My name is Stephanie and I have been a volunteer at TRU Community Care for a year. Working with TRU Community Care has helped me put my own life in perspective. It has been a learning experience about the challenges and experiences and, yes, joys people go through at the end of life and it has taught me to treasure each moment with my family and friends. In my year, I have worked with people from age 25 to age 100. Some of them lived with disease for years and one of them had been diagnosed the month before going to the care center. I have realized that none of us has a contract on our lives, and I have learned to take advantage of the times I have with the people I care about.
There are a wide range of options for volunteer experiences with TRU. This last year, I worked as a companion, provided respite care, provided transportation, and provided assistance with patients in the care center. The staff at TRU tries to match the volunteer experience that fits your talents and provides the most personal satisfaction for you. I have found that no matter what I was doing, It was a deeply touching and meaningful experience.
When I retired, I had to recreate myself and decide what I wanted to do now. I ended up with a goal of finding a head job, a heart job, and a job that would make use of my creative talents. TRU provides the heart job that I need. It is not unusual for people to ask, “How can you do that type of work?” and, “Isn’t it uncomfortable for you?” Volunteering with TRU can sometimes be an emotional experience, but as a volunteer, I am doing whatever I can to make sure that the patient has the opportunity to live every moment until they die. One patient was talking with me about her fear of dying, and it led to a conversation about her family that had us both belly laughing. She looked at me and said, “Thank you for making me laugh.” That was a moment unlike any other and the reason why I volunteer.
My family has used hospice twice in the past several years. Both times I watched the compassionate hospice team care for my loved ones. I will never forget how helpful, kind, and compassionate they were for me and my family who found ourselves in unusual, confusing, stressful, and emotional circumstances. We learned that hospice isn’t something to fear. It would have been much more difficult for us if hospice had not been there to provide day and night advice and assistance. I put it in the back of my head that I would try to give back if the opportunity came up for me.
The first assignment that I took after I completed hospice volunteer training was with an 89-year-old woman. She wanted to memorize the Gettysburg Address before she died. I was so impressed that a woman who was at the end of life still had a bucket list that I jumped at the chance to work with her. We spent many hours over a few months time going over and over the Gettysburg Address. When she got tired, she would recite poetry to me that she had memorized over the years – The Village Smithy and The Children’s Hour. I heard about her life with her husband – they had been together since kindergarten. I met her family. It was an honor to spend time with her, and I had a real sense of satisfaction in knowing that, in a small way, I helped her achieve a goal she set for herself. I am amused with the idea that somehow, somewhere she has run into Abraham Lincoln and they had a good old time discussing the Gettysburg Address. I’m sure she told him how difficult the last two sentences are.
There have been many moments of hospice volunteering that I will treasure. The 100-year-old woman who played the piano for me as we sang Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill. Her daughter told me she had not played the piano in months before that point. There was a gentleman who I took to the grocery store to buy cigarettes and a lottery ticket so he could win and give his son a lot of money. He had not lost his interest in what was going on in the world and we had rousing political discussions. There was the man who wanted me to read Hank the Cowdog to him. And the woman who couldn’t speak, but she FaceTimed with her grandchildren regularly.
Volunteering with TRU has also helped me understand how important it is to make my family aware of my end of life wishes. Death is, perhaps, the hardest thing to talk about. But having that conversation before the emotional distress of a crisis kicks in will help my loved ones know the setting that I prefer, with the amount of end-of-life intervention that I want to have. The medical staff who takes care of me will be able to work with my family to provide the care I want, and my loved ones will have better grief outcomes.
My first year at TRU Community Care has been a special one. Every person I have worked with has had different needs, but I found that no matter what kind of person they are or what kind of life they have led, when it comes to the end, something as simple as listening, smiling, offering a caring touch, or just being there can provide real comfort. Volunteering with hospice is a genuinely gratifying experience.
If you are interested in volunteering with TRU, please visit the volunteer section of our website to learn more.