What's it like to volunteer?
As a hospice volunteer, you have the privilege of serving families at a tender time when they are saying, “I love you,” “I forgive you,” ” thank you,” and “good-bye.” It’s a period of closure and a time of reflection. Many patients find it helpful to talk about their lives with an objective listener. They feel free to discuss events and issues with a volunteer that it may be difficult to share with their relatives or health providers.
Hospice volunteers consistently describe the experience as one that is surprisingly rewarding. Below are comments typically heard from volunteers:
- “The courage of the patients, and their gratitude and concern for their family.It’s amazing.And the family members! These caregivers are the unsung heroes. Their love and compassion is really very touching. The whole thing is profoundly moving.”
- “I’ve seen family members reunited after years of being apart. They realize that the grudge they were holding really wasn’t all that important afterall. Decades of bitterness falls away in the face of death. And to a one, they all say, ‘Why did we wait so long?’ It makes you realize that you don’t have to wait until you’re dying to forgive. What a lesson!”
- “It meant so much to us to get help from hospice when my husband was sick. I decided I wanted to give back, so I became a hospice volunteer. What I didn’t know at the time was how much I would get out of it, being on the giving end. It’s one the best things I do.”
- “For me, it’s a blessing to spend time with people in their last weeks of life. As my patients lose their physical abilities, they often become more spiritual. The worries of daily life are seen for what they are, insignificant. In the end, all my patients can do is become the essence of the human soul: our capacity to love. And just think, I get to witness that every week!”
In addition to visiting with patients, your presence as a volunteer also gives family members the opportunity for a much-needed break. The kinds of activities a volunteer might do include:
- Light housekeeping (dishes, laundry, meal preparation)
- Running errands
- Letter writing
- Sharing hobbies or special interests
Please know that a volunteer will never be expected to do something they do not want to do. In addition, all volunteers receive extensive training and support, and there is a Volunteer Coordinator to help if you have questions or concerns.
Patient-care is not the only way to contribute. If you are interested in volunteering but don’t see yourself working with patients, hospice will gladly find ways to use your unique talents. Other volunteer opportunities could include things like:
- Clerical tasks (mailings, reception, special projects)
- Helping with grief support groups
- Staffing a table at a health fair
- Writing condolence cards
- Assisting at a memorial event
- Delivering medications from the pharmacy
- Helping with computer projects
- Serving on an advisory council
Or, if you have a volunteer idea in mind, call us and suggest it. Volunteers around the country have come up with all kinds of ideas:
- One volunteer set up a program helping patients to leave a video for their family members. Some use the video to reminisce about favorite memories, some tell their life story, others make it a love letter or an ethical will.
- The employees in one workplace organized into teams that each “adopted” a family for the holidays. The teams did things like make a Christmas meal, or get a wish list from family members and then solicited donations for the gifts from local businesses.
Be creative! We’d love to work with you. If you’d like to talk more about volunteering, give us a call at 800.338.4043 (toll-free).
Books on volunteering
Dying Declarations: Notes from a Hospice Volunteer
A candid account of a volunteer’s initial concern that hospice would be a depressing venue. Instead, the author tells touching stories that illustrate the uplifting and enriching nature of working with people who, at the end of life, are willing to strip away all that is unimportant and embrace their true priorities. He also gets very specific about hospice training and the ways a hospice volunteer can positively impact the patients and families they serve.
In the Midst of Dying: A Hospice Volunteer’s Story
Retired English teacher, Charles Rose, recounts stories of his experience in Lee County, Alabama.
Lessons for the Living: Stories of Foregiveness, Gratitude and Courage at the End of Life
The author, a hospice volunteer, shares his personal journey as he cares for hospice patients and learns the simple grace of ordinary acts of daily kindness.
When Autumn Comes: Creating Compassionate Care of the Dying
Practical advice and thoughtful reflection accompany the stories presented in this book by long time hospice volunteer, Mary Jo Bennett.
When Evening Comes: The Education of a Hospice Volunteer
Through 15 stories of working with women dying of breast cancer in rural Virginia, the author traces her evolution from novice to seasoned volunteer. She talks about some of the difficulties, but also the immense rewards.
Volunteer training materials
Although training is an integral part of the volunteer program, you may find these reference materials useful.
This 500 page binder is a caregiver training manual funded by Eisai and created as a joint project of numerous caregiving organizations. Although not hospice-specific, it certainly offers education and skill-building pertinent to the hospice volunteer, covering topics such as aging, becoming a volunteer, supporting family caregivers, dealing with loss, finding help, and a glossary of common terms. Each chapter can be downloaded for free.
Growthhouse is a website that leverages Internet communication to help end-of-life professionals network and access resources to improve their practice and understanding. It has a special section for volunteers, including books, links to professional forums, a newsletter, and a guided meditation CD on providing compassionate service.