My path to becoming a hospice volunteer is unusual in that the first step was taken by my wife who checked out the Marshak Family Hospice CareCenter in Glenview, assuming I was going to need it.
I’d been experiencing dizzy spells that on a few occasions toppled me to the floor. Being a committed idiot, I didn’t tell anybody about this until one morning, after nearly falling down, the thought occurred that this might not be normal and that an emergency room visit just might be appropriate.
As an employee of JourneyCare and a person working in hospice for many years, I understand the importance of dying with dignity. My grandfather had been declining since September of 2015. My mom and I flew out to Puerto Rico and brought him home to Chicago to take better care of him. It was an ongoing battle with my family. I wanted hospice and they wanted to fight to keep him alive by any means necessary. I had to learn, with the help of my wonderful coworkers, to take a step back and wait for her to ask me.
Not long ago, I received a voicemail from one of my former bereavement clients. She thanked me profusely for all of my help and indicated that her life was decidedly better, and her outlook much more positive than it had been before we had started meeting. She, like many others, expressed during our first session sentiments such as, “I don’t know if I can make it through this;” “I’ve never gone through a loss like this before;” "I don’t even know what to expect.”
I met the revered artist Robert Guinan and his partner, Rita O’Hara, when he became a home patient with JourneyCare and I became his nurse case manager.
Bob had a fascinating life. Born in New York, he spent time in the military, then moved to Chicago and attended the School of the Art Institute. He then taught art at New Trier High School and the Art Institute, eventually becoming an independent artist. His art focused on tough scenes of Chicago’s West Side, street musicians and life along Maxwell Street.
He became especially famous in Europe. Bob’s son, Sean, explained to The Chicago Tribune his theory on the reason why:
This year marks our country’s 250th Independence Day. But when’s the last time something made you feel good and hopeful about our country? With the senseless violence and crazy political climate we’ve witnessed in recent months, it’s often been hard to feel positive.
But I found an antidote! Volunteer with Honor Flight.
As JourneyCare's We Honor Veterans program coordinator, I frequently interact with other veteran-serving organizations. And there’s no other volunteer experience quite like serving as a guardian for a veteran on an Honor Flight.
For over 30 years, three nonprofit, community-based hospice agencies separately served parts of 10 counties in the Chicago area and northern Illinois. In June 2015, these organizations combined more than 100 years of experience and expertise to become one: JourneyCare. Today, JourneyCare serves nearly 400 communities in those 10 counties. It’s been one year since we made that announcement ... and what a year it has been!
The JourneyCare Juniors and JourneyCare Youth Advisory Board participated in Global Youth Service Day, the largest day of volunteer service on the planet for kids and teens, with Planting Smiles. As part of Planting Smiles, the two groups prepared potted flowers and inspirational poems to be delivered to JourneyCare hospice patients and their families. JourneyCare has one of the few active Youth Hospice Volunteer programs in the nation, and Planting Smiles was made possible by support from HandsOn Suburban Chicago, Youth Service America and State Farm.
Today, JourneyCare Juniors Bridget and Annie, 10-year-old twin sisters, detail their experiences and discuss why they choose to volunteer:
I sit here at my computer, a large portrait of my late husband hangs on the wall, facing me. His warm smile and kind eyes embrace me. I feel his presence as if he was really here. The photo is from the early ’90s, taken at my son’s wedding in San Antonio. Helles is wearing a formal tuxedo with a red rose boutonniere. The tuxedo and background are black, making his face, snow- white beard, and white shirt front and cuffs emerge vividly from the darkness, brightly lit by the camera’s flash. It is a strikingly handsome image.
My daughter Olivia died last December, just a few days before her third birthday. We had been working with JourneyCare for about a year and my entire family is so grateful to have had them in our lives. Hospice gave us a safe and trusting place to talk about all the difficult things that would arise in Olivia's life. It allowed me and Olivia's dad to have ongoing conversations about what kind of life we wanted for her, and it empowered us to do things that we might not have done with her had we never met her JourneyCare team. We were able to go on trips with her ― even taking her to SeaWorld because she loved the aquarium.
Yes, I know that Memorial Day is the day set aside as a national holiday to remember those who died while in military service. And, yes, I think it’s very important for all of us, especially younger people, to be aware that thousands of men and women actually gave their lives in dedicated service to what this country stood for and still stands for.
Most top of mind are likely those killed in World War II, and Korea, and Vietnam, and Iraq, and Afghanistan. But there are others to be remembered... from Grenada and WWI and all the way back to the Civil War. Memorial Day is dedicated to all those who died in service. For those many who died before any recognition could be given them, who didn’t get to hear warm words like, “On behalf of a grateful nation, it is an honor to present to you...” or “Thank you for your dedication, service and sacrifice...“ or “This great nation will be forever in your debt...”