Hospice Volunteers Bring Heart and Gratitude to Service
Sebastian Santos says his family and friends were surprised when he began volunteering in hospice, thinking that the experience would be morbid or depressing, but he’s found the opposite. “When you go through it, a lot of it is really heartwarming,” he explained.
The 23-year-old graduate student is a volunteer for Brighton Hospice in Southwest Portland, who answered their call for someone who could play piano for a former music teacher.
Despite the 60 years that separate their ages, they’ve bonded over Frank Sinatra and enjoyed some silly songs and classical music together as he’s played an electronic keyboard at the retirement facility. He says the experience has given him “more perspective.”
Romina D’Ugo made the difficult decision to leave Toronto where she’d helped with her father’s care in order to accelerate a career in dancing and acting in Los Angeles about nine years ago.
She volunteered with Silverado Hospice there to give back, thinking, “If I can’t be there for my dad, I can be there for someone else’s.” It was a “direct way to continue the energy full circle,” she explained.
D’Ugo says the volunteer work has been gratifying and it has been an “extreme privilege” to be with patients at life’s end. She says as an artist she’s “very sensitive and in tune” to details, which helps her better understand her hospice patients and their needs. It has given her “humility and awe.”
She says her most important work is “gently discussing a patient’s hopes and fears as they approach their transition,” being a “compassionate, loving ear.” Sometimes her patients don’t have any family and she’s one of the chosen few “to send them off with love and presence.” “It’s quite profound,” D’Ugo says.
In her role, D’Ugo has massaged hands, made flower bouquets and kept patients company as they played bingo. Witnessing the end brings a range of emotions, “beautiful, heartbreaking, peaceful and privileged.”
Retired physical therapist Rhonda Hurt has volunteered for Peace Health hospice in Vancouver, Washington, since 2012. From the beginning, she’s provided respite care, doing a block of four hours once a week to give caregivers a break.
Hurt had a particularly close relationship with one patient who lived for three years despite her diagnosis. “She was my friend,” Hurt says holding back tears.”We went through the whole thing together.”
Hurt says she thinks her friendship with the woman and her husband brought some life back into their world. “She had stopped everything. She was watching TV, reading, expecting to die.” Hurt says she was able to rekindle the patient’s interest in hand-crafting greeting cards. “I feel like I gave her hope again. She started living.”
“It opens up your appreciation of life, in a way, and gives you food for thought and examine yourself more deeply,” she says.
“I think it has made me a better person,” Hurt says.
Volunteers are an essential part of hospice and have been from the very beginning. Volunteers handle non-medical duties supporting families with a variety of tasks. Their care includes anything from running errands to walking dogs and spending time with patients, reading, talking and playing music.
“It helps if you are able to listen, have a caring spirit and a good sense of humor,” advises the California Hospice and Palliative Care Association (CHAPCA) which lists dozens of California hospice care programs on its website to consider.
All volunteer programs provide training and give people a choice of how to serve, so no one should fear that they won’t know what they are doing or be put in a situation that’s not comfortable for them.
Even volunteers who don’t directly work with patients can improve their care by freeing up other resources by helping with office work, special projects and fundraising, the Washington State Hospice and Palliative Care Association (WHCPO) explains.
WHCPO suggests the best way to find Washington state hospice volunteer opportunities is to visit their “find a provider” directory and call and ask for the volunteer director at each location you are interested in. You can do the same with the Oregon association directory, or explore the listings below.
Volunteer opportunity resources