The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

November 1, 2012

Volunteers give hearts to help hospice needs

By Brian Graves, Staff Writer

Wednesday, October 31, 2012 — Death is not just hard, it’s complicated.

There are so many things that need to be cared for and managed — everything from breaking hearts to medication schedules.

A family facing that path always finds itself pushed to the limit wanting to care for a loved one while having to continue their own day to day living.

That’s where hospice service can actually be as much of a lifesaver as the preconceived notions it is only about death.

Hospice of Stanly County recently graduated five new volunteers to add to an ever-growing force of compassion.

After spending many hours of instruction, they will be available to assist in the full-time care needed during the most painful days of a family’s life.

The instruction itself can be an emotional journey.

Part of the course is learning about the dying process itself, in sometimes heart-breaking detail, and knowing what to watch for and how to react as the months turn to minutes.

“The thing we do at hospice is focus on quality of life,” said Heather Crump, who works as a hospice nurse.

“We can’t prolong their life or extend their life, but the thing we can do is make the life that they have better.”

Volunteers are taught the things to look for in a patient, and in some ways, what to look for in the members of the family.

“Sometimes they can get kind of stoic when we come into the home saying they’re OK,” Crump said.

“But you can tell that may not exactly be the case. That’s when you shouldn’t hesitate to call for more help.”

The volunteers do not serve a medical purpose, they serve a support purpose.

The volunteers do not serve a medical purpose, they serve a support purpose.

They are allowed to pick up and deliver medications for the patient, but that’s about as close as they get to helping with prescription use.

By law, they are not able to handle a patient’s medications. However, if a family member prepares the medications in advance, the volunteer can remind the patient it’s time to take their dosage.

What they are able to do is keep someone company, be an encourager, give caregivers some relief, and be a watchdog for any signs of which family and medical personnel should be aware.

The five new volunteers who have now offered themselves up to do this service have suffered the emotions of watching loved ones suffer and die. So, the question would be why would anyone volunteer to care about others and go through those emotions all over again?

A common thread runs through their answers — either they want others to have the comfort they had or want to provide a service they wish they themselves had used.

“I just want to be able to touch somebody’s life so maybe they don’t have such a hard time as we did before,” said Marilyn Easley.

“Just to be there and help somebody.”

Sandhi Rushing said she has been a caregiver, but did not have the kind of support Hospice can give.

“It would have been wonderful to have known this was available,” Rushing said.

“I just don’t want anyone to have to go through that. I’ve been on the other side of that, so I want to give back and be that person that keeps another person from experiencing the bad and have a better experience with the passing of a loved one.”

Earl Oaks said he lost his wife 18 years ago.

“Hospice came when I was out on a limb not knowing what to do,” Oaks recalled.

“They made it easier for me. It’s never easy when your wife dies. But they did help.

“I’m getting up in age and have a lot of extra time on my hands. I’d rather do this than sit home and watch reruns. This is more beneficial.”

Kathy Hicks serves as volunteer coordinator at Hospice of Stanly County and says those who take the responsibility are very special people.

“I know from experience, because I’ve been here 19 years, that any work you do here at Hospice you get way more than you ever give,” Hicks said.

“The families are blessings to go and spend time with. It’s very rewarding”

Hospice of Stanly County has 135 volunteers who are able to be there with families and patients who need assistance.

“That’s a phenomenal number because most hospices have nowhere near the number of volunteers we have and we have some awesome ones,” Hicks said.

“We’re thankful for them.”

She said hospice is not about just those facing the final days.

“It’s like our slogan. It’s about living, it’s not about dying,” she said.

“I’d like people to know that in their last days hospice can make a difference in those last, crucial days of life by helping not only the patients, but helping the families understand and cope with what they are dealing with.”

Hicks added that many of those they see come “way too late” in the process and wants the public to know Hospice can help beginning very early in the process.

Those who feel hospice service can be of help in their current situation or would like to participate in helping can call Hospice of Stanly County at (704) 983-4216.