Jill and I are unabashed cheerleaders for hospice services whenever they can be appropriately implemented for people with a terminal diagnosis who choose not to battle their illness. Hospice makes powerfully wonderful sense for many reasons.

The services provide effective pain management and emotional support for patients and their families. Even in financial terms, hospice helps save costs to Medicare.

Jill first experienced hospice volunteering in the early 1970s when her sister was dying from a brain tumor. Then in the early ‘80s, she became a volunteer herself and then the director of the Bath-Brunswick Volunteer Hospice, now Midcoast Hospice Volunteers. She held that position for 10 years, recruiting and training the volunteers, and then matching them with families.

“A hospice volunteer has a very privileged position. Not only because of the situation of illness and end of life, but because the relationship itself holds the promise/opportunity of freedom from roles and expectations,” she says.

“We are not the nurse with a job to do, family members with roles, or friends with history. We are just there, open to whatever the patient or family member needs. It might be doing the dishes. It might be sitting in silence while a caregiver gets a break. Or it might become sharing. We protect the people we love, and sometimes cannot face our fears or anger with them. Hospice volunteers are trained in listening, silence, and responding to the needs of others. It is very simple, very beautiful, and very unusual in our culture.”

The Miles and St. Andrews Home Health & Hospice has been doing fantastic things in Lincoln County. They have the Homeward Bound Hospice Choir that visits people wherever they may be having their end-of-life experience … in a hospital, assisted living, nursing home or personal home. These are all volunteer singers. And, they have an excellent 20-hour hospice volunteer training course twice yearly.

The course is taught by a great faculty, including the Rev. Ken Dale, Dr. John Dickens and Dr. Rob Hunold, social worker Kathy Phliobosian, some of the hospice nurses, and a panel of volunteers.

Kandyce Powell, RN, executive director of the Maine Hospice Council and Center for End-of-Life Care, will teach a class called Personal Death Awareness. And the Homeward Bound Hospice Choir demonstrates a bedside sing.
Hospice volunteer Sharon White has volunteered for eight years with MSAHHH.

She says, “Volunteerism is a wonderful way to carry on purpose in life. The hospice volunteers are a team within a team. We get an awful lot out of it, too. We are rewarded in so many ways. With all of the volunteering that I do, hospice volunteering is the most rewarding because I go home with a full heart. It’s just really amazing. I feel it’s an honor and a privilege to be with people at the end of life.”

Hospice volunteers also benefit families with their presence. Sometimes it is as simple as giving the family members a chance to take a break or run some errands. Sometimes people at the end-of-life want to tell their stories. We all need some people to know our story, and sometimes it’s nice to have a compassionate stranger with whom you can share close conversations. We see over and over again that hospice helps families face very difficult situations, and can provide a calming influence at those crucial times.

Sharon says, “The biggest thing I have learned is that it’s not about me … and I can’t fix it. We are there for the benefit of the person at the end-of-life and her family.”

Fortunately, our society is evolving so that death conversations are occurring more openly … and more people are open to the many wonderful benefits of hospice. If you or a family member is faced with a terminal illness, you can bring the idea of hospice to your physician and not wait for the physician to first offer it to you.

To see a Spotlight on Seniors interview with Connie Jones and Sharon White, visit https://vimeo.com/264362974.
To learn more about hospice volunteer training and hospice services with Miles and St Andrews Home Health and Hospice, call Connie Jones at 563-4592.

Brunswick has CHANS Home Health and Hospice, with their own hospice volunteer program. For information, contact Judith Kelsh at 373-6056.

Jill Wallace is the owner and director of Elm Street Assisted Living in Topsham. Steve Raymond is director of community outreach at the Lincoln Home in Newcastle, and the producer and host of the television show “Spotlight on Seniors.”