As a hospice lead volunteer coordinator, I have the privilege of working with amazing people who do amazing things every day. These real life superheroes spend countless hours with our staff, patients and families, making a real difference in the final moments of someone’s life. Their super power is their ability to transform lives through compassionate care.
While the death of a loved one is one of life’s most difficult times, the holidays can compound our sense of loss and isolation. When we're experiencing the pain of grief, the last thing we want to do is participate in any kind of holiday celebration. We want the pain to end, and we can’t imagine being around others at a time that is supposed to be full of joy when we are so burdened with sorrow.
This is a normal way to feel, but since we can’t cut out the calendar from late October through early Januaryof the next year, it might be helpful to modify our plans, and most especially to take good care of ourselves.
Consider the following suggestions:
When I began home hospice with JourneyCare a year ago, I did not expect I had much time left due to my end-stage COPD. One of my top concerns was my pitbull, Coal. I rescued her from a shelter as a six-month-old puppy, and she has been my constant companion for the last eight years. I hated the idea of having to give her up due to my illness, so I hired a dog walker. (Luckily the dog walker fell in love with Coal and agreed to adopt her when I am no longer here.)
Steve Crews is a retired PR man. He worked as a reporter with the Chicago Tribune, deputy press secretary with former Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne, an executive with two international public relations firms, and head of communications with Hallmark Cards and later, with Alberto Culver Corp. He is an Army vet, married and the father of two.
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.
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:
On a recent visit to Journeycare, we stood outside the doorway of a patient and asked the family if he wanted to visit with Mystery, one of our miniature therapy horses.
We were told the patient really loves animals, but that they were uncertain whether he was prepared for it at this time. Encouraged to ask the patient himself, we walked into the room. The man slowly opened up his eyes.
Make a difference: volunteer.
I know! We’ve all heard the platitudes. How the actions of one person can change someone’s life, their community, the world. Really? Let’s be honest, isn’t volunteering just something nice people do so they can feel good about helping? I mean, what impact does it really have?
In a word – enormous and invaluable. (Ok, I know that’s two words...)
If you knew today would be the last day of your life, how would you live it?
Many might imagine themselves emptying their bank accounts, splurging on an over-the-top dinner and night of frivolity in a last grasp at indulgence. Others possibly envision doing something taboo because they wouldn’t be around to suffer the consequences. Many see themselves scrambling to check off items on their “bucket lists.”
I think these are fantasies. Daydreams. In fact, I believe most of us actually would spend our final 24 hours with just a little bit more of what we already have. A little more love. A little more time spent with friends. A little more family. I don’t think we would change much. We probably would call everyone we cared about and tell them, “I love you.”
Hospice care offers us this closure.
It’s pretty much a fact that bitterly cold winter days are made infinitely better by a bowl of soup, a warm blanket and a game of cards. JourneyCare’s third annual Soup & Stories volunteer service project, which takes place over the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday weekend, exists to provide these very items to hospice patients and their families.