Hospice Volunteers Sought for Rewarding Experiences

Betty Fitzsimmons of Lubec with her Down East Hospice volunteer, Suzanne McCurdy, also of Lubec, during a recent visit in Betty’s home. Betty says, "Sometimes Suzanne is my only visitor for the whole day. I enjoy having her come by to spend time with me and see how I am doing." (Submitted photo)

By Lura Jackson

 

To the uninitiated, “hospice” may imply focusing on the end of an individual’s life. For those who have been a part of the process, it often represents a beginning rather than an ending. Hospice is a program that lends greater meaning to the life of its clients and their families and at the same time enriching the volunteers that undertake it – thus enabling the creation of meaningful relationships that carry the memory of shared experiences far into the future.

For the past 23 years, Suzanne McCurdy has been a hospice volunteer with the Down East Hospice Volunteers of Washington County. “The people you meet are the most courageous, wonderful people – and I remember every one of them,” McCurdy said.

McCurdy joined the program at a time when the concept of hospice was virtually unknown in the area. She was motivated to do so after seeing the challenging situations of community members that did not have a comprehensive support system in place during their final days. “I felt there was a different way to help people on their journey,” McCurdy explained.

Now, after nearly a quarter century, she has joined upwards of 60 clients in their homes or wherever they may be located. Each time she has forged an unforgettable bond, sharing in their stories and their lives and in moments that are both difficult and joyous. “We cry together, and we laugh together… there’s a lot of humor. It helps us get through.”

Being a hospice volunteer isn’t an easy role, but it is extremely rewarding, McCurdy shares. “I highly recommend it to anybody. You receive far more than you put in.”

Since becoming a volunteer, McCurdy recognizes how it has changed her. “I listen more to people,” she said. “I find it’s better to listen than to talk. I’ve learned a lot about living. You cannot do this work without focusing on living. Not just on their lives, but on your own as well.”

During her time as a volunteer, McCurdy has seen how much it impacts the client’s family – particularly when children are encouraged to be a part of the process. Some families do not tell the children what is happening to their beloved elder, while others openly allow grandchildren and great-grandchildren to be held by the client in their hospice bed. “This is the way life should go on for all of us,” McCurdy shared. “Our program reaches not just the client, but the entire family.”

Becoming a volunteer

Down East Hospice is conducting training workshops for those who are interested in becoming hospice volunteers in Washington County. The need for volunteers is currently high, and those who believe they may be interested are encouraged to attend the training. There is no pressure to continue with the training or to accept clients at any time.

Volunteers that have completed the training have complete control over what clients they take on and how much time they allot to the program. Per McCurdy, some clients enjoy just an hour per day of companionship while others appreciate full afternoons. Either way, the visit itself is what matters most to the client and their family members – some of whom may not live locally or have the ability to come themselves. “Oftentimes, except for medical services, we are the only person they see on any given day,” she explained.

All volunteers are actively supported by program director Barbara Barnett, who aims to be available for any situations that arise and require her assistance. Barnett emphasizes that her goal is to work with volunteers around their schedule, and to provide support through other means as needed, including providing gas cards for volunteers that live a fair distance away from the training or from their client.

The training provides instruction on active listening and compassionate caregiving, and, as such, is valuable to anyone that would consider taking it. “This training will help support them in their own lives. They will become better listeners, they will become more patient and less judgmental, and their natural compassion will grow,” Barnett explained.

 

The training will take place on Sept. 12, 14, 17, 18, and 21, and all days must be attended. Per Barnett, a usual day of training will start around 9:30 and end around 3 p.m. or sooner and the setting is informal, comfortable and confidential. For more information, contact the office at 454-7521 ext. 126, call Director Barbara Barnett at 726-5087 or e-mail at downeasthospice@yahoo.com. A pre-training interview must take place and those who are interested are encouraged to contact the office for an application without delay. Applications are also available at the front desk of Calais Regional Hospital and at the Calais Free Library.