Hospice care is not only for the patient, it is for the whole family. A team of doctors, nurses, social workers, spiritual care coordinators, family and volunteers work together with the goal of improving the quality of life for both patients and family. Hospice volunteers are an essential part of providing support, and the process is mutually rewarding and beneficial for both volunteer and recipient.

Emily Evans first heard about Gentiva Hospice and its mission when she, like many volunteers, decided to become more involved with her larger Seattle community. Volunteers often find visits a great way to meet people within their community and give back. 

Blog Image - Emily and Sylvia

According to Jemilla Goldstein, Manager of Volunteer Services at Gentiva Hospice Seattle, there are many ways people can volunteer in the hospice setting. Volunteers can help with office tasks, running patient errands, assistance with light household tasks, light meal preparation and much more. In the hospice setting, volunteers are considered employees and abide by the same requirements for orientation, training and criminal background checks. In fact, Medicare regulations require a minimum of five percent of a patient’s hospice care hours to be provided by volunteers. 

One worthwhile position is the patient visit volunteer, focusing on patient companionship and caregiver respite. Emily became a patient visit volunteer and met Sylvia Odom. The two began weaving Sylvia’s entire life’s experience into a memoir, having meaningful dialogue, learning active listening skills and sharing compassionate reflection. Emily helped Sylvia begin exploring her life as far back as her birth. 

“It’s like pulling a thread,” Emily said. “You go a little deeper, then you slow down, and you get some stories you may not have thought to ask in your day-to-day.” 

Jemilla said through meaningful dialogue, active listening and compassionate reflection, the process of writing a memoir can be very impactful for the patient and their caregivers or family. 

“Being able to share the joys and the challenges creates an intimacy and a deep rapport that can bring healing. It’s a very organic process that is less about the end result of a polished memoir. The real beauty is what emerges through that dialogue that sometimes can’t be captured,” Jemilla said. 

Visiting with Sylvia soon became one of Emily’s favorite activities each week. 

“We have had so much fun going back and visiting her life events,” Emily said. “She is such a joy. It’s a mutual exchange of stories and laughter to explore her life and everything she has done. We just kind of picked [details of her life] apart one day and I said, ‘Sylvia… you’re kind of a big deal!”

Emily and Sylvia began to sew together all of the different fabrics of Sylvia’s life, from her early years of growing up one of eleven children, to her travels through Europe with Rick Steves, an American author and television personality focusing on European travel. They chatted about her experience being an elementary school teacher, memories from when she first moved to Seattle and finally, her instrumental role in combating homelessness in the city. 

“Writing down a memoir is just one way for the life review process to take place,” Jemilla said. “The reflection can be through photographs, it can be through video or audio, it can be through art and music and it can be through intangible ways like prayer or just the spaces of silence.”

As a result of her experience with Sylvia, Emily said she feels more prepared and motivated to ask her own grandparents questions about their lives, who they are and where they have been.

And Sylvia wants her family to know about and understand the beautiful things she has experienced.

For more information about hospice volunteers and services, visit NHPCO or call 1.866.KINDRED to speak with a Registered Nurse Advocate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  

By Maggie Cunningham