Monday, October 29, 2018

Hospice Volunteer Magic

I have been a hospice volunteer 20 years, many in service as a bedside volunteer in Detroit, MI nursing homes. I often view those experiences as magical because there were always mind-blowing surprises that I had not anticipated. For example, Jim, who had dementia, thought I was his deceased wife and gave me opportunities to share stories I made up about our old-school dates when we were young and in love. There were unexplained victories that revealed hidden sides of myself when my solutions finally unraveled mysteries. Sometimes I even enjoyed fascinating fun that seemed to come from nowhere on earth when patients explained their supernatural visits to a spirit world with family and friends.

One illusion of hospice volunteer magic is the common belief among many who are not hospice volunteers that this form of service must be depressing, even insisting that is the reality. Do they really think I would go somewhere weekly to embrace gloom? They don’t understand the magic beyond the curtain of appearances. They don’t know that I disappeared to a place of enchantment they cannot see, a place where I became a better person and a gratified magician after I picked the lucky hospice volunteer card.

Consider taking a chance on the magic of hospice volunteering. You might even discover that this service chooses you. Congratulations, if you have already made the commitment and want to continue your lucky streak. I recommend the following 10 charmed maneuvers for making more hospice volunteer magic:

Hospice Volunteer Magic in 10 Steps

By Frances Shani Parker

1) Remember why you serve.

There’s a reason you feel compelled to enhance lives of the terminally ill. Cherish that inspiration. Move forward committed to an amazing and rewarding healthcare adventure.

2) Believe it’s all win-win.

Providing end-of-life service is a privilege, not a calling to be a savior. You and those you support come together in relationships of mutual healing and growth. Honor your win-win journey.

3) Be present.

By all means, show up. But be present with patients after you arrive. Evaluate appearances, behaviors, surroundings, and interactions with others. Listen with your heart. Even silence speaks. Really try to understand living from their perspectives. Focus on advocacy for improving their quality of life.

4) Try other doors.

Patients will have challenges such as dementia that may not respond to your usual front-door communication. Try other doors and even windows. Obstacles are enrichment opportunities in your partnerships with patients. Touch, music, pictures, stories, and fantasies are a few entry points. Let patients help you navigate your way into their world.

5) Know your piece in the puzzle.

Adherence to rules of protocol and professional ethics should be routine. Be aware of boundaries such as confidentiality regarding yourself, your patients, and their loved ones. Follow guidelines of your hospice organization and seek help when needed.

6) Untie your knots.

There may be times of doubt, confusion, sadness, and guilt. These are normal knots of the caregiving process. Untie them by seeking support for your total well-being. Maintain proper rest, nutrition, exercise, and balance in your life. Do your best. Don’t be surprised when you discover reasons to kiss yourself.

7) Spread the word.

Be knowledgeable about hospice and palliative care. Share information so others can benefit from these specialized areas of healthcare. Encourage involvement in hospice and palliative care career and service activities.

8) Pick up a turtle.

If you see a turtle sitting on a fence post, you know somebody helped to put it there. Be on the lookout for turtles aiming for fence posts. Be a role model for other volunteers. Participate in organizations, conferences, workshops, and discussion groups where you can share best practices while learning new ideas.

9) Write death sentences.

Death will come no matter how often you avoid it or wrestle it to the ground. Have your advance directives, finances, and property in legal order. Urge others to do the same. Don’t burden loved ones later with important decisions you can record now. As you unfasten yourself from this life, be satisfied knowing your death sentences will be carried out according to your wishes.

10) Expect rainbow smiles.

Rainbow smiles hug you so tightly you can feel ribs of joy press against your essence. Hospice volunteering provides ongoing moments for you to positively impact lives. When you make those connections happen, rainbow smiles will come.

© Frances Shani Parker

You can read about my personal journey in becoming a hospice volunteer without even realizing I was one here:

Frances Shani Parker, Author

Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

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