“I’ve had four siblings die in the past three and a half years and that was more than half of my family,” he said. “I know I was left here for some reason and that’s why I’m here.”
Spivey was among 20 people who signed up for Southeastern Hospice House’s volunteer training, which began last week. The classes, held on eight consecutive Thursday evenings, teach volunteers about hospice — assisting terminal patients in their final months of life, and helping the patient’s loved ones during the grieving process.
As part of the training, volunteers mimic the experience of dying.
“That one gets to people because they do an exercise where they have to picture themselves as a hospice patient and that slowly the things that they like to do, like reading, being with their loved ones, are taken away as their organs are going,” said Sheryl Taylor, the volunteer program coordinator. “It’s really an intense time.”
Upon completion, participants are assigned a hospice patient or help out at the agency.
“It is so important to take care of their mental health and give them a chance to get out of the house, whether it’s to run errands or just to do their thing,” Taylor said. “Care-giving is, especially when you are talking end-of-life, it is very stressful. You want to do the best for your loved one, and a lot of times you feel inept; you haven’t had the training, you don’t know what you’re doing and things are just kind of piling in on you.”
Linda Carpenter, a Red Springs resident, had a head start on the class, having taken care of her grandmother for 10 years before she died at the age of 96.
“I learned a lot from my grandmother, what the meaning of giving of yourself is,” Carpenter said. “… I just have a desire to help people any way that I can. No matter what capacity it is, I’m willing to do it. You don’t look for pay when you are being a servant to someone else, there is no pay. You get your reward just by helping that person and making them feel better about themselves any way that you can. To me, that’s enough pay for me.”
Taylor said anyone can be a volunteer.
“A part of us, even if we don’t recognize it, needs to be needed,” she said. “Whether you feel that you have the talents or the gifts or whatever, doesn’t necessarily matter in this situation. It’s the gift of being present, the gift of friendship. You don’t have to have any special talents and you get so much in return from feeling needed.”
One local woman, Charlene, said a volunteer and other hospice services helped her through her husband’s long illness.
“My husband had a gentleman named Bill, and he would come and sit with my husband and allow me a little time to do some grocery shopping,” she said. “The last year I had no real freedom. The fact that someone came in … I don’t know how much I can even express what it meant to the family.”
Taylor said that women volunteer more often than do men.
“For my husband, he was a man and he needed a man to be around him,” Charlene said. “At first he was a little indecisive because someone strange walks into your life who you don’t know much about, but he became his friend and they had something in common.”
Charlene said she is now attending a bereavement class offered through Southeastern Hospice House.
“If it wasn’t for them coming through the door each day, I don’t know how I would have kept going,” she said.
Southeastern Hospice House has about 15 volunteers who go to patient homes and 20 who help with administrative tasks.
“My biggest problem is not so much numbers as it is area,” Taylor said. “I have patients in the very southern tip of the county: Marietta, Rowland, Fairmont, and I only have one volunteer who lives that way. Our agency is branching into Bladen County and into the southern part of Cumberland County so I’m hoping to find folks who are willing to travel.”
Although they do not get paid for their travel, expenses are tax-deductible.
The volunteers meet monthly for fellowship.
“Most of them are bedridden,” Taylor said. “They are in the same spot in the same room with the same face day after day after day. It really does help to have a little someone different to talk to or even if you’re not able to talk they can read to the patient. It’s a different voice. The patient benefits from having somebody else.”
The session is offered twice each year. To register for the fall session or for information, call Taylor at (910) 735-8915.
“So often we need help transitioning through life,” said Elaine Pate, who is taking the course. “Death is a part of life, so why would we not need help transitioning through death?”
— Features editor Amanda Munger can be reached at (910) 272-6144 or firstname.lastname@example.org.