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Hospice volunteers make impact on patient and family

Grateful daughter thanks volunteers for the care of her Dad

Written by: Margaret Carlson

An elderly man colors in a coloring book with his grandson.

"How can you not love a volunteer who will dance and be twirled by a wheel-chair-bound 93-year-old man?"

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Dear Allina Health Hospice volunteers,

I am writing to thank you all for giving so freely of your time, and of yourselves. The gift you bring to the families you touch is immeasurable.

To those of you who spent time with my father, I want to tell you a little more about him, and the impact you had on the last year of his life.

Dad lived a life of service

Earl Hadley was like so many others of his generation. He was a humble man who lived a life of service – to his country in World War II; to his family, raising four daughters and to his community, through lifelong charitable works and unsung acts of kindness.

We were fortunate to have my oldest sister, Ruthanne, spend six years of her life caring for our parents, but when Dad reached the age of 92, his doctor felt that his condition made it imperative that he go into a care center. Very advanced dementia created inroads into his ability to function, physically as well as mentally, and he needed round-the-clock supervision. At this time he was enrolled in the Allina Health Hospice program.

Every visit matters

And now we come to all of you, the wonderful volunteers. As I came to visit Dad, it soon became apparent that the burden of care was being shared in ways that I had never imagined. I read in his journal of volunteers who told stories, sang songs, took him on wheel chair rides and brought chocolate. One entry that still makes me smile said, “Earl and I danced in the hallway – he twirled me!” How can you not love a volunteer who will dance and be twirled by a wheel-chair-bound 93-year-old man?

I know that you came away from these visits feeling good, like you had really made a difference. But there were other visits that weren’t as successful. Because of his very advanced dementia there were times when you wrote that he was confused and not very responsive. I am sure you left feeling as if perhaps those visits didn’t account for much. I would like to tell you now about what you didn’t see, and couldn’t have known.

Because of his dementia, Dad was unable to process information, and identify the most ordinary objects. He did not recognize his closet door, he was frightened by things like pictures on the wall and the slightest sounds made him anxious. Left on his own, waves of anxiety would roll over him and he would shake from head to foot. Medication helped some, but the best remedy was interaction with other people. You probably didn’t see this extreme anxiety because when you were there, for the duration of the visit, he stopped being afraid. Your visits were the best medicine he could take. You always lifted his spirits, even if he could not express it. You need to understand that every visit matters, every interaction counts, many in ways that you may not know at the time. Believe me when I tell you that it is so.

Every interaction counts

I only met one volunteer in the year Dad was in hospice, but I followed you all in the excellent journal that you kept. One afternoon I read an entry relating a very nice visit, then saw the final line, “He asks for his daughter, Ruthanne, all the time.” Ruthanne had left for a well-deserved rest in Texas. He had never mentioned her to me, and did not seem to remember her.

That evening I called my sister and related the volunteer’s note. After we both had a good cry, she decided to come right away to see Dad. When she arrived, Dad knew her and was overjoyed to see her. It was only a couple of weeks later that this kind, gentle man passed away. Had you not taken the extra time to make the notation in the journal, we would never have known.

Every visit matters, every interaction counts. You may not always know why, but need to trust that it is true.

The quality of our character is not measured by how we treat the powerful, the gifted and the privileged. Rather, it is the care we give the aged, the disabled and the infirm that most affirms our humanity. In this, each one of you has set the bar very high for the rest of us to emulate. Thank you all.

Kindest regards, Margaret Carlson