“It is an honour and a privilege to be sitting with these people at such a vulnerable time in their lives.”
Those words, often repeated by Bernie McMahon who was the region’s original hospice volunteer, remind those who follow in his footsteps of the significant role they play in the lives of their clients.
A role whose main purpose is to provide comfort and care and support for people approaching end of life.
“Bernie began providing hospice care on his own, before there ever was any organized hospice in the area,” says current volunteer Joan Homer. “He sat with hundreds of dying people and became a mentor to most of us. He was one in a million… He was hospice.”
What Bernie started all those years ago is now the newly formed Greater Trail Hospice Society which consists of 10 volunteer board members, one part-time employee, and between 20 and 30 active bedside volunteers.
Two of those volunteers are Joan Homer and Margaret MacDonald who together have more than 30 years experience caring for patients and their families facing death.
“What we do is try to help people who are dying or seriously ill to be more comfortable, we support their families and give them a break when they need it, and ultimately, if they are dying we help them have a painless and peaceful death,” says McDonald.
“We do whatever makes them feel comfortable and peaceful. We hold their hand, we feed them if they’re unable to feed themselves, we read if they want us to read to them, we pray with them, and we do a lot of listening.”
“The work we do is very, very rewarding,” says Homer. “Most often it’s a beautiful, peaceful, and positive experience but there are also times when it’s difficult… when pain can’t be completely controlled or the client is agitated, or sometimes they’re confused and they’re trying to get out of bed. Many of them though, just want to hold your hand… they just need that connection.”
Often volunteers develop strong relationships with clients and become very attached to them and their families.
“Especially when working in home situations you get to know the families quite well and they remember you forever” says MacDonald. “You might see them out shopping and they’ll come up and give you a hug. We get lots of hugs in the supermarkets and that’s really rewarding. And most of us also attend the funerals of the people we become involved with,” she said, adding, “I often just take that time to think about that person and to say goodbye.”
Like most volunteers MacDonald and Homer began their work with hospice following losses of their own.
“I lost my mom and my sister within 50 days of one another,” says Homer. “And I was having a tough time when I happened to see one of the courses offered for people who are grieving or wanting to become a volunteer. So I went and took it, not thinking I was going to become a volunteer, but because I really needed that outlet to talk about my grief. And in doing that I realized that becoming a hospice volunteer was exactly what I wanted to do.”
MacDonald also suffered a loss and became a hospice board member during her career as a home care nurse. After retirement she began working as a bedside volunteer.
“There’s a reason why most of us are here,” she says. “ Being a hospice volunteer has helped me a lot with my own grief.”
However they came to do what they do, and whatever their reasons for doing it, we should all be thankful to the duo and the many hospice volunteers for continuing Bernie’s work. In our time of greatest need their dedication, compassion, and empathy shine like a beacon through our darkest hours.
This Saturday you are invited to honour Bernie and help fund his cause by joining hospice volunteers for a round of golf and/or dinner at the Champion Lakes golf course. For more information contact organizers at 364-6204.
If there’s an unheralded person in our community that deserves recognition for their efforts contact Mike Hockley at firstname.lastname@example.org.