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Staff Stories - April 30, 2024

Reflections on Friendly Visitor Volunteering with Goodwin Hospice

by Nada Boris

“Then Almitra spoke, saying, ‘We would now ask about Death.’
And he responded:
‘You wish to know the secret of death.
But how can you uncover it unless you search for it within the heart of life?
The owl, whose eyes are blinded by the night, cannot reveal the mystery of light.
If you truly want to understand the spirit of death, open your heart fully to the essence of life.
For life and death are intertwined, just as the river and the sea are one.”

– Khalil Gibran

In the midst of life’s busy rhythm, it’s easy to overlook the delicate balance between existence and its inevitable counterpart—death. However, as Khalil Gibran reminds us, grasping death means embracing the core of life itself.

I grew up in a community that valued the interconnectedness of body, mind and spirit. We were closely knit and came around each other in good times and bad. With this supportive culture, I never deeply pondered the fragility of life until after I immigrated to the United States in 2016. With time passing came the loss of loved ones, each absence a poignant reminder of life’s transient nature. Yet, amidst the sorrow of missed funerals, I found comfort in knowing that departed souls were surrounded by love.

Motivated by a desire to honor my loved ones and the values they instilled in me during my formative years, I felt drawn toward hospice care. After exploring various avenues, I discovered the opportunity to volunteer at Goodwin Hospice through my work at Goodwin Living.

Becoming a Friendly Visitor for Hospice

Following the completion of a background check, an interview and training, I eagerly embarked on my role as a Friendly Visitor. In this capacity, I and other Friendly Visitor volunteers extend companionship to patients and their families in a manner akin to that of a supportive neighbor or friend, offering non-medical support within the comfort of the patients’ residences.

Each encounter during my volunteer visits serves as a poignant reflection of cherished family members, kindling within me a sense of empathy and connection. As I navigate life’s complexities, volunteering with Goodwin Hospice has provided me with a much-needed perspective on recognizing what is truly important. Visiting patients has taught me to embrace the present moment, find meaning and joy in the little things, such as savoring the last bite of cake and appreciating the importance of a gentle touch and olfactory scents.

Hospice, which provides compassionate care for those with a life expectancy of six months or less, values every individual’s life and focuses on enhancing the quality of life during the time they have left. An interdisciplinary team addresses physical, emotional and spiritual needs to enhance quality of life for patients. Care is delivered wherever the patient resides, with ongoing support. Bereavement services extend to families for more than a year.

Hospice is covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance plans. Volunteers play a crucial role as one discipline within the interdisciplinary hospice team, with Medicare requiring  volunteer hours to make up 5% of total clinical hours.

Through my experiences, I have learned that hospice care signifies reverence for life in its entirety. It upholds the belief that each person deserves to leave this world with dignity and without suffering. Guided by this philosophy, the team at Goodwin Hospice—comprised of medical staff, social workers, chaplains, counselors and volunteers—provides holistic care, addressing physical needs as well as emotional and spiritual well-being. This compassionate approach extends beyond the patient as hospice care provides support and assistance to loved ones as well, including bereavement support to grieving families for more than a year—a beacon of solace amidst loss.

Whether through friendly visits, energy healing sessions or the companionship of animals; through writing cards or assisting with making phone calls, volunteers enrich the lives of patients and their loved ones. Becoming a volunteer at Goodwin Hospice is a rewarding journey, guided by a thorough process ensuring the well-being of volunteers and quality of care for patients.

If you’re interested, this is how to apply to be a Goodwin Hospice volunteer:

  1. Fill out an application form on the Goodwin Hospice webpage.
  2. The Hospice Volunteer Manager will contact you for an initial interview to conduct screening and share orientation requirements.
  3. You’ll complete initial screenings (background and reference check, TB screening)
  4. You’ll complete a 16-class online training course covering hospice history, confidentiality, boundaries, dementia care and misconceptions about hospice care.
  5. You’ll participate in an in-person orientation to learn about the services Goodwin Hospice provides, followed by a virtual orientation to meet other team members.

For the Friendly Visitor position:

  1. If you prefer volunteering in-person with hospice patients, the Hospice Volunteer Manager will match you with a patient.
  2. You’ll learn how to use record-keeping software to document visit notes confidentially.
  3. You’ll attend an initial visit with a social worker to meet the patient and receive a briefing.
  4. You’ll begin visiting the patient independently, typically once a week, while adhering to confidentiality guidelines.

Through the application process, training and orientation, volunteers are equipped to make a meaningful impact in the lives of others.

Learning Valuable Lessons

Volunteering and meeting Goodwin Hospice team members and volunteers taught me valuable lessons, such as the importance of giving and receiving support, trusting the innate wisdom of the human body and compassion towards myself and others. As the words of Goodwin Hospice Executive Director, Beth Klint echo in my mind, “Sometimes pain can be existential or spiritual and all pain needs to be treated the same.”

This experience also opened my mind to spirituality and the role of chaplains in providing inclusive care tailored to individual needs, regardless of denomination, religion or lack thereof. Goodwin Hospice Chaplain Theresa Szkromiuk explained, “Spiritual care looks different for everybody. It’s an individual journey and it’s okay if it’s not what they thought it would be like. We let patients know that there isn’t a ‘what it’s supposed to look like’, and we support them in their space.”

As National Volunteer Month comes to an end, I reflect on the profound impact of volunteering with Goodwin Hospice, noting my newfound appreciation for life’s fleeting moments, human resilience and the transformative powers of love, compassion and community.

If the hospice mission resonates with you, please consider contributing to the Goodwin Hospice Fund through donations. Your contributions will help provide dignified care for individuals and families as they face life’s final chapter. This can include services such as end-of-life doula care, medically-based massage, fulfilling a patient’s wish or offering respite for caretakers.

My journey as a Goodwin Hospice volunteer has unveiled the profound beauty of the human experience—a tapestry woven with threads of compassion, connection and love. Embracing life’s transitions reveals the true essence of humanity as we navigate the ebbs and flows of existence.

_________________

Nada Boris, Marketing & Communications Coordinator, joined Goodwin Living in February, 2023.  She enjoys learning about the lives of residents and wishes to be like them when she grows up.

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