Volunteers provide companionship, joy to hospice patients

Barbara Steer was semi-retired and wanted to spend time helping others. She was familiar with hospice care, as some of her friends had been in hospice when she sought out a nonprofit to put her skills to good use. Professionally, Barbara had been a baker, physician’s assistant and social worker. In 2014, she added hospice volunteer to her resume.

She signed on as a patient companion volunteer with Ann Arbor-based Arbor Hospice where, paired up with her first patient, Barbara helped her go through old photos while listening to stories about the “good old days.” She discovered the woman’s favorite Christmas cookie, and drawing upon her 20 years experience as a baker, decided to bring a little Yuletide cheer into her home. White coconut, festive red and green maraschino cherries, flour and sugar coated the kitchen counter as Barbara baked and the woman chatted about the upcoming holiday.

Barbara reflects upon that visit with her patient and smiles, “We had a good time together making a mess of the kitchen, laughing and gossiping about our husbands.”

While Barbara spends her time visiting and socializing with her patients; on the other side of the state, 15-year Hospice of Michigan volunteer, Lois Carey connects with hospice patients in a different way. Once an administrative volunteer, Lois is now the lead volunteer for the HOM flower delivery program in Grand Rapids. Every Monday, beautiful bouquets of blooms are arranged by Lois and a team of volunteers in donated vases using flowers provided by local florists and grocery stores. Approximately 30 to 50 bouquets are created and hand-delivered by a team of patient companion volunteers to hospice patients every week.

“Flowers are a different kind of medicine,” Lois said. “The bouquets bring a little cheer to the patients and their families.”

On one particular visit to a local nursing home, a volunteer brought one of the flower program’s creations to a patient’s room. Though she was blind, the woman was still able to appreciate the flowers using her other senses. She touched and smelled the fragrant blossoms while the volunteer described the arrangement in full detail, down to the shape and color of each beautiful bloom. The patient was so overwhelmed with emotion that she broke down and cried, explaining to the volunteer that no one had ever brought her flowers.

Patients aren’t the only ones who appreciate the visits; families often write letters of gratitude to Lois and the other hospice volunteers for their efforts. A recent note made its way into Lois’ hands thanking the volunteers for the beautiful bouquets. Not only was the family grateful for the flowers, they also praised the group’s kind and loving spirit.

Both Arbor and HOM’s volunteer programs offer in-depth training for those wishing to perform meaningful work to support hospice. The nonprofits offer three types of hospice volunteer opportunities:

∫ Patient care, for which Hospice of Michigan has the greatest need, to provide companionship, pet and music visits, as well as caregiver relief

∫ Administrative assignments, including office work

∫ Community outreach, including supporting fundraising events

According to Claire Fisher, volunteer program manager for Hospice of Michigan, the different types of hospice volunteer work have a common theme – each has a deep connection with patient care.

“Whether it’s a bedside visit, administrative work or arranging flowers, volunteers draw upon their knowledge and skills to provide a heartwarming and joyful experience to our patients and their families,” Claire said. “Our volunteers are professional and compassionate, and it’s a privilege to work with them.”

Barbara adds one last piece of advice for those who are concerned about working with people during a difficult time, “If you’re considering volunteering with hospice, just do it. Your willingness to be part of someone’s life is special.”

Arbor Hospice and Hospice of Michigan are united in caring, and in celebrating National Volunteer Week April 23-29 recognizes and thanks their dedicated volunteers who lend their time, talent and support to the nonprofit hospice agencies in providing joy and happiness to nearly 1,900 Michigan patients and their families annually. For more information about volunteer opportunities, please visit www.hom.org.