The Gift of Hospice
Celebrating life through love.
By Heather Hunter
“Death is not scary,” says Ambercare hospice volunteer Ann Patterson. It’s merely the polar opposite of living and it’s as natural as birth. Every day, each and every one of us inches closer to our mortality. Talking about death, being with others in their final stage of life and understanding that death can be a beautiful experience are a few of the reasons hospice is life-changing — for the patient, their families, the medical team and the volunteers.
Hospice is a non-profit service often recommended for people with a life expectancy of less than six months and an incurable illness. Hospice focuses on pain management, comfort and preserving the patient’s dignity. This service can take place in a home, assisted living facility or someplace else entirely. A team of doctors, nurses, social workers, clerics, therapists and volunteers participate in the care of the hospice patients and their families.
“When in the presence of someone as they near death and as they pass on, this is our chance to be our most vulnerable selves — our best selves,” says Jonathan Maestas, volunteer coordinator for Hospice of New Mexico.
On Becoming a Hospice Volunteer
Volunteer requirements vary, but typically it is a commitment of one to two hours a week per patient. While some volunteers have several patients, one patient at a time is typical.
Patterson shines a light on how this experience is all about love. It’s what she saw at the end of her own mother’s life when hospice cared as much for her mother as for her family.
“You learn great humility, and you feel honored to be a part of this incredible experience to help people go on to their next chapter surrounded by love,” Patterson says.
Genuine Love for Others
Jenny Carian, Ambercare Hospice’s Volunteer We Honor Veterans Coordinator, says, “Empathy is great, but volunteers need to have a genuine love for others. Hospice isn’t the end of the road, it’s a celebration of life.” It is an intimate time that requires serious listening skills — literally “being” with those who are in their final stage of life and comforting them. Whether that is by reading stories or letting them tell you about the best memories of their lives, playing music, singing and letting them know they are loved and valued.
“Time is the most expensive gift we can offer others,” Maestas says. “Anything you give your time to, you give life to.”
“Death doesn’t have to be morbid or sad,” he continues. “It can and should be celebrated. As a hospice volunteer, you will learn more about yourself than the person you are sitting with and that, in turn, is priceless.”
Want to Volunteer?
The requirements to be a hospice volunteer vary by organization, but can include individuals from teens to octogenarians. The spectrum is wide and everyone is welcome, because we will all need a special person to be with us when we are dying.