By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
The song says the best things in life are free. For volunteers with hospice agencies around Northeast Mississippi, it’s the small measure of comfort they can share to help smooth the way for people who are dying and their families.
“I look forward to it,” said Michelle “Dolly” Moore, who has volunteered with NMMC Hospice for more than two years. Her volunteer service is often spent sitting with hospice patients so their family caregivers can have a break. “It’s a blessing,” said Moore.
It’s a life-affirming experience, said Betty Neilson, who has volunteered at Sanctuary Hospice House in Tupelo for 51⁄2 years.
“I have met some of the most wonderful people,” said Neilson, who spends her hours assisting Sanctuary’s nurses and aides and visiting with patients and families. “It’s such a rewarding experience.”
Volunteers are a key part of the team in hospice care, which provides specialized care to the dying with the goal of helping them and their families through the process in comfort, dignity and peace. Nurses and aides provide the clinical care. Volunteers can linger longer, providing companionship and a listening ear to patients and their families.
“I think they’re like the icing on the cake,” said Linda Gholston, administrator of Sanctuary Hospice House in Tupelo. “They complement our staff. They do those extra things.”
The volunteers are standing in for the entire community when they give their time to families of the dying, who can feel isolated.
“It’s just nice to know that somebody cares,” said Holly Boyd, volunteer coordinator for North Mississippi Hospice, a home hospice agency with offices in Southaven, Oxford and Tupelo.
Ways to help
Although volunteer opportunities can vary from hospice to hospice, all have to follow federal guidelines with orientation training, background checks and health screenings. Although the training is often at a centralized location, home hospice volunteers usually serve in their own communities.
For home hospice agencies, volunteers usually offer families a brief respite by sitting with the hospice patients so caregivers can take a break. They also can run errands for families, do some light housekeeping or light meal preparation.
“A lot of caregivers just need a break,” Boyd said.
Hospice agencies also have volunteer opportunities that support patients and their families indirectly, including card ministries and clerical work.
Geraldean Monaghan spends four hours every Tuesday working at the reception desk at Sanctuary Hospice.
“I really wanted to do something for someone else,” said Monaghan, who has volunteered for nearly six years. “I’ve enjoyed it from the very first day.”
She greets visitors, helps answer phones, assists with paperwork and provides a sympathetic ear to families.
“They want to talk to someone,” Monaghan said. “You get attached to the families. We try to make it as comfortable as we can.”
North Mississippi Hospice agency holds monthly service days where volunteers come together to put together a project for the agency’s patients like making stockings or assembling baskets, Boyd said.
Other volunteers who visit hospice patients in nursing homes and assisted living centers may end up organizing activities like bingo or craft time that are open to all the center’s residents, Boyd said.
“They give you the tools to do little things that make an impact,” said North Mississippi Hospice volunteer Danielle Del Grande, such as making soup, a cake or sending encouragement cards.
Del Grande started as an indirect volunteer, but is now preparing to more directly assist a family as a volunteer.
Why they come
Many hospice volunteers are drawn to volunteer because of their own experiences.
Betty Long was inspired by the love the hospice staff showed her late husband, Jimmy Long.
“They were so good to us,” said Long, who was last year named volunteer of the year with NMMC Hospice. “I’ve got to give back … I’ve gone through the grief that’s overwhelming the caregivers.”
But volunteers aren’t limited to those who had a family member on hospice. A desire to help, a sympathetic ear and time to give are the key ingredients, said Chris Maynard, volunteer coordinator for NMMC Hospice.
“It starts with the heart,” Maynard said
There are often more laughter and smiles than people would associate with helping dying families.
“This is a happy place where sad things happen,” Neilson said of Sanctuary Hospice.
The patients Moore visits often want to chat about their lives or their family.
“I let them share memories,” Moore said.
But of course, there are tears, too. The volunteers said they often become attached to the hospice patients and their families.
“It can be hard,” Long said. “You know they are on their last days, but I can think that maybe I’ve helped.”
HOSPICE PROGRAMS generally require all
• Complete an orientation session.
• Have a medical exam including a TB skin test.
• Go through a criminal background check.
• NMMC Hospice: 9 am. to 2:30 p.m., Feb. 22, NMMC Hospice office in Tupelo. Call (662) 377-7074 or (800) 852-1610.
• Sanctuary Hospice: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 20. Call Patricia Mitchell (662) 844-2111.
• North Mississippi Hospice: Orientation is set up around volunteer schedules. Call Holly Boyd at (662) 620-1050.