Saturday, December 15, 2007

Extra Ordinary Endings

"You matter because you are you and
you matter to the last moment of your life,
and we will do everything we can
not only to help you die peacefully
but to live until you die"
- Dame Cecily Saunders, MD
, Hospice Founder

Thus marks the beginning of my new career in extraordinary endings. My new job is somewhat of a paradox, but I love every minute of it and am excited about the possibilities that lie before me at the beginning of this journey. For the first time I am working in a non-profit type role in a (very much) for-profit company. I am the new regional volunteer coordinator for a hospice company. My territory currently includes seven counties in the eastern part of our state. A lot of people are unfamiliar with what hospice really is and what it does unless they have had cause to experience it first hand through the end of the life of a loved one. Therefore when people ask me what it is I do now, sometimes I am not sure they come away with an accurate representation of my new position when they offer a rather generic, "Oh, that sounds nice." Just as a side note here - I absolutely hate the word "nice." I think it is the most overused demeaning, seemingly positive, yet insincere adjective I know - but that's a blog post for another day!

The concept of a for profit company even having a segment of their mission that incorporates volunteers can be confusing. Even at my company orientation, the opening session was a mix of all their new employees regardless of role or position within the company and we all decided to go out to lunch together and one of the others at the orientation was just fascinated with the concept of my job - how I could have a paid position to entice people to give up their free time to volunteer for something. Obviously she had never been passionate enough about something before to contribute to a cause or organization with no hopes of receiving anything tangible in return. I felt a little sorry for her in that regard.

We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give. --Winston Churchill

I have been the recipient of love and service, therefore I can love and serve. There is great satisfaction in service to others, in . . . seeing people and their conditions change. --Clarence E. Hodges

So what exactly do I do now? My in-laws are still perplexed...the questions they ask me let me know that they just don't get it...but over the years, I've learned to be okay with that. When one's choices don't necessarily follow convention, one has to expect (or perhaps the word I should use is accept) the questions.

If you want to be successful, know what you are doing, love what you are doing, and believe in what you are doing. - Will Rogers

Hospice care is more about living than dying. It is about adding value to everyday life, especially at a time when you are most aware of its limit. The treatment goal of hospice is to enable patients to continue an alert, pain-free life and to manage other symptoms so that their last days may be spent with dignity and quality surrounded by their loved ones. Through an inter-disciplinary team which includes a physician, registered nurse, social worker, bereavement counselor, spiritual counselor and volunteers, hospice works to provide the best care for both patient and family, striving not only to meet the physical needs but also the emotional needs of the patient and the family. Hospice is not necessarily a place, but a concept of care that is expressly tailored to each individual patient's needs, wishes, and desires and to alleviate the fears most commonly associated with a terminal illness.

It's only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth -- and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up, we will then begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had. - Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

So why the volunteers? Volunteers are an essential and valuable component in the whole hospice picture. They are not paid professionals, they are regular people, just like our patients and their families, with an enormous amount of caring and compassion for their fellow man. The patient and their family know that this person is there simply because they truly care and are receiving no compensation for their service. Patient care volunteers come in many forms, shapes, sizes and ages, just like our patients. They can be as young as 14 (with parent permission) or as old as 84 (obviously there is no real upper age limit). They offer emotional support to our patients and their families through dedicating 1-3 hours per week of their time, talents, caring and compassion to meet the needs of others. They can visit with the patient to provide relief to other care givers, run errands for the family, make a meal, send cards, arrange flowers, do yard work, read a book to the patient or perhaps children in the family, play a game, do a puzzle, laugh, listen to stories, scrapbook, walk the dog, do laundry, make phone calls, help the patient write a letter, look at old photos, give a back rub, watch tv or a video with the patient, record memories, set up a bird feeder, empty trash, plant flowers, help with hair care or nails, teach relaxation techniques, . . . the possibilities are endless, but can all be summed up with one word, LOVE. Volunteers simply extend unconditional love to the patient and his or her family through simple acts of service and caring.

In this troubled world, it's refreshing to find someone who still has the time to be kind. Someone who still has the faith to believe that the more you give, the more you receive. Someone who's ready by thought, word, or deed to reach out a hand, in the hour of need. -- Helen Steiner Rice

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. ~Leo Buscaglia

And what exactly is your role, Bop? Good question! Medicare requires that 5% of all patient bedside hours spent by paid professionals - physicians, nurses, chaplains, social workers, and aides are matched with volunteer hours (i.e.- for every 100 hours our employees spend with a patient, our volunteers must also spend 5 hours in service to the patients and families). My role is to educate the community about hospice, then recruit, train, manage, retain, and recognize our volunteers as well as to help conduct bereavement camps or day workshops several times a year for grieving children and teens. I also must coordinate community building group volunteer projects that do not necessarily involve care, but benefit our patients in other ways. These groups could include church or ministry groups, school clubs, civic organizations, scouts or any other group that likes to engage in acts of service for the good of others and they could do things like helping to role patient packs for the nurses to take into the homes that include trash bags and paper towels, knitting lap blankets or slippers, doing yard work or car care, arranging flowers, making cards, etc. almost as limitless as the individual volunteer opportunities but do not involve direct patient care and are done together as a group.

Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received - only what you have given: a full heart, enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage. -- Saint Francis of Assisi

In that my work includes publicity and public relations, speaking to groups, administrative duties, teaching and training, event planning (banquets, workshops), a little graphic design and writing (brochures and newsletters), travel and many other things that are necessary to fulfill the goals of my position. On a day-to day basis, I work independently and right now my home office is where I do most of my computer and paper work, but I also function as part of several larger teams, not only the company's volunteer coordinator team, but also the interdisciplinary teams in each county and partnering with each county's community relations director. I think I function best this way, I like to be able to contribute to a larger team to accomplish goals greater than I could ever achieve alone, but I also like to have some freedom and independence. I also love that my work requires a great variety of tasks in a variety of locations as I get more satisfaction from my work when I am able to engage in a variety of activities. All in all, I would never have told you a year ago that I would want to work for a hospice organization, the thought never would have occurred to me, but now I could not think of a better match for my skills set, passions and personal life experiences.

Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected, unplanned by me. - Carl Sandburg

None of us knows what the next change is going to be, what unexpected opportunity is just around the corner, waiting a few months or a few years to change all the tenor of our lives. - Kathleen Norris


Esther said...

The quotes are beautiful and ever so inspiring! Thanks for sharing your collection. Many blessings to you in the new year.

wendy said...

The wonderful thing about volunteering is knowing at the outset there is no expectation. It is not about an external carrot. As such, it is a gift you give yourself and others. It is also the one engagement that rewards the entire spectrum of behaviors of Committment, Compassion, Caring and Showing Up in ways no dollar figure can match. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your process.

tobeme said...

Congratulations on your new positon. Hospice is an amazing organization. I am awed by what they do!

Theresa said...

Hospice rocks. What a fulfilling yet tough job. Thanks for doing it.

Bop said...

Esther -
Welcome and thanks for visiting! I am glad you like my quotes - I try to share some of my favorites here, as I believe they are good tools for navigating the journey.

Many blessings in the New Year to you as well! I hope that your path will bring you back again soon.

Wendy -
Welcome to you as well! Glad you stopped by and like what you found here. Volunteering is an amazing thing, I have built my life around it. And it is so true that when you think you are giving of yourself to help others, in reality you are the one who is receiving the gifts!

Mark (to be me) -
Thanks for dropping by again and thanks for your wishes of congratulations! I agree - Hospice is awesome! That's I chose to do what I'm doing! Best Wishes to you in the New Year!

Theresa -
Thanks for returning! I love your blog and the new look! Hospice work is a challenge and reward, and there is no other work like it in the world. I agree it does indeed Rock! ;o) Thanks for the encouragement!

Anonymous said...

Hi Bop! Just to let you know that I referenced this post in an email to a Hospice Vol Coordinator in my area, to tell her that I was interested in this!! Looking forward to more posts. :) -Care