By Toni L. Eaton, RN, BSN, MS
President & CEO of Old Colony Hospice & Palliative Care
People choose to volunteer with hospice for a variety of reasons, but very often, they become hospice volunteers because they are moved by the compassionate care their loved ones received from hospice teams in the past, and now they want to give back.
That was the motivation for one of our most recent volunteers, Phyllis Scott. When her father was diagnosed with lung cancer 23 years ago, Phyllis and her family had no idea that he was seriously ill.
“It took us by surprise. He really had no symptoms, except that he had lost some weight. He had lost some of the big belly that he had. We thought he was doing great,” recalled Phyllis, whose parents lived across the street from her in Randolph. “But the cancer had already gone to his brain.”
Her mother, siblings, and she became caretakers, and one of her sisters moved in with her parents to help. When it began to overwhelm them, someone suggested hospice care could help support them, and the family turned to Old Colony Hospice & Palliative Care, which services more than 55 communities south of Boston.
“My father said, please, no hospital. He just wanted to be home. We started trying to figure out how we could possibly do that,” Phyllis said. “We were so, so grateful for all the care and the caring of the nurses, social workers, volunteers, and everyone. They made it possible.”
She made a promise to herself then – that when she retired, she would find a way to become a hospice volunteer. She was entering her 60s at the time and thought she would soon be retiring. But her work life as an office administrator and in banking continued for many more years, in fact, until just a few years ago. Still, she never forgot her promise. This spring, Phyllis, at 80, started spending time as an Old Colony Hospice & Palliative Care volunteer.
“It took me a lot longer than I thought to retire,” she chuckles when she tells the story.
In the years in between her promise and signing up as a volunteer, Phyllis had several family members who were helped by hospice, including her sister, who died of complications of myocarditis, and her husband, Clark, who battled severe rheumatoid arthritis and Parkinson’s disease. Each experience with hospice only strengthened her wish to give back.
“We had the incredible blessing of this care and caring, and I knew I wanted to return that somehow,” she said.
Phyllis’s husband died on Thanksgiving Day 2022. They had been married for 54 loving years. In the spring, Phyllis finally felt ready and strong enough to make good on her promise. She called Janela Shtylla, Old Colony Hospice & Palliative Care’s Volunteer Program Manager, and asked how she could help.
Most of our corps of 65 volunteers spend their time visiting patients – listening to their stories, reading to them, playing games, going through photographs, helping them with errands, writing letters, providing companionship, and giving caregivers a few hours of respite. Phyllis, though, knew this kind of volunteering wasn’t for her. She offered instead to help with office duties, and with her background, she has assisted with palliative care scheduling and census.
“Phyllis has been with us for about six months now, and she has already made a difference,” said Janela. “I have seen how caring, compassionate, and committed to giving back she is. In this short amount of time, she has already volunteered over 150 hours.”
Not everyone is interested in patient care, but everyone has something to give. While the majority of our volunteers visit patients, several others, like Phyllis, work in administration, and a few make blankets or donate homemade meals. Everyone’s contributions add to the quality of care we can give families and their loved ones during their end-of-life journeys. Volunteers are an important part of our hospice teams and hospice philosophy.
Phyllis said she will forever be grateful to the hospice teams that made her loved ones more comfortable during their last days.
“They are such a group of wonderful, compassionate, caring people who go out of their way to make life, and the end of life, better for all of us,” she said. “I wanted to give back and be part of that, in my own way.”
We, too, are grateful to Phyllis, for joining us as part of our team, and to all the other volunteers at ours and other hospices, as well as those in other organizations who help make us a community caring for each other. During this holiday season, we want to say thank you for this incredible gift they give us.
Toni L. Eaton, RN, BSN, MS, is the President & CEO of Old Colony Hospice & Palliative Care of West Bridgewater, a dynamic non-profit hospice serving more than 55 communities south of Boston. OCH also runs the Dr. Ruth McLain Hospice Home in Braintree. A native and resident of the South Shore, Toni brings her compassion and experience as a nurse, veteran, and community leader to her insightful columns for South Shore Senior News. She is also the founder of Sunny Paws Dog Rescue. Several groups have honored her leadership, including the South Shore Women’s Business Network. She currently sits on the board of the Hospice & Palliative Care Federation of Massachusetts. For more information, call (781) 341-4145 or visit Old Colony Hospice & Palliative Care at www.oldcolonyhospice.org.