“Early in my experience as a hospice volunteer, I was sitting with a woman during her last couple of days,” recalled Katie Uphus, Lifespark Hospice Volunteer Manager. “Her son hadn’t seen her in a long time and was filled with regret. He kept asking, ‘Is it too late? Am I too late?’ I told him that no, he’d come at just the right time. He wanted to make the most of the experience. But he didn’t know how to talk to her. She was no longer verbal. I was able to give him simple cues like pulling up close to speak right into her ear. That’s what he did. We could see that his mom was hearing him. She was visibly moved. He sang to her, and she wept. Afterwards, the son was so sweet and so grateful. And he gave it all up to me. It’s such an honor to be of service to people during their most intimate, scary, loving moments.”
What does it mean to be a Lifespark Hospice volunteer?
Volunteers are an essential part of hospice programs across the country, in fact, the Medicare Conditions of Participation for hospice care require it. An integral and critical part of our Lifespark Hospice team, volunteers help people live life the way they want. Every day of it. That means focusing on the whole person — their happiness, comfort, and wishes.
According to Katie, you have no actual agenda as a hospice volunteer. You visit as a source of comfort and a friendly presence. What will make them happy today? What matters most? Maybe they need an empathetic ear or someone to keep them company. You might be able to relieve a worry or solve a problem. You have a chance to get to know this person. To be there for them. To help them make every day meaningful.
For instance, you might find yourself:
- Helping with legacy projects like photo albums
- Writing letters to loved ones
- Cooking simple meals
- Listening to music / singing songs
- Taking walks
- Praying from their prayer books
- Playing cards
- Planning for an event they want to attend (a wedding, a graduation)
- Sitting vigil during the last hours of life so the person is not alone
As a hospice volunteer, you won’t ever provide hands-on medical care. Instead, you serve as a helpful companion. And a priceless resource to the whole family. You bring respect, support, and joy to the person they love. They can also count on you to be there if they need a break to take care of their own needs. Like a hot shower, a trip to the grocery store, or a walk in the sunshine.
Be who you are
As a Lifespark Hospice volunteer, you’re encouraged to bring your whole wonderful self to the experience. Your passions, personality, and fresh thinking which often ignite a spark in others. And that’s exactly how we help people age magnificently. Maybe you want to volunteer, but you don’t know if you’ve got the right skills. Here’s the test:
- Are you kind?
- Do you like to help people?
- Are you a good listener?
- Do you avoid being judgmental?
- Are you dependable?
Then you’ve got the right skills! And don’t worry, you get plenty of advance training.
You’re part of a team that needs you
Among all the people you collaborate with on your hospice team — doctors, nurses, medical social workers, chaplains, aides — your role as a volunteer is distinct.
“You’re in a really unique position to show up without an agenda or checklist,” says Katie. “As a volunteer, you spend time just sitting and being present with the client. Chances are, you’ll spot subtle changes that could be significant. Maybe you notice they’re sleeping a lot more, reporting dreams of lost loved ones, or turning away visitors. These are important changes and because of your presence, can be noticed quickly and shared with the hospice team to inform the care plan.
Is it sad to be a hospice volunteer?
Here’s something that may surprise you. While you give selflessly in this role, you also receive abundantly. The work fills your heart and lifts your spirit. Yes, you’re spending time with people who are dying and loved ones who are grieving. But hospice volunteering is not a depressing experience. Far from it. You see the difference you make.
It’s a volunteer opportunity. And a chance for significant personal growth.
Katie’s eyes light up when she talks about how volunteering for hospice changes a person. “There’s nothing about this experience that isn’t useful in the rest of your life Being a hospice volunteer is beautiful practice at reconciling with your own mortality. We’re so programmed to be afraid of dying. But when you spend time connecting with people at the end of life, it changes how you live, how you approach the next dying experience you’re part of, and later, your own end of life.”
Katie takes some of her wisdom from Mr. Rogers who once said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.” In other words, when you talk about being scared, you get a little less scared. As a hospice volunteer, you immerse yourself in this life passage. You see all the ways it can unfold. And soon you’re coming at the reality of death from a place of curiosity instead of fear. And that puts you in a good position to help others get there too.
“I’ve been bedside where family members see me being present and comfortable with their loved one,” says Katie. “I can sense that they’re watching how I do it. They want to follow my lead. They’re desperate for that guidance. So, if I can help them understand even simple things like, ‘Here’s how you can hold up the straw,’ — and I see them relax a little — I get goosebumps because my presence mattered.”
Feel good about volunteering
Are you thinking about becoming a Lifespark Hospice volunteer? Or are you you’re interested in talking with someone about what volunteering could mean for you? Reach out to Katie Uphus, Hospice Volunteer Manager, to start the conversation today at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 952-737-4338.