Serving the Dying

A perk of my job is that I work around people who are strong, good-looking, determined, and optimistic. Because I get to serve student-athletes I am constantly around folks who are in the prime of their lives. I love this aspect of my position and it keeps me energized. However, I also understand that student-athletes represent just a very small portion of our societal population.

This past September I started volunteering for an organization that gave me exposure to a vastly different population, a population that isn’t so strong or optimistic (at least from first glance). Six months ago I started an 18 hour training course with Partners In Home Care. After I completed the three week course I became certified and could go out in the field and volunteer for people who really need me. Although difficult in nature I have really come to enjoy the volunteer service I provide.

So what is Partners In Home Care?

Although some people actually shudder when I tell them, Partners In Homecare is a hospice agency. Headquartered in Missoula, Partners In Homecare services people all over western Montana. Individuals who are in twilight stages of an illness and have a life expectancy of under six months are eligible for hospice care. The goal for these patients is to live out the remainder of their days in as much comfort as possible inside their own homes. People in hospice care receive regular visits from nurses, social workers, chaplains, and people like me, volunteers.

Volunteers visit homes of hospice patients to provide a dose of human compassion and relief. Volunteers serve patients by talking with them, reading to them, holding their hands, and/or watching a program with them. They also assist by doing household chores, providing specialized services, and by tending to family pets.

Volunteers receive extensive screening. As I said, when training concludes volunteers become eligible to visit the homes of hospice patients. However, just because they are eligible does not mean they have an assignment. The volunteer coordinator matches volunteers to patients based off of the screening and the personal interviews she conducts with each person who goes through the program. Some aspiring volunteers wait months before receiving an assignment. Luckily for me I waited a short time before I got matched with my first family.

Although extremely anxious to walk up to the door for the first time I soon got over my nerves. Since my time volunteering I have met nothing but nice people. Even though the people I meet are all impacted somehow by a terminal illness (either directly as the patient or indirectly as a loved one) they show me nothing but kindness and thankfulness. I volunteer for two hours each Sunday and it dramatically takes me away from the perfect, healthy world I live in and puts me in a much different world of constant pain and escalating medical bills. I can’t say enough good things about the family I am currently volunteering for. Most of my time assisting them centers on helping with bills, vacuuming, shoveling snow, mopping floors, and doing odd jobs around the house. But before and after I begin the chores I get precious time where I visit with the ill lady and her husband. It is at this time where I get exposed to a strength that is entirely different from the strength I see our student-athletes exhibit in the athletic arena.

By writing this post I don’t mean to pat myself on the back. Are you kidding me? I volunteer two hours a week…I need to challenge myself to do more. But what I am championing is the eye-opening experience of exposing ourselves to a dramatically different and far more challenging lifestyle than what many of us enjoy. The perspective to be gained from serving the dying is one that will make us much more humble people and also prepare us for a fate that all of us will eventually face. If you want more information on how you can volunteer for Partners In Home Care click here. Don’t Blink.