Hospice volunteers bring who they are to others

By Colin Rajala - Staff Writer
Enfield - posted Thu., Feb. 14, 2013
Home and Community Health Services hospice volunteers Kristin Carllo and Bill Dixon, alongside Volunteer and Bereavement Coordinator Cathy Truehart. Photo by Colin Rajala.
Home and Community Health Services hospice volunteers Kristin Carllo and Bill Dixon, alongside Volunteer and Bereavement Coordinator Cathy Truehart. Photo by Colin Rajala.

Nearing the end of their lives, many hospice patients lay in bed at their house, in a nursing home, or the hospital, some with family close to their side, others seemingly alone in the world, but all are looking for serenity and reassurance as their lives come to a close.

Hospice volunteers build relationships with the patients over the course of a few weeks or months, as they look to enhance the quality of each day of every patient's life, bringing tranquility, self-respect and comfort into their lives by talking to the patients and listening to their every word. The volunteers’ jobs do not end once their patient has passed away; it is, in fact, just the beginning. The volunteers routinely work with the deceased patient’s families to help them grieve, being a shoulder to lean or cry on, an ear to listen, and even a smile to help them laugh and remember happier times.

Johnson Memorial Medical Center’s (JMMC) Home and Community Health Services (H&CHS) provide that shoulder, ear and smile for patients and their families with home health, hospice care and bereavement services to residents of north central Connecticut and the bordering towns in Massachusetts.

“It’s relationship that heals,” said Cathy Truehart, H&CHS volunteer and bereavement coordinator. “It’s not what you say or do, it's bringing who you are to somebody, and that’s what we do here. Relationships that you make in hospice are life-long; you can build a relationship in an hour that in regular life might take you a lifetime.  When time is limited and people are at a sacred time in their lives, they open up and you don’t have to put up all of those walls, you deal with people on a soul level.”

Volunteer Kristin Carllo joined the hospice volunteers two years ago after they had a profound effect on her life as well as her family. Her father was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a blood and bone marrow disease that slowly worsens. Carllo said that her father was a loving man, willing to do anything for his family or someone in need, and was always strong in character and abilities, but seeing such a strong person become weaker every day took a toll on her family.

The hospice nurses and home health aides gave great care to her father and created a newfound bond with him and the family. Carllo said that that he looked forward to their visits, noting that “hospice treats the person, not the disease. They not only focused on him, but made sure that we as a family were also supported and taken care of in this difficult stage of life,” she said. After her father passed away, the nurse and aid continued their bond with the family, routinely keeping in touch with her mother and even paying her a few visits. These interactions inspired Carllo to become a volunteer who hopes to one day become a hospice nurse.

“I want to give back the same way they helped my dad,” Carllo said. “It touched my heart so much. It shows the compassion people can have. Seeing the interactions and bond was incredible. I love the interacting with the patients; I love the day-to-day getting to know the people and their families.”

Volunteer Bill Dixon joined the volunteers more than 10 years ago, saying that his participation is a "product of rejection.” Dixon’s mother went into a nursing home during the later years of her life and was offered hospice services, but was not all too keen or receptive to the idea. Hospice volunteers helped her out with nurses as much as she would allow before her passing. Dixon said that over the course of the year after his mother’s death, the hospice volunteers called every three months to check in and see if he was all right and if there was anything they could do. Dixon has volunteered for many groups and organizations during the past 30 years because he believes it is everyone’s duty to give back. He says that the hospice volunteers’ compassion and assistance during the bereavement period is what prompted him to do the same.

“One way we impact the community is by not necessarily visiting the community, we visit people,” Dixon said. “It’s the patients and their family that form the community for the volunteer, and it spreads from there.”

The hospice volunteers offer a variety of services to explore after they go through the 16-hour training. Volunteers can read and write with patients, listen and play music, share quiet moments or go for walks as well as run errands, assist with laundry, provide respite, and participate in life review.

For more information about how to volunteer at the Home and Community Health Services, visit www.jmmc.com, or call 860-763-7600. Other volunteer opportunities are available at Johnson Memorial Hospital by contacting Patricia Lake, director of volunteer services, at 860-864-8216.

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