Like many folks, my first exposure to what Hospice care can mean to a family occurred when my father was battling cancer in Delaware. We and he were comforted and impressed with the care and compassion the hospice team provided my Dad and my family through a difficult period. Later we again availed ourselves of Capital Hospice (now known as Capital Caring) when my Mom came to spend her final months with us in Gainesville, VA. It’s a team approach – doctor, nurse, certified nursing assistant, social worker, chaplain, bereavement counselors and the one that might surprise you – volunteers.

I began volunteering with Capital Caring in 2008 and had no idea what an impact it would have on me and what a difference it could make to those I have been blessed to serve. I had one elderly patient tell me he felt like I was his best friend since high school. Why? Certainly in part because as a volunteer you can put people at ease and take their mind off their medical condition. I had another patient who I realized liked jokes. So every week, I made sure I had at least one new joke. His son who monitored his Dad on another floor using a baby monitor caught me on the way out and said: “That is the first time I have heard my Dad laugh in over a year.” I have played checkers with a dementia patient, taken a 92-year old WWII veteran to visit the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico and found many other ways to connect with some kind, courageous people who are facing the most difficult challenge in their life.

Beyond the needs of the patients you visit, consider the positive impact you have on the primary caregiver, generally a spouse or adult child, who needs to get out for errands or respite from the constant stress of caring for their loved one. They may feel guilty or uncomfortable about leaving. But those feelings are quickly overcome when they know that the volunteer has training and experience and knows what to do in the event of emergency. Just today the spouse of one of the patients I visit pulled me aside as I was leaving to say: “He hates for me to go anywhere. But he is comfortable with you being here and the friendship you share with him. I can’t thank you enough.”