Hospice – caring and fulfilling bucket lists

The end of one’s life can be physically painful, emotional and complex — from fear of unknowns to grief or relief of letting go. Hospice and trained volunteers can help support both the patients and their loved ones during this time.

“It’s very important for us to honor where the patient is at in their journey,” Hospice of the Northwest Executive Director Bob Laws said.

Hospice offers a variety of integrated services to meet the needs of each individual. Some of these programs rely on volunteers. Hospice of the Northwest is holding a volunteer training from 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 11 at Village at the Harbor. To reserve a spot, contact Erin Long, volunteer coordinator by phone at 360-814-5588 or email elong@hospicenw.org by Jan. 6. Lunch and snacks will be provided. Each potential volunteer will have a Washington state background check done. Volunteers will provide the necessary information which the hospice will send to the state, and pay for the check, according to Laws. The workshop will cover policies and procedures for volunteers. Volunteer needs include pet peace of mind; music and memory; sewing; vigil team; veteran recognition and bereavement. To see the full list of opportunities, as well as volunteer applications, visit www.hospicenw.org/how-you-can-help/become-a-volunteer.

Volunteers for pet peace of mind assist hospice patients with daily pet care if needed, as well as working on a re-homing agreement for after the patient has passed. With these arrangements in place, the patient can feel secure knowing their pet will continue to be loved and cared for.

Music and memory volunteers are trained to set up playlists on iPods or other digital devices for those in their care.

“These musical favorites tap deep memories not lost to dementia and can bring participants back to life, enabling them to feel like themselves again, to converse, socialize, and stay present,” the website states.

Sewing is another avenue for volunteers to step in. Volunteer sewers create pillows, lap blankets and other items for patients.

Vigil teams sit with the patient during their last days to provide solace and comfort, as well as support for families and caregivers.

“Sitting at the bedside or being in the home of a dying patient is a very private and intimate time. Vigil volunteers are privileged to be invited to share this experience,” the website noted. Additional volunteer training is necessary for this volunteer opportunity. Laws explained that Hospice of the Northwest does not provide in-home caregiving, however, it does provide patients with community resources regarding caregiving, including Hospice of the San Juans. The two organizations frequently collaborate, he noted, as they provide a different array of services.

Hospice of the Northwest also offers a pinning ceremony for veterans — a tribute to military service members thanking them for their service and honoring them with a pin of their branch of service as well as a pin of the United States flag.

“Some veterans find this really meaningful. Some want nothing to do with it. It depends on where they are, and that is where we want to meet them, where they are at,” Laws said, adding that usually, a veteran volunteer conducts the ceremony.

According to the website, bereavement volunteers use “compassionate listening skills while making condolence and anniversary phone calls to loved ones. In addition, they can prepare bereavement packets, write condolence cards and help with support group facilitation.”

The holiday season can be especially difficult for those grieving. Island therapist Lenore Bayuk has held grief workshops with Hospice of the San Juans, which frequently collaborates with Hospice of the Northwest.

“I think the most important message to folks is to do what works for them. Everyone grieves differently,” Bayuk explained. “Some people create new rituals, some people like to do familiar activities. Some will want to be alone, though that can be hard.”

Bayuk added that while large groups could overwhelm those grieving, completely isolating oneself may not be helpful either. Spending time with one or two important trusted friends might be beneficial. Grief, she continued is a process, not an end goal experience.

“We don’t ‘get over it.’ We get through it and always have a connection with whomever we have lost,” Bayuk said.

For friends and family grieving, talking about their loss with each other is important, according to Bayuk.

“Don’t be afraid to bring it up for fear of reminding a person of their loss — they haven’t forgotten. Sharing memories and feelings helps the healing process,” she added.

To meet the medical eligibility for hospice, Laws explained, a doctor’s prognosis for the patient must be a life expectancy of six months. A person may live longer than that, and many patients do stay much longer, but given the physical state, a doctor’s best estimate is six months, he said.

Hospice is generally covered by insurance companies, according to Laws, however, Hospice of the Northwest Foundation, a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization, is the hospice fundraising division.

“Hospice of the Northwest Foundation ensures no one will be turned away from hospice because of inability to pay,” Laws said.

The foundation also funds training and education for hospice staff, as well as filling in any care insurance may not pay for.

As an example, Laws explained, insurance may consider a blood transfusion unnecessary. However, if a transfusion is performed and insurance does not pay, donations could go toward paying for the procedure. He added that a blood transfusion would not be done to extend life, but rather to improve the quality of life and make the patient more comfortable during their last days.

Hospice, Laws continued, isn’t about giving up hope, but rather focusing on better days and assisting patients with fulfilling their bucket lists.

“Someone may want to take one last jaunt around the islands on their sailboat,” Laws said, adding it is hospice’s goal to help achieve that last sail. “Hospice isn’t all about doom and gloom but making the best of the last days.”