Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 5:49 PM on Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hospice training offers chance to be of service to those near end of life

By Sharon Bushell

Over a decade ago I went through End of Life training through Hospice of Homer. I have always been grateful for that intense and thorough training, as it has served me well not only in hospice settings, but also in my private life. Becoming a hospice volunteer gave me an opportunity to meet and support community members I would never have met otherwise, and they inspired me to live and love as fully as I can in each moment.

As an End of Life volunteer, I often experienced unease when I set out for a visit, especially when it was my first time with a client. But somehow, walking through their door, my fear subsided enough for me to remember why I was there — to be of service.

Usually I sat bedside, where long sessions ensued. I learned about births and deaths, sons and daughters, wishes that came true and losses that were overwhelming. The excellent training I had received taught me to focus my attention to a fine point. Resources I didn't even know I had — the best of me, I believe — were accessed.

Sometimes I read a few chapters of a book; other times I did light household chores; and still other times I ran errands. It's astonishing how grateful people are for the smallest of things.

I recall one situation, where I was looking forward to meeting the client. He was held in the highest of esteem, and I knew that his hobbies were the same as mine. But each week my task was other than sitting bedside. In fact, I only glimpsed the client once. Wise one that he was, he was saving what remained of his strength to be with his family and closest of friends.

This is another thing that hospice volunteers provide — they open a space for families to share quality time together.

Then came the years of personal losses: my mother, my niece, close friends, community members. I felt too close to death and I withdrew from hospice.

Time passed and eventually I missed the camaraderie that comes with being a hospice volunteer. I missed supporting the community in this specific way. I even missed approaching the new client's door.

I gave hospice a call, to see what I could do. After working in the office for a year and a half, my old desire to do End of Life volunteering has rekindled.

In October I will be attending the Hospice of Homer End of Life training as a refresher course. Soon I will again have the privilege of sitting bedside, or doing whatever the families need to support them.

To everything there is a season. This is my season to return to hospice as an End of Life volunteer. I hope to see you there.

Hospice End of Life volunteer training begins the weekend of Oct. 7. The 29-hour training covers many topics, including loss and grief, communication skills, history of the hospice movement, family dynamics, elder abuse, self-care, pain management, spiritual pain, Alzheimer's, body mechanics, ethics and funeral arrangements.

The number of individuals receiving hospice care continues to increase. Last year Hospice of Homer provided support to 57 End of Life clients. This support was provided by dedicated, well-trained volunteers.

Call Hospice of Homer (235-6899) for information and to sign up for the upcoming training. Space is limited to 16 participants.