Hospice Volunteers Comfort Dying, Support Families

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Hospice volunteers say they have the special privilege of witnessing the end of a person's life -- they echo similar sentiments of reverence when they speak of the lives they touch.

What a privileged experience, they say, it is to help a human being make the transition from life to death, to a better place.

Those interested in volunteering for RTA Hospice and Palliative Care can attend volunteer trainings Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays Sept. 19-30.

"In a way (volunteering) lets you realize that there will come a time when you might be in a situation such as this," said volunteer Dick Brubaker.

Brubaker went through training a year ago. The apprehension he felt meeting his first patient-- an old cowboy-- soon melted away.

"I was raised on a ranch in Wyoming and consequently we pretty well hit it off right off the bat."

Second-year volunteer Bob Miller, an avid coin collector who uses his passion for coins to connect to other patients, is beginning his second year as a volunteer.

He was raised to turn a blind eye to color and creed, and he was surprised to find that hospice held that same tenet.

"It doesn't matter who you go see, what religion they are, who they are, you are there to help them and that's what I like."

On-the-job training is required with every visit according to Miller. Three in-service trainings are mandated once a year.

The initial 32 hours of training covers:

  • Talks about spirituality led by hospice pastor Lynn Richie
  • Bereavement therapist Allyson Danielson prepares families for the grieving process before the death occurs.

Kay Bennett, a retired nurse and volunteer with 12 years of experience assists with bereavement classes.

"I think it is very rewarding to start out with people who are so sad and sometimes don't have much hope for the future because their loved ones have passed on, but then with all the talking ... towards about the seventh or eighth (session) there is a little bit of laughter," she said.

Kaufman teaches volunteers how to fill out the legal records for phone calls and visits, which become part of the patient's medical record.

Fern Scott has been a hospice volunteer since its inception in Payson 12 years ago.

"Things have really progressed since my first patient," Scott said. "The nurse in charge escorted me to the patient's home, introduced me and stayed with me a while... now they ask, can you find this address?"

Scott has cared for patients for more than a year, and as little as a couple of months. She said, some patients stay for such short periods that bonding time is cut short.

Sister Theresa McIntyre from Catholic Social Services is a favorite teacher of volunteers.

"She does an unbelievable job putting you in the place of the hospice patient and walks you through the process as if it were you. You have to write down things that you cherish and people you love and you have to start giving those up. It is done to try and help the volunteers understand what the patient is going through... it's really dynamic."

The job of hospice volunteer is filled with tears and laughter and is guided by the ebb and flow of giving and receiving.

Sometimes patients have no family or friends nearby to offer support, and that's where the hospice team steps in to meet their needs, and volunteers are always needed.

To sign up for training, contact Patty Kaufman at RTA Hospice and Palliative Care, 511 S. Mud Springs Road, Payson. (928) 472-6340.

The only requirement to participate in the RTA Hospice Volunteer Education Course is a desire to help others, be 18 years of age, and not experienced a recent death of a loved one.

This feature is part of the Roundup's series on social services in the Rim Country.

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