Many families turn to hospice to help make a loved one’s final months or weeks more comfortable. Hospice addresses a person’s mind, body and spirit as they go through this challenging phase of life. While nurses, chaplains and therapists all play valuable roles, volunteers form a vital part of hospice services.
A 2010 National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization study found that the family members of patients in hospice programs that have a higher degree of involvement with direct care volunteers report higher levels of care satisfaction, underscoring the importance of this role.
Hospice volunteers in direct care typically work with patients for a few hours per week, and many hospices request a long-term commitment so patients will be able to form a bond with the same volunteer throughout their time in hospice. Visits with patients are flexible and are typically scheduled around the volunteer’s schedule.
Top Qualities Of A Good Hospice Volunteer
The role of a hospice volunteer is one of compassionate service, and there are several ways people can help. Working directly with patients and their families as a direct care volunteer can be incredibly rewarding, but it is important to ensure you are the right fit if you are considering offering your support. Below are some of the top qualities of a good hospice volunteer.
Good Listening Skills
A good hospice volunteer will have excellent listening skills. People who are approaching death often reflect on their life, and having a sympathetic ear as they reminisce and share stories and photos can be incredibly comforting and reassuring to the patient.
It is important to know when to talk and when to listen, and to always let the patient guide the visit. Recognizing when patients would rather sit in companionable silence than carry on a conversation is another useful skill.
Some patients might wish to tape messages for their loved ones, and volunteers can help with this process. In addition, some people who are facing death might wish to get some clarity or closure on unresolved issues or strained relationships before they pass; volunteers can help by listening to them express their feelings and facilitating important conversations with loved ones.
Understanding And Acceptance Of Death And Dying
Hospice volunteers must have a solid understanding and acceptance of their feelings about death and dying. People who find the topic of death uncomfortable or who have recently lost a loved one might not be a good fit for this role. Patients are likely to pick up on any anxiety or sorrow a volunteer is feeling, so it is important to convey an inner sense of calm and peace about this aspect of life to help patients feel at ease.
Some people are inspired to become hospice volunteers and support families in similar circumstances after seeing the positive impact of hospice on their own loved one’s final weeks of life. However, some hospices recommend that people who have lost a loved one wait at least a year before volunteering as a direct patient care volunteer.
Strong Comfort Level With People Who Need Assistance
Many patients experience deteriorating functioning in their final weeks, and they may need assistance with all manner of daily living tasks. Hospice volunteers should feel comfortable helping with everything from feeding and dressing to using the bathroom. Volunteers will typically be trained on how to safely and effectively assist with these tasks.
A kind disposition is an essential quality for a hospice volunteer to possess. A compassionate spirit can provide tremendous comfort to those nearing the end of life. It is also important for volunteers to have respect for all ways of life, religious views and cultures.
Willing To Spend Time
Many terminally ill patients find it comforting to be surrounded by other people. For some patients, it may not be possible to have their loved ones by their side at all times due to work or family commitments. A hospice volunteer plays an important role in keeping patients company.
Volunteers are expected to visit the patients they have been matched with regularly. They might spend their time with the patient talking, reading, applying holistic therapies, helping them write letters or document their life story, or simply listening.
There is also a small time commitment up front in the form of volunteer orientation and training. This typically covers topics such as the history and philosophy of hospice and the processes of death and dying. Volunteers will gain a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of all of the members of the hospice team and learn different methods of providing compassionate care to patients and their loved ones.
Interested In Volunteering With Us?
If you are not sure whether you would make a good direct care volunteer, you might consider helping with administrative tasks or community outreach. Volunteers are essential to supporting all facets of hospice care. If you are interested in providing patients and their families with comfort and peace as their final days approach, get in touch with Harbor Light Hospice to find out how you can participate.