Stephanie Lopez & Laughter, A Hospice Volunteer Spotlight

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Laughter and Stephanie Lopez

Hospice of the Valley Volunteer, Stephanie Lopez

Always Time for Laughter and Joy

When I asked Stephanie Lopez what she treasures from her volunteer experience, she said, “I love that there’s still time for laughter.”

Not surprisingly, my interview with her also began with laughter and joy.  Although we were celebrating conquering Skype technology at the time, I suspect Stephanie would exude this kind of happiness and jovial approach to a variety of her life experiences.

Although caring for her 83-year-old mother, Stephanie’s personal journey into Hospice began twenty years earlier through participation in a college practicum. It was there that she developed bonds with patients at the end of life. Even though years have since passed, current life circumstances have now allowed her to re-ignite her passion for Hospice volunteering; the wisdom she gains now from her service, coincidentally, is coinciding with her approach to caring for her aging mother.

Being fully present is one of the most important aspects of Stephanie’s volunteer work.

She says, “I meet my patients on whatever part of the journey they’re in and I simply listen. It is a personal gift for both of us, sharing and listening to memories and stories.” Many volunteers talk about this importance of “being present” for patients, but Stephanie articulates how listening with purpose can deeply enhance the experience.

“What I learned from being with Hospice patients is how important memories are, how important it is to talk about them, and how important it is not to forget them; they are part of the fabric of our lives. I think for patients, they find that they are able to reach into their emotional bank and re-live beauty, courage, rapture and even hurt; it makes them feel alive again in that moment of re-telling,” she said.

 Hospice patients share memories

The Power of Memories.

Stephanie also acknowledged the sort of “communion” that happens between volunteer and patient, that in a very short time they connect and become a part of each others’ lives.  She describes the discipline she exercises in remaining emotionally detached, while being present, as a type of courage. This is something that she can reach back and hang onto when she is with her own mother whose memories often come flooding back in these last stages of her life. That connection can take other forms as well.

Stephanie recalled a palliative care patient who had a great fondness for the opera singer, Placido Domingo. So, with a simple search at the local library, she found a recording and played it for her patient at the next scheduled visit. Stephanie described a beautiful shift of countenance in the patient, a difference that this special music triggered.

As important as sharing memories are, sharing laughter is just as high on the list of “musts” for Stephanie and her patients. At each visit, she talks of anticipating a joy that she hopes will emanate from their time together. However long that may take, eventually, she feels confident that there is joy ready to seep through any pain and sadness of the moment and that the joy is transferring to patients. She described a visit with a patient who had recently had a stroke and was quite ill. But, Stephanie instinctively knew that he wanted to laugh too and as she talked with him a brief smile brightened his face. This happiness is what Stephanie wants for her own dying process.

“It’s about finding what is joyful-a belly laugh, that is what I want when I am dying. The ability to laugh and to find something to laugh about,” she said.

Stephanie does acknowledge there are times when courage is needed for the work Hospice volunteering. There are times when she feels volunteers, by visiting with patients, have the unique opportunity to reflect upon their own mortality. She recognizes that thinking about this within this framework of the experience requires a special kind of courage.

For Stephanie, the great mystery of being a Hospice volunteer is that it allows her to connect with someone who is a stranger, seemingly, for a moment in time. And, however brief, that she always remembers, “It’s the patient’s time to shine.”

That shine is undoubtedly, a joy emanating from Stephanie and reflecting back to those in her company.

Note: See Spotlight on Stephanie Lopez, Part II, a special feature highlighting her work with the Hospice of the Valley Salutes veterans program.

Stephanie is a volunteer with Hospice of the Valley

Related Web Links
The Greatest Ever Winnie the Pooh Quotes
Wedding Dress Mystery
Dear 92 Year Old

Spotlight TAKEAWAYS

  • Make time for laughter
  • Share and receive the gift of story and memories
  • Find the joy amidst pain and sorrow

Author: Mary York

Mary is a volunteer for Hosparus of Louisville and the Founder of the Windows Within Project.

8 Comments

  1. Stephanie has an outrageous ability to find humor and laughter even in difficult moments in her own life, and the ability sweep others with her. Her humanity and humility touch everyone around her, and reaches into one’s core. I am sure that this is what makes her so special as a human being, a friend and a volunteer!

  2. Loved this article! Stephanie really gets the importance of holding space with someone transitioning from this lifetime. I’ve recently heard some wonderful things from a music therapist about music and the powerful touchstone it can become for folks–from Alzheimer’s patients to people in chronic pain, to people who have slipped into coma and are in final stages of life. And the power of making someone smile…that is pure magic and it’s something we can all do for each other daily…and it doesn’t cost us a dime!

    • Thanks for the thoughts Julie. Yes, for sure, music is a powerful touchstone. I recently watched a documentary called “Alive Inside-A story of musical memory”–it is the story of a social worker who uses music with Alzheimer’s patients. It’s really moving to see the changes in patients when they listen to their favorite music.

  3. Stephanie certainly is all you say in this article… she really cares about the hospice patients and carves out time in her busy schedule to make sure everyone is cared for personally.
    Well written article… I feel it demonstrates the personality it takes to step in to someone’s last moments on earth and make them feel important, cared for and ultimately that they will be missed.

  4. Enjoyed this article about this very special lady. Very articulate.

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