer and in our parish has made me feel my life has been most worthwhile beyond being a wife, mother, teacher and friend. I love meeting people and my association with Hospice has been a great education that is on-going. I have learned to listen more and my reliance on God has increased as I find more to do and more people to pray for.
My aunt used to sing a song which I loved. She was a big influence on my childhood faith. The song says,”If I can help somebody as I go along, then my living will not be in vain.”. The volunteering experience has shown me the value of helping in the community in which I live. For that I am most thankful.