SIKESTON - Helping someone through the final stages of life is an honor like no other.
Now it's a privilege local and area residents are invited to experience.
The Visiting Nurse Association of Southeast Missouri Hospice will host a two-day volunteer training session from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 13 and 20 at the VNA Office, 1218 Linn St. to teach individuals not only how to help someone who's dying, but the family as well.
"I try to see death as a part of life and if I can help one person get through that period and as pain-free as possible, then I've made a difference," said Diane Chappell, Hospice coordinator. "Being there for that person, whether it's to talk with him or just listen, and helping the family deal with what is happening, is such a wonderful experience it's difficult to explain."
During the first training session individuals will learn the history of Hospice and psychospirituality which will include the spiritual dimensions of dying, pastoral care, prayer, communication skills, therapeutic humor and coping with stress.
Also discussed will be social services, ethics and legalities and the dynamics of dying. "We have some volunteers who just want to do death and bereavement," Chappell noted. "They just want to go in and talk with people and work with them afterward."
Session two will include the medical aspects and universal precautions, competency achievement, safety plans and risk management, as well as the roles and responsibilities of Hospice volunteers.
Although both sessions must be attended in order to become a volunteer, a make-up session can be arranged if one of the days must be missed.
It will be an experience that won't be forgotten, even for those who choose not to follow through with it.
"It's not for everyone and just because someone takes the training does not mean they are committed to being a volunteer. They can take the training and see if it's something they would like to do, we don't charge anything for it. We provide it as a service and we know they will learn something from it. Even for those individuals who feel that being a hospice volunteer is not something they can do, what they learn in the training sessions will help them later on, in situations where they have a family member or friend who is dying.
Chappell stressed going into the patients' homes is not the only way hospice volunteers can help. They can do clerical work, special mailings, public relations and office work.
For those who do feel comfortable going into the homes, the options include visiting the patients, providing respite care for the caregivers, providing transportation, cooking meals, babysitting, reading the Bible to patients, helping them with their bills, writing letters for them, making memory books or recordings with them, providing pastoral care or making bereavement visits or phone calls.
Another choice, which doesn't require training, is to sign up for VNA Companions in Prayer where the only job is to pray for all the hospice patients, their caregivers and the hospice staff that works with them.
"When they go in and talk to our patients they tell them there are over 350 people praying for them every day," smiled Chappell. "That's just a prayer companion that anybody can do. We also need volunteers sometimes to go in and do people's hair. We don't have any volunteers who can do that right now and it'd be nice to have people go in and cut their hair or fix it for them because it's so hard for them to get out."
Help is also needed in special services such as sharing art or music, cosmetology, message therapists, birthday greeters and helping with fundraisers or the annual memorial service and reception.
Although they can still go through the training, individuals are asked to wait a year after the death of a close loved one before actually starting to volunteer.
"The first hospice was started by volunteers and they received no payment for any services that they did," noted Chappell. "It was strictly volunteers that ran them. We've tried to stay with that to involve the community so they're aware of everything that's available and so they can assist with the care without having to be a professional. And also, even though we are Medicare and Medicaid certified, those programs say that some of our care has to be provided by volunteers. Our volunteers are wonderful people who are just lay people in the community who want to help."
Currently in the local VNA Hospice program there are about 75 hospice volunteers ranging in age from the teens to 80 years. Although there is no age limit, it is suggested that young people be at least 14 to enable them to better understand and cope with the dying process.
To hear hospice volunteers say they receive more than they give in their many experiences comes quite frequently, Chappell said.
"This job is so rewarding, I feel like it's a calling," Chappell said. "The people you meet and the things you learn from them is so priceless. Talking to them about the visions they have before they die is amazing every time. All of them usually see something before they die that we can't see. It depends on the person, but usually it's within a week or two to the day they die that they have this vision. Some tell me that they've seen angels, their parents, children, trains and even lambs. They know exactly what they see. It's a 'normal' part of dying but it's not normal if you're not at that stage. People will think they're confused but it's not confusion, they know exactly what's going on and it doesn't scare them, it usually comforts them.
"It's such a special time in someone's life and in their family's life and helping to make it memorable in a more pleasant way than what most people associate death with is an awesome experience. By being a hospice volunteer, you can have that feeling too, and what a feeling it is."
For more information call 1-800-286-5892. Although signing up in advance would be appreciated, it is not required.