SIKESTON - The decision to become a Hospice volunteer stems from a desire to make a difference in the lives of the terminally ill and their families.
Yet what often happens is the volunteers receive far more than they are able to give.
Not only do they achieve personal growth through the experience, volunteers say, but they discover the gifts the dying have to give in their final days of life.
Diane Chappell said through Hospice over the past nine years her clients have taught her countless lessons, including how precious life and family are.
"I've learned when people ask about death and dying they want to know the truth so they can take care of the things they need to finish," she said. "They are aware of what's happening. Death is a part of life and they don't want to be left out of their own dying process.
"Through Hospice and being with the terminally ill, you see the face of God in people. They're comfortable with dying and that's hard for people to imagine. We are sometimes the last link between life here on earth and death for these individuals," said Chappell, coordinator with Visiting Nurse Association of Southeast Missouri Hospice.
"We can learn a lot from terminally ill patients," added Linda Biggs, a VNA Hospice volunteer coordinator out of the Kennett office. "They have taught me humility and patience. We all need to take time to smell the roses."
Carla Williams has been a Hospice volunteer since the program started here in 1993 and during that time her clients have repeatedly taught her about patience and caring. "I've learned to love and to be considerate of others' feelings and what's happening to them. They've also taught me to accept things the way they are. I never quit learning from my clients, they've taught me so much. I feel like I'm helping and that's a good feeling, but I don't feel like I give enough."
On Nov. 9 and 16, individuals interested in becoming Hospice volunteers are invited to a two-part training session from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Visiting Nurse Association, 10 S. Sassafrass St. in Dexter.
Conducted by the VNA of Southeast Missouri Hospice, trainees for certification will learn to provide extra direct services of companionship, errands or respite to patients and their families.
Although Phil Puckett knew Hospice existed, he didn't know how important it could be until his family needed the organization's help.
"It was really important to us when my mother became ill, and it took so much pressure off my stepfather who was there all of the time. Hospice volunteers do the washing, clean house, give baths, get medicine... They do just about anything you need them to do. Hospice was a godsend to our family for many reasons, including not having to put my mother in a nursing home. Because of Hospice, she was able to die at home with a little dignity."
In many instances Hospice volunteers become like family members to the surviving family, bringing comfort and happiness to them long after the individual has died.
"It's not like they see you and think, 'oh, seeing her reminds me of a bad time when my dad was dying,'" explained Williams. "They are happy to see you and that makes you feel so good. The family of my first client still comes up to me when they see me out."
For individuals who want to help but prefer not to work directly with the patients, needed services such as office work, card campaigns, phone calls, etc. can be provided.
"Volunteers are trained so they can fully understand all services provided by Hospice and will be comfortable in whatever areas they choose to assist," said Biggs. "A commitment is made only at the end of the training and assignments are mutually arranged according to geographic locations."
There is no charge for training or certification but attendance at both sessions is required. A certificate is presented to each participant at the end of the final session.
Hospice volunteers don't see their responsibilities to the terminally ill person and the family as merely a job. It's an honor, explained Chappell. "This is private time for them and it's a privilege to be trusted enough to allow us to come into their lives at this time."
"It is very difficult to be a Hospice volunteer but the reward of helping someone terminally ill certainly outweighs the negative side," Biggs said. "Being a Hospice volunteer is a self-fulfilling satisfaction that you are helping someone in need as they approach the end of life."
To register or for more information contact Biggs at 1-800-286-5892 or 1-573-888-5892 extension 201.