March 26, 2017
by Mary York
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Mary McArthur, Living Through Each Moment of Life, A Hospice Volunteer Spotlight

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JourneyCare Hospice Volunteer, Mary McArthur

Nurturing Moments Through the End of Life

Like so many people facing an empty nest, Mary McArthur sought something to keep her busy as her children flew away to live their own lives. When her youngest went away to college in 2006, it was time for Mary to do something for herself – and that something was hospice volunteering.

Her mother had passed away young; Mary was only 22 at the time, and, in 1976, hospice was not a presence yet in the U.S.  Then, over the years, Mary helped many friends and family members who died with hospice at their side, and she saw firsthand what a difference hospice made in the end-of-life journey. Along the way, she read a most moving article in the Chicago Tribune by Dr. Martha Twaddle, a leader in the Palliative Care and Hospice field, and the medical director for a local hospice organization.  It was then that Mary realized she felt compelled to work in the hospice arena. Dr. Twaddle emphasized that hospice care was, most of all, about simply being present during the transition from life to death.

Once Mary’s patient care volunteer training was complete, she began her patient assignments with another new volunteer as her partner. They both found it helpful to bounce ideas off of one another as they absorbed the scope of this powerful ministry. She learned early on that many patients are grateful for hospice team members who “get” that their life is ending at a time when many family members just aren’t ready to embrace that reality yet.  She helped her patients realize that though death was coming, there could still be joy.

She noted, “this is what the reality/inevitability is, but it can still be great. Let’s help you live until you don’t.”

Grateful for Life's Simple Pleasures

Grateful for Life’s Simple Pleasures

Through her time as a hospice volunteer, Mary has found many rewards gained from her experience, including a renewed appreciation for the simple things. She learned just how often we take a functioning body for granted. So many patients are upset by the loss of functioning they experience at the end of life; Mary has learned to truly be grateful for something as simple as the ability to walk, talk, or even breathe on her own. In fact, when a day passes that is quite uneventful, it’s cause for celebration.
Speaking of celebration, she urges her patients to “seize the day” as much as possible. To facilitate this, Mary came up with the genius idea of searching for wacky holidays. Every day seems to have a theme – National Peanut Butter Day, National Candle Day, you name it, you can find it with a quick internet search. Mary likes to walk into the patient’s room and tell them about whatever National Day it might be. That sparks conversations and offers the opportunity to enjoy light-hearted moments that stem from that.
Mary has also learned that silence truly is golden. It is important for a volunteer to feel comfortable with silence, to reassure the patient that they needn’t  entertain the volunteer. The hospice volunteer can simply sit in the room and be present, simply there if the patient needs anything, and nothing more. That can be quite comforting for patients and for the volunteer, too.

“Silence can be a blessed thing,” Mary said.

On a practical level, hospice care has taught Mary what she wants her own end to be like, for herself and for her family. Mary was asked to sit with a patient for a while so his family could go to the funeral home and make arrangements for his burial  at the very end of his life when the family was so very fragile. Upon seeing the grief and difficulty the family endured in making those decisions, Mary knew she didn’t want her children to go through that kind of crisis. She made the decision right then to get cemetery plots for her and her husband while she is in good health.

Never too Early for Life's "Firsts"

Never too Late for “Firsts” in Life

So many patients have made their mark in Mary’s life and she recalled a few touching stories. One of these happenings occurred shortly after Halloween, Mary went into a patients’s room and presented her with M&Ms from a Halloween basket. Amazingly, the woman had never tasted M&Ms! She had grown up in Hershey, PA, and M&Ms were not a Hershey’s product, so they weren’t as common as other candies were. Of course the woman loved her first taste of M&Ms, and Mary began bringing her all different types for the seasons, such as red and green Christmas M&Ms or pastel Easter M&Ms. Something as simple as a tiny M&M candy was enough to brighten the patient’s days.

Mary has also learned to never discount how much a patient really knows, especially those who are suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. One of her patients, who seemed to be far into the grip of Alzheimer’s, was taken down to a short prayer service. He was declining rapidly, so no one expected him to speak. But when the Lord’s Prayer began, the patient knew every word.
Another memorable moment happened when Mary and a patient watched the Chicago Cubs. The man had Parkinson’s and dementia, and he could no longer speak. She told the patient they could sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the seventh inning stretch. The man’s son later joined them to watch the game, and sure enough, when the seventh inning stretch came and Mary began to sing, the patient did, too. The son was so moved that he burst into tears. The power of music allowed his dad to ‘come back’ for one priceless, cherished moment.

Anyone who works in hospice care gains an up-close-and-personal relationship with patients and with death itself. Mary gained a unique perspective when dealing with a patient who was very close to the end of her life. The patient was frightened of what was to come. But her faith was strong, so her Chaplain asked: “Aren’t you just a little bit curious?”
And sure enough, the woman could admit that yes, she was. Mary found those words and that admission quite comforting, and the patient did, too.

Mary also gained unique perspective from Dr. Twaddle. A patient had just passed away, and Dr. Twaddle stopped by the room to pay her respects. She pointed out the profound silence. It was an affirming kind of stillness. When the family said that there was no way they could have gotten through this without hospice, the team’s response was, “It takes a village to birth a child. It takes a village to raise a child. There is no reason in the world it shouldn’t take a village to escort a person out of this life.”

“There are worse things than dying,” Mary said.

One special practice Mary created for herself is to remember that when a life is over, the patient is not forgotten. Mary writes to the family after the patient’s death, recalling something good she observed about the patient or about the family member’s interaction with them during those last days.

Her remembrance doesn’t stop there. When the patient’s birthday rolls around, Mary recognizes the importance of it for the surviving family. That’s the first year the family didn’t need to buy a card or plan a celebration of some kind – that in and of itself can be quite painful. Mary sends a note on the birthday, remembering their lost family member.
And at the one-year anniversary, she makes it clear she remembers their loved one. “I am thinking of you on this day” written in a card is a simple sentiment that means so much to those who are left behind.

Summarizing, Mary often says that in hospice patient care, we are in the affirmation business. By listening to a patient, or their family, about what makes a patient “tick”, a wise volunteer can speak to the gifts that patient brought to our world. Whenever possible, Mary tries to be sure the patient knows that they have taught her something during their visits, making them vital at a time when many patients feel they’ve little left to give.

“I feel strongly about that,” Mary said. “Because I think most of us, before our life ends, most of us want to feel like ours was a life well lived.”

RelatedWeb Links

Volunteers Learn End of Life Transition
This is Why Hospice Work is so Fulfilling

Spotlight TAKEAWAYS

  • Remember the power in moments.
  • Practice gratitude for the simple things in life.

February 20, 2017
by Mary York
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John Sherwood & the Love of Serving Others, A Hospice Volunteer Spotlight

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Hospice of the Panhandle Volunteer, John Sherwood

Finding Gratification in Serving Others

John Sherwood has led a life of service. His commitment to volunteerism began in high school, and maintained a strong influence in his life as he spent 30+ years as a hospital administrator, served in Vietnam, worked to promote organ donation, and serves as a member of the Rotary Club. Along the way, he lived the Rotary motto “Service Above Self” by volunteering with his church, the American Red Cross, Emergency Service organizations and other not-for-profit organizations.

As John approached retirement from “paying jobs”, he was on the lookout for new opportunities to share his talents and skills, John read a story in his local paper on the need for 11th Hour Volunteers. He hoped he would be a good fit – he had a background as an EMT and paramedic, which meant he was comfortable dealing with the medical issues those in hospice face. He also had a strong faith, which allowed him to speak freely and openly about the spiritual side of what those in hospice might be thinking about as they came closer to death. Today, John volunteers for 11th Hour Hospice, respite care, and Honoring Veterans programs.

Volunteer work with hospice has made John’s life much more rewarding, and the focus on serving others is deeply gratifying. Hospice care has made John a much better listener, and he has found that he can especially relate to those who served their country. His discussions with patients often focus on the lighter moments of their military service, and sometimes he hears stories from them that their families had never heard before. Those conversations become a way to bring the family a little closer together at the end.

To that end, John has discovered that the cell phone can be one of the best tools in his arsenal. When a patient mentions something they did during their service, John can search for information and pull up things that will make that patient smile, such as a photograph of the plane they piloted. Something as simple as seeing that plane they flew so many years ago can bring intense happiness.

Revisiting Gratifying Memories

In one case, John listened to a story from a patient about his World War II ship, and he Googled a picture of that style ship. The patient recalled that the bow number on his ship was 17 – and sure enough, when John enlarged the picture, it was the actual ship that man had served on so many years ago. It was an utter delight for the patient and a very satisfying moment for John.

One of John’s patients mentioned the movie ‘We Were Soldiers.’ He pointed out that he was there – not in the movie, but in the real battle in Vietnam that the movie portrayed. Over time the man talked a bit about his combat role, and they shared stories that helped the patient express some of his emotions. John has learned to connect with several patients through his veteran status, but he also has a connection with those who have never served; he can often sit with someone while their caregivers take a break or run an errand and find common ground with them in just a few minutes.

Those minutes not only help prepare the patient for what is coming, but  also help the family cope with the impending loss and the feelings they have when they say their final goodbyes and strive to move on with their lives.

“Everyone approaches the end of life differently; those who are open to acceptance are the ones who have generally made their peace in life…with God, their family, their neighbors and their enemies,” John said.

Just as everyone dies differently, everyone grieves differently, too. For instance, John recalled an open memorial service during the holidays several years ago. There were two widows in attendance. One of them was relieved that her husband’s suffering had stopped and was actually glad he had passed; but the other still had been unable to go into the bedroom closet and look at her husband’s clothes. His death was still too raw. They were each going through the grieving process in their own way.

Celebrating Links of Connection

Celebrating Links of Connection

John has also learned that finding a common humanity between himself and the patients in hospice can lead to amazing connections. He once had a patient who had been in more than 50 marathons, and his daughter was a runner as well. John mentioned that his two sons and at least one of his grand kids was planning to run the Cherry Blossom race in Washington. The patient suddenly lit up, asking about their race times, talking about the accomplishments of John’s family members.

John and that patient also connected over two of the man’s favorite things: pancakes from Cracker Barrel and Cornflakes. This past Christmas, John was even called to make a home visit as Santa for a young wheel chair bound patient.

It’s all proof that the simplest things are what matter most at the end, and that profound connections can be forged through all of these experiences.

RelatedWeb Links

When A Patient Asks You to Pray..5 Things to Consider
Tell Me What You Did and I’ll Tell You Who You Are

Spotlight TAKEAWAYS

  • Remember the value in serving others.
  • Look for the simple things that connect us to one another.

January 24, 2017
by Mary York
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Justin Magnuson, Massage & Sharing Touch, A Hospice Volunteer Spotlight

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Hosparus Volunteer, Justin Magnuson

Caring Through Touch

I felt an easy meandering amid the flow of my conversation with Justin Magnuson, exploring various aspects of hospice volunteer work. I can imagine that our ease of communication was similar to the practice of massage, where touch becomes its own language, a unique service that Justin, a massage therapist, shares with his hospice patients. Justin admitted that he has had to muster some courage to delve into hospice work. Although his grandmother was in the care of hospice when she died, it took him awhile to accept that death was not something to be feared and that it is possible to let go of fear and embrace the mystery and meaning within end of life.  Not everyone can understand this; Justin mentioned that he is still greeted by friends with confusion along with a bit of admiration when he tells them about volunteering for hospice.

“We are stronger and more resilient than we think,” Justin said.

This is his message to the world and to himself. The volunteer training and hands-on experience with patients have been the building blocks to the foundation on which he has built a new outlook on life, broadening his ability to accept and talk about death.

“The acuity of the transition to death is such that everything becomes ‘heightened’ during the last days and moments of life,” Justin noted.

Filling the Room with Stillness and Beauty

Filling the Room with Stillness and Beauty

He talked of small gestures taking on expansive meaning during some visits. He recounted his work with one particular gentleman struggling with severe dementia, all the while lovingly supported by his caretaker wife. As Justin massaged his patient’s back, the wife laid down beside him, stroking his face and singing James Taylor’s Fire and Rain ever so softly, filling the quiet room with stillness and beauty. Such moments for Justin are simply transcendent and are strong reminders of the power and importance of love and relationships in life. Justin also mentioned the importance of slowing down and of cultivating patience within himself to be fully present during a visit. Sometimes these moments of stillness can nurture creativity, a skill helpful in determining the most therapeutic approach to massage.  Such was the case for one of Justin’s patients. After providing one month of regular back massages, Justin modified his service after noticing a real decline in the patient’s physical condition. Calling upon his creativity, Justin transitioned to rubbing the patient’s arms while in a chair and visit by visit, the massage lessened in scope but not in effectiveness, in the final days, limited to simply rubbing the patient’s hands and feet.


“Small kind gestures can mean a lot,” Justin states.

Receiving and Sharing Touch

Receiving and Sharing Touch

His patients have taught him that small gestures hold deep meaning including the power of receiving and sharing touch, a fondness for service and a heart-felt gratitude for connection to others.
In addition to embracing small gestures, Justin feels his volunteer experience has motivated clarity about his desires for the end of his life and to have that conversation with those he loves while he can.  He acknowledges that these conversations are hard and awkward. But this is another area where hospice volunteer work has supported his personal growth.

“Sometimes I just listen to a sobbing family member of a patient, the words don’t come—like my tongue is made of stone,” Justin recalls.

But in the end, by allowing himself to feel that discomfort, Justin builds a quiet inner strength. It is a strength that he calls upon with hospice volunteering, making caring touch a special part of the last days for many grateful patient

RelatedWeb Links

Ten Ways to Weave More Kindness Into the New Year
What it Means to Hold Space for People

Spotlight TAKEAWAYS

  • Remember that we are always stronger than we think we are
  • Gestures of kindness hold great meaning in life

December 18, 2016
by Mary York
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Celeyce Matthews & Recognizing Humanity in Life and Death, A Hospice Volunteer Spotlight

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Celeyce Matthews, Zen Hospice Project

Cherishing Life’s Constant Reminders of Love, Acceptance and Connection

For Celeyce Matthews, the journey to working with hospice was over 2 decades in the making. It all began in her early twenties, when something inside her simply gravitated toward being present for people who were dying. She knew herself well enough to know that she didn’t have the strength or capacity to do hospice work just yet, but the seed had been planted.

In her late twenties, she went through what so many of us face: the loss of a grandparent. Her beloved grandmother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and had hospice care at home in her final days. Through frequent visits over the next few months, Celeyce saw the process of dying firsthand. And on the final day, she saw the ‘ideal death.’

“It was just so moving and beautiful to be there with her,” Celeyce said.“She was in her own bed. All of  her family surrounded her. It was so beautiful and it just felt very complete and natural. I was so moved and honored to be there with her and witness that.”

That was Celeyce’s first brush with hospice.  After this shared experience, Celeyce’s mother decided to become a hospice social worker, and her father also did some volunteer work with hospice care. Though Celeyce had chosen to work as an art teacher, hospice care was always in the back of her mind.

Years later, triggered by a conversation with a friend at a meditation retreat, she returned home and filled out a volunteer application for the Zen Hospice Project, starting her on a new life path. That path coincided with her life-long practice of cultivating a deep, accepting and compassionate presence with reality through mindfulness and meditation. Today, Celeyce has found that presence and many other rewards during her work with hospice.

“It brings me to a place of absolute presence,” she said. “It strips away for me what feels like ‘surface.’”

Treasuring Every Single Drop of Life

Treasuring Every Single Drop of Life

Her ability to appreciate life, every single moment, no matter what it might be, has been expanded and enhanced. Even when terrible things happen, she sees a beauty in those things as well – there is not simply one or the other, but everything rolled into one beautiful, moving experience. Hospice care has taught her to really absorb all of it, appreciate everything, and not waste a single drop of life. And, Celeyce also finds comfort in the intense connection with humanity through hospice care.

“Being completely real and stripped down and vulnerable. That intimacy really nourishes me. Really feeds me,” she said.

As one might imagine, her work with hospice has brought her own relationship with life and death to the forefront. By being with patients in hospice, she is learning both how to die and how to live. Seeing all the different ways that people deal with death has made her think about what she might want for her own experience one day.
As she watched individuals suffer and deal with the fear of loss over the years, several stories have nurtured a growth of compassion and empathy within. In the end, intimacy, common humanity and gratitude have all taken center stage. Celeyce has been honored to be a part of numerous experiences, but a few stick with her.

One was a young woman in her thirties who was suffering from an aggressive form of cancer. Some of her out-of-state friends came to see her. It was a complete surprise, one that overjoyed the young lady. Her friends had brought along fun things, like a floppy sun hat, heart-shaped sunglasses, big fake mustaches, and so much more. Even though the woman was so drastically ill, they were all acting like kids – and they were all laughing.
Celeyce was honored to participate in those moments.

Allowing for Moments of Joy and Playfulness

Allowing for Moments of Joy and Playfulness

“I was taking pictures of them. It was such an intimate moment. I didn’t know all of these people and yet we were sharing this beautiful moment that was mixed with sadness and playfulness and goofiness and joy and love.”

There have been quiet times, too. She once sat with a woman who fought through a great deal of nausea with a joyful attitude and appreciation for the life she still had. They sat in chairs together, side-by-side, simply watching a sunset. Even though the woman was suffering, she seemed to have total peace and acceptance of her death. Simply sitting there beside her had a profound impact on Celeyce.

“It was such an amazing opportunity to be with all of that without pushing any of it away,” Celeyce said.

The Zen Hospice Project is also known for embracing moments of profound meaning, incorporating rituals and teachings that can take on great significance for families and the caregivers themselves. Celeyce finds that these often bring a sense of peace and closure to those who are saying goodbye. One of these is the bathing ritual. After cleaning the body, a special tea is brewed, and cloths are dipped into the tea. The cloths are then wiped over the hands, face, feet, and forehead – anywhere that seems appropriate. This cleansing can be accompanied by words for the person who has just left this life, or it can be entirely silent, a reverent moment of togetherness. A small bell is rung when the ritual is complete.

Highlighting Beauty in a Final Send Off

Highlighting Beauty in a Final Send Off

Another helpful ritual involves flower petals. The flower petal ceremony is an important way to make even the most clinical parts of death more beautiful. Once a person has died, the mortuary comes to collect the body. Though they are placed on a gurney and surrounded by a bag, the face and head are left open and exposed. On the way to the hearse, everyone pauses in the beautiful garden, and bowls of flower petals are offered to the family, friends, caregivers, and anyone else who wants to say their goodbyes. One by one, they step forward and scatter the petals over the person’s body. Sometimes it is done in silence, sometimes with words, but either way, the sprinkling of the flowers creates a beautiful send-off. A bell is rung and the mortuary takes the body away, but that brief moment lingers – it is a beautiful way to honor and say goodbye to someone.

Celeyce began her journey in hospice as a volunteer. Today she is on the nursing staff at the Zen Hospice Project. No matter her role in helping individuals with their transition out of this world, the deep appreciation for the full range of life remains.

“I feel gratitude for everything in my life now,” she said. “A deep sense of gratitude for the entire process of life, for everything that happens.”

Celeyce Matthews is a certified hospice nurse assistant, and former volunteer caregiver with Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco, California. She also facilitates some of the Zen Hospice Project’s Mindful Caregiver education programs, and writes and publishes stories of her experiences in hospice work at Stories of Care Giving

Related Web Links
Ten Ways to Mindfully Touch the Dying
Holding Hands

Spotlight TAKEAWAYS

  • Know that life is full love, suffering, beauty and difficult- all of which can nurture a gratitude for living
  • There are always gifts awaiting if we embrace the opportunities that come our way

December 18, 2016
by Mary York
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Introducing Windows Within Quotes, Honor and Story- A 1-Minute Video Meditation

ornament1Windows Within Quotes

In celebration of the holiday season and for the coming new year, please enjoy the NEW! Windows Within Quotes post. This and all future WWQ posts will feature 1-minute video meditations that explore the narratives behind the words of wisdom spoken by Hospice Volunteers.

May the meditations bring you peace and fill your hearts with gratitude.

Meditation 1:  Honor and Story

 

 

 

November 12, 2016
by Mary York
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Jack Pittman, Reflection on the Power of Music for a Distinguished Veteran

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The Music and Medal Unite

Our Hospice Spotlight Volunteer Reflections are shared frequently. Reflections are stories of connection and meaning, presented in the volunteer’s own words. Here is Jack Pittman’s Reflection.

Moved by Music

“I have been very surprised by the impact and importance of music upon my patients with dementia. We had music therapist (although not all families or veterans embrace this service) but when they are open to the therapy, it is absolutely remarkable. We had one veteran who served in World War II. As a marine fighter pilot, he won a Distinguished Flying Cross, which is like the four ties medal many services (the fourth highest medal for valor).

He had the night shift. His two daughters were his caregivers and they kept trying to get him to pay attention to what was going on. You could tell his eyes were wondering, they weren’t focused. At the very end of the valor ceremony, we began singing the Veteran’s Service Song. In this case we sang the Marine Corps Hymn, he sat up straight–at attention, and he sang every single word with the team.

Every single word.”

November 10, 2016
by Mary York
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Mimi Welter & Finding Connection Within the Unknown, A Hospice Volunteer Spotlight

Hospice Volunteer

Hosparus Volunteer, Mimi Welter

Sharing the Unknown (and Chocolate Cream Drops too)

When Mimi Welter’s youngest child went off to college, she looked at her empty nest and wondered how she could use her extra time constructively. As a licensed social worker, she had a long history of helping others. Yet, it was the memory of a hospice experience with her mother that led her to the path of hospice volunteer work.

Seeing her mother die changed her perspective on life and death. She came to understand that the body is just a vehicle for the time here on earth, and that life is supposed to end-clearly, a ‘part of the plan’. Sometimes, that end is even a relief, especially when a loved one is suffering.

“Death is not a tragedy…life is suppose to end here on earth as part of the process,” Mimi said.

Since her decision to volunteer for hospice, Mimi has provided respite for families, as well as companionship for those who are transitioning from life to death. Her experiences have taught her a new appreciation for caregivers and she points out that no one knows how tough it is to be a caregiver until someone is in that situation. There are overwhelming moments of realizing just how much help someone needs.

While Mimi sits with her patients, she makes a point of getting to know them. She finds common ground through shared interests, such as pets, tennis and piano. Mimi has found that most people don’t talk about death. They prefer to talk about life.

One of Mimi’s patients was a woman who loved singing Baptist hymns. Mimi took one of her hymnals home and learned them on the piano. During her subsequent visits, she would play, and the woman would sing. It drove home that each person is unique and individual.

Notalgia Candy

Sharing Candy of Yesteryear

Reminiscing also guides her interactions. She learns about a person through their photo albums, tales of family vacations, discussions of grandchildren and children, and even sharing pictures of old homes.

Sometimes the reminiscing brings about unexpected moments of pleasure, not just for the patients, but for Mimi as well.  One patient recalled chocolate cream drops and orange candy of yesteryear. Mimi happened to find those candies a bit later, so she bought them and brought them to her next visit. She knew they would make the patient happy, and they did! They shared a fun moment together with those tasty treats because Mimi took the time to really listen.

But sometimes, those connections require a bit more than listening – they require some serious imaginative work. One of her patients suffered from Alzheimer’s, and wasn’t able to communicate. But Mimi noticed that when the woman’s son was mentioned, she lit up with happiness.

Baby Portrait

Photos of Happy Babies Provide Unexpected Joy

So Mimi went to the library and brought back an Anne Geddes book filled with colorful pictures of happy babies. Her patient loved it. Later, one of the aides thanked her for figuring out how to connect – the patient was starving for attention, and Mimi found a way to give her a wonderful outlet.

For many hospice patients, the outlets for hope and happiness may wane and the unknown looms large. But, Mimi embraces this unknown.  She is honored to share that space with patients and families and helps them face whatever might come to pass.

“There’s an unknown place where you are with that person and you are experiencing that with them. I’m a part of that experience. It is unique with each person,” Mimi said.

Mimi has found that vulnerability within hospice patients can invite reflection upon the essence of profound meaning in one’s life. She has seen patients realize the importance of accepting and appreciating help, something that can make the time left on earth more satisfying. And, she observes the ways in which individuals cherish life passions, and honor relationships, adding limitless value to the quality of the end of their life. So, Mimi has learned to honor these relationships she makes with her patients, as well as their families.

“It’s nice to have these moments that keep me returning,” she said.

In the end, Mimi has learned that the dying process doesn’t have to be traumatic. Between the help of hospice and the attention of caregivers, those at the end of their lives can talk about the things that matter, share the values that are most important to them, and hopefully move on from this world with a quiet peace.

Related Web Links
Everyday Hero: Chaplain Outfits Wheelchair for Hospice Patients
More Thoughts on Hospice Work

Spotlight TAKEAWAYS

  • Everyone is unique in life as in death–remember to mine the essence of that person
  • Treasure the privilege of sharing the unknown with patients.

October 17, 2016
by Mary York
0 comments

Jack Pittman on Validating Service & Honoring Legacy, A Hospice Volunteer Spotlight

Hospice Volunteer

Big Bend Hospice Volunteer, Jack Pittman

Sharing the Gift of Legacy

Jack Pittman knows what it means to serve. As a veteran he has served our country for over twenty years and continues to serve his community while in retirement as a hospice volunteer. Initially, hospice was not on his radar in terms of where he wanted to spend his leisure time, but after a short time with the Red Cross and other organizations, he found his heart was not fully present in the work. At the suggestion of a friend, Jack agreed to try the volunteer program at the local hospice. It was here that he found his home and where he felt like he was contributing to his full capacity. Almost immediately, his channeled his talents into the hospice Valor Program.

The Valor Program at Big Bend Hospice honors veterans for their service. Most of the patients Jack visits have served in the Korean or Vietnam wars, whether in service for two or thirty-two years, recognizing every veteran for their contributions. And, the importance of this recognition and validation of life’s work is something that Jack feels passionately about.

“I think there are many rewards of working with veterans, they remind me of the importance of legacy in life,” Jack said.

The Gift of a Legacy Document

The Gift of a Legacy Document

Jack’s special contribution to the Valor Program consists of creating personal life summaries, a legacy document for every veteran. It is presented as part of the bedside ceremony. Recognizing that veterans rarely share their experiences (the good, bad and ugly) with their families, Jack understands the importance of doing so, especially for generations that follow. As a gift to his own family, Jack created a legacy document years ago, sharing highlights of his service in Vietnam and passing those stories along to his grand children.  When he did this, his own son expressed deep gratitude and noted that fear had prevented him from asking Jack questions about his deployment.

The legacy document is one of several validating acts of the valor ceremony. Others include the presentation of a letter and certificate of appreciation, asking a spouse or adult child at the ceremony to attach an honored veteran lapel pin, rendering a formal salute, singing and even belting out one last Army shout, “Hooaah!”.  Jack reminisced about one patient, limited in his ability to communicate; yet, when the patient’s son encouraged him to repeat the “Hooaah!” cry that Jack shouted, he miraculously repeated “Hooooaahh” in a whispered voice.  Another patient, struggling with severe dementia, responded similarly to an invitation to sing the Marine Corp Hymn at the conclusion of his bedside ceremony. Although his eyes wandered and were unfocused, it was the music inspired the patient to sit up straight, at attention, while singing every single word of the hymn! It is experiences like this these that remind Jack of the elevated importance of validating service to country.

Celebrating the Greatest Generation

Celebrating the Greatest Generation

Service to country is something that Jack was unable to explore with his own father who served in WWII. However, through the Valor Program, Jack is honored to celebrate with folks who represent The Greatest Generation, most of whom are now in their late nineties. Their stories are remarkable, from harrowing accounts of an aeronautic door gunner to incidents that induced lifelong PTSD. Of particular importance is the Honor Flight in which hospice provides an opportunity for WWII vets to travel to Washington D.C. to view the war memorials. One patient expressed his longing to see these monuments for a very long time. When he finally did, a peace settled over him and two days later he died.

By witnessing this peace, jack has come to appreciate what hospice does for all his patients. He reflects upon his experiences this way,

“Everybody’s going to die. When it’s my turn, I feel encouraged to know that the care and concern, even the love, that hospice provides will gently ease me out of this life.”

Until then, Jack can’t ever imagine doing something other than being a part of the Hospice Valor Program and celebrating veterans.

“They teach you so much about life and about them….it’s just amazing what they did,” he said.

On behalf of our country and hospice, we thank you for your amazing contributions Jack.

Jack is a volunteer with Big Bend Hospice.

Related Web Links
What the Dying Can Teach Us
How to Speak to Someone About Unspeakable Loss

Spotlight TAKEAWAYS

  • Writing a life legacy is a powerful expression of gratitude for service to country
  • Remember the power of validating the veterans’ service

October 17, 2016
by Mary York
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Jack Pittman, Reflection on Duty, Honor and Sacrifice

Our Hospice Spotlight Volunteer Reflections are shared monthly. Reflections are stories of connection and meaning, presented in the volunteer’s own words. Here is Jack Pittman’s Reflection.

Airplane and Veteran

A Tale of Dedication and Honor

“I did one particular Valor ceremony that was profound. The patient had PTSD from his experiences in Vietnam and he had cancer, which was ending his life. When the valor ceremony was over, he said, you are all veterans, I want to share this story with you. He asked his wife to sit on the arm of the recliner and to hold his hand while he reflected. it wasn’t clear that he had ever told this story before but his PTSD started with an incident while in the marines when his battalion was guarding an airbase, and a C130 (which is a plane that carries cargo) was on approach. As it came in for a landing, the plane crashed about a mile short of the runway. He saw the crash and without orders, he just took off running for the plane. He found out later that he had taken off through a minefield to get to the plane. When he went got to the plane he saw that what had happened from the force of the impact, the cargo had shifted and crushed the crew that was in that aircraft. He then went to the tailgate of the aircraft and stayed there with his weapon and watched.

And when he finally was relieved the Lieutenant asked “Why did you do that? Why did you stay there and guard people who had died?”

He said, “I did that because I didn’t want any enemy soldiers coming in and taking personal belongings from them as trophies. I kept them safe from that.”

And then he cried. That was the source of his PTSD and he never got over that. The patient died a couple of days after telling that story.”

Read Jack Pittman’s Spotlight

September 20, 2016
by Mary York
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Cathe Keres & Paws of Comfort, Pats of Pleasure, A Hospice Volunteer Spotlight

Volunteer

JourneyCare Volunteer, Cathe Keres

A Visit from Clancy Provides Much Needed Hope and Comfort

The journey to hospice volunteer work includes some long-standing roots with Cathe Keres. Thirteen years ago, her mother was in the care of hospice and she remembers the experience as comforting and beautiful.  Regrettably, when her father passed twelve years earlier, he did not have the same opportunity to connect with the local hospice. More than ten years ago, fate stepped in, formally connecting Cathe to hospice.

Attempting to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest (having served as the long-time caterer for the local hospice), Cathe remained silent about her desire to volunteer. But years later, the silence ended when she, and her newly certified pet therapy dog, Clancy, ventured into hospice volunteer service.

Clancy, a docile yellow lab, and Cathe now make weekly visits to the in-patient hospice unit. Over the years, she has seen Clancy motivate and offer hope and comfort for patients along with emotional support, including pure joy. And, patients aren’t the only recipients of these pleasures; often times, the hospice staff will seek the dog out, giving Clancy a treat and loving pat on the head, a much need playful break from demanding day of patient care responsibilities.

The special connection between people and dogs is undeniable. But, Cathe’s experiences with Clancy go beyond that universal bond. She recalled one patient, seriously declining in health, yet determined to get out of bed and dress for the dog’s visits, walking to the corner of her street to introduce Clancy to the neighbors.  This interaction developed over weeks and Cathe took a photo of patient and Clancy together. Little did Cathe expect that this photo would be the centerpiece of the woman’s memorial board at her funeral service. And, that the family made a donation in Clancy’s name, to the Therapy Dog International organization.

Therapy Dog

Clancy, A Dog Delivering Comfort

Cathe has also made short-term visits with Clancy, which have been similarly profound. For one family, Clancy filled the void of a much-loved and missed family dog, a circumstance of moving from over seas to the United States for patient care. For another gentleman, it was Clancy who provided him comfort in his last hours, the man stroking the dog’s head, triggering reclaiming of lost speech, uttering Clancy, his last words.

Not only has Clancy provided comfort to the “hospice organization family”, but he has also provided Cathe with the opportunity to observe and interact with those at the end of their lives. These experiences force her to reflect upon her existence and the manner in which she leads her life. Often times, it is the younger hospice patients that give her the most pause for thought.

During her own mother’s time in the care of hospice, Cathe remembered her saying, “We are all stepping toward death the moment we are born”.

And Cathe knows that the gift of perspective is such a treasured gift, one she receives each time hooks the leash to Clancy’s collar and journeys out the door together to see a patient.

“When mortality stares you in the face, it brings it back home, coming full circle. It makes you realize that one day it will be you,”  Cathe said.

Until then, Cathe and Clancy are grateful for the opportunity to deliver daily comfort and joy to hospice patients, enriching their end of life journeys.

Related Web Links
Pet Therapy Infographic
Ping Pong, the Dog Who Brings Compassion to Those Who Need it Most

Spotlight TAKEAWAYS

  • The presence of pets provide undeniable healing
  • Remember that we are all stepping toward death from the moment we are born.

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