After watching parents and in-laws go through their end-of-life experiences, two Dallas women were inspired to start volunteering with those in hospice care at Faith Presbyterian Hospice. Touched by those who cared for their loved ones and driven to create a more meaningful experience – one they wish their own family member would have had – Jan Patterson and Cindy Clampett became Faith Presbyterian Hospice volunteers. Both ladies agree that anyone can put money into a charity, but when someone gives the gift of time it makes the recipients feel like they truly matter and are loved.
“Several years ago, I cared for my mother who had a chronic illness and was living with dementia,” said Patterson. “When her health declined, she moved into a skilled nursing home since the small Indiana town did not offer hospice. After her move, she became a forgotten person, as friend after friend came up with excuses as to why they could not visit. Visits from my brother, aunt, myself and overworked aids were all she had to look forward to. She started feeling lonely and isolated, deprived of connections to the outside world. Our family did not have any support, and sought to fill these needs on our own accord. Over time, I learned how to provide comfort and care, as well as how to communicate with her to brighten her days. After her death, I decided to volunteer with hospice to enrich the lives of patients facing the same types of issues my mom dealt with. I want patients I visit with to know that I care about them. They are still the same people inside, people who need to be loved and cared for, people who need to feel like they matter.”
The volunteer work Patterson currently does, and has been doing for nearly eight years, is in honor of her mother. Her goal is to be a compassionate and caring presence, treating patients with the respect and dignity they deserve. Patterson visits patients and their families on Monday afternoons at the T. Boone Pickens Hospice and Palliative Care Center. She also volunteers as a greeter for funerals in the center’s chapel. On Mondays, she visits the nurse stations to see who they feel would like a visit. The visits not only positively impact the patients, they provide a nice break for families as well. Visits from volunteers like Patterson help break up the day and bring positive energy into the room.
“A lot of patients enjoy socializing with new people and they welcome my visit,” said Patterson. “I try to connect with them by looking at items in their room, such as family pictures or decorations, and asking questions about the things I am looking at to learn more about their life story. If the patient is alone in the room and is nonresponsive or has shortness of breath, I read lighthearted short stories to them. Even though they cannot speak, they delight in hearing the stories. I also speak to patients even if they are nonresponsive. I know they can hear me and feel my presence. If the family is present, I engage with them as they need support too.”
Often, Patterson will find families sitting in silence feeling helpless. Not knowing what to do can paralyze family members. During these visits, Patterson will encourage the family to tell their loved one the difference they have made in their lives. As a patient’s life comes to an end, they will begin to wonder if they impacted people’s lives in a positive way – this time of sharing answers that stirring question. Both the patient and the family are healed by this exercise.
“Nothing in life prepares us for end-of-life time with loved ones,” said Patterson. “Once, I helped a daughter whose mother was nonresponsive, getting her to share memories of her mom out loud. I was sitting by the patient making comments on what the daughter had shared. All of a sudden, the patient spoke responding to the memory. Her daughter cried, holding her mother exclaiming ‘you do know that I am here.’ This helped her be more natural and comfortable while caring for her mother. Offering support and friendship to the patients and their family during this journey is a privilege. Once the family is more comfortable interacting with their loved one, peace and comfort is found. It is amazing to be a part of that experience.”
Patterson also volunteers once a month helping to run a support group for children who have lost a parent. In the past, Patterson helped with comfort calls, respite care and received training in the eleventh hour. Helping others is a passion of hers and gives her a sense of purpose in life. She is extremely thankful to Faith Presbyterian Hospice for the opportunity to be a patient companion.
“It is humbling to see the difference I make in their lives with so little given from me – my time, presence and a listening ear,” said Patterson. “What a blessing this has been – to see the impact and feel the energy change. It means the world to people to know that someone cares, is interested in them and wants to spend time with them. It makes them feel like they have value.”
Clampett also devotes time to visiting with patients, as well as handling data conversions for “tuck-in” calls, volunteer progress notes on patient contact, volunteer request forms and memory bear request forms. The information on these forms log contact between patients and volunteers keeping records up-to-date so staff can reference them as needed. Tuck-in calls are performed by volunteers and are meant to ensure patients have everything they need before the weekend starts. Any concerns, updates or needs are written on a report. Clampett takes nearly 100 hard-copy reports each week and creates electronic documents that she puts into each patient’s e-file. This process ensures that patient files are up to date. She does the computer work throughout the week and visits a woman in her home on Tuesdays.
“My mother-in-law went to Faith Hospice, and her nurse Laura was a kind caregiver who served patients with empathy and an open heart,” said Clampett. “I have always been a service-oriented person and was inspired to volunteer with Faith after my husband’s mother received such astounding care. I started out visiting patients in skilled nursing homes, private homes, hospitals and senior communities. The visits are usually an hour to an hour and a half, and I always feel like I am visiting with my grandparents. I ask them questions about their lives and delight in hearing their stories. Anyone can donate money to an organization, but when someone dedicates their time it shows just how supportive they truly are.”
Clampett currently visits a woman in her home where her daughter is the main caregiver. The visits bring everyone comfort, as Clampett brings something that is not related to illness or dying into the home: friendship. When the woman was last in respite care, Clampett visited her daily sending photos and updates to the daughter. Reporting her mother’s condition provided the daughter peace of mind that her mother was doing well in the care of other people. Clampett enjoys the time she spends volunteering because she says it makes her feel as though she contributed to something important in someone else’s life.
“I want to be a resource to people in need, lend a hand and share my time,” said Clampett. “It is in my nature – it’s a passion and I don’t consider it work at all. It is also something I feel compelled to do to sustain my spiritual relationship. When my father and my father-in-law passed away, I felt it was a gift to be with them as they passed over from this life to the next. Everyone has such wonderful life experiences, and no one should be fearful of dying. My goal is to be a peaceful presence and help comfort people who are navigating life’s final passage. Together, volunteers like me help this transition become less about loss and more about comfort, enrichment and love.”
“We rely on our volunteers to help us make a significant impact each and every day,” said Valerie Sanchez, director of bereavement and integrated therapies for Faith Presbyterian Hospice. “Faith Presbyterian Hospice is incredibly grateful for all the time that volunteers, like Jan and Cindy, devote to enriching the lives of those we serve. We truly are a ministry of people coming together to serve those in need.”