By Cristina Mestre
When her mother was battling a serious illness, Louise Kline saw firsthand the compassion and care that hospice volunteers brought to their work. So in 2011, she made the decision to become a volunteer herself.
What does volunteering for hospice consist of?
A: Whenever an
individual in hospice care or a family member requests a volunteer, I get a
call. In my role as a volunteer, I visit patients for companionship, make bereavement
contacts and phone calls to surviving family members, and send cards on
holidays and dates that are important to families. After a family member
has passed away, I make sure to reach out once a month for 13 months, to check
in and let them know that I’m thinking of them, and to offer companionship if
they need someone to talk to.
I go to the patient’s home and spend time with them, this allows the caregiver
to leave and go grocery shopping or do other errands. Hospice care is not just for the patient, it
is for the family member, too. Being a
caregiver can be an incredibly stressful time, and everyone needs a break once
in a while. Sometimes I’ll spend time
talking to the family member who is caring for the patient, as it’s helpful to
have a third party to talk to, and someone who has been through it all
before. And sometimes, I’ll fix up the
patient’s hair, as I did for one local woman when I visited her.
Q: What is your
own personal story with hospice care?
A: My mother was
sick with Alzheimer’s for many years but the last three years before she died was
when she needed a lot of intense care. My brother and I were the primary
caregivers, and we needed to provide constant monitoring and care, and to walk
with her and make sure she didn’t fall.
It was very stressful and especially for me as the oldest daughter; to
see my mother go downhill was really tough.
In speaking with a friend one day, she suggested I contact hospice as it
had really helped her.
I did, and we had nurses who specialize in pain management and social workers
come to our house, and I realized that in many ways the care was more for me
than for my mother, who wasn’t doing much walking at this point. The caregivers helped with bathing, and took
away some of the burden of daily care – they made everything a little bit
Then, when we brought my mom to Florida for a vacation, we discovered a hospice
volunteer program in Fort Myers. The
volunteer came to the house and that allowed us to have a few hours of free
time on Friday afternoons. It was a
tremendous help for us.
we got back from Florida and after my mother passed away, I saw a notice on our
church bulletin about Community Nursing Hospice Care needing volunteers. I signed up immediately and after completing
my training, I began volunteering.
Q: What did you
think hospice was before your experience, and how has your perception changed?
A: I didn’t know
about all of the aspects that are involved in hospice care – most people still
think hospice is a last resort before someone dies, but it can involve so much
more. Being able to talk to a social
worker about care, or having someone to help with bathing can be a huge weight
lifted for families. The social worker
relationship was so important to us – she helped us think through tough
situations, and suggested we have our funeral arrangements pre-planned ahead of
time, before my mom passed away. This
was a really tough conversation but hugely helpful.
isn’t just for cancer, too – it is also for Alzheimer’s, heart conditions and
other terminal conditions.
also become close friends with some of the families, as you develop a close
relationship with people when the patient is sleeping. When
I’m able to help out, I feel better myself – I feel appreciated and the whole
experience of volunteering is very rewarding.
Nursing Hospice Care goes into homes, nursing homes, or personal
care homes towards the end of life, and focus on patient and family care.
The goal is to maintain people in their homes, wherever it is that they call
home. Services include, but are
not limited to: skilled nursing,
home care aid, spiritual care, and bereavement counseling.
Labels: hospice, palliative care, UPMC Visiting Nurses Association