National Volunteer Week 2019 Stories
Volunteering as a palliative care biographer
Magic happens before me listening as clients’ stories unfold. Memories of times in their lives flood back and they visibly relax, forgetting tiredness and pain. We have many laughs, occasional tears but there is an overall recognition of the life they have lived. Maybe there were hard times, but positives are also recognised, often with much joy in relating them and an opportunity to tell loved ones how much they’ve meant.
Presenting the transcribed copy of a person’s life, illustrated with photos, is an emotional moment. Often it’s clutched to their chest, a look of wonder at what we’ve achieved – my reward.
EPC is an organization that is truly dedicated to the support of it’s clients and their families. As a volunteer, it never ceases to amaze me how everyone who works at EPC, whether paid or not, are all drawn together with the one common goal and that is to ease the suffering of those facing end of life or a life threatening illness.
Being a volunteer allows me to do my bit within the big picture, offering comfort and support where it is needed most and hopefully making a difference to our clients who allow us into their lives.
I have always loved stories – hearing, reading and telling them – and I believe there is great power in storytelling. When I heard about the Eastern Palliative Care Biography Program, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of.
I have volunteered with local community organisations in the past however the Biography Program provides the opportunity to do something quite different – as well as gaining a deeper understanding about the end-of-life experience, it has shown me the therapeutic value of being listened to and heard.
I feel extremely privileged to hear and record the stories of our clients, and I have learnt so much from listening to them.
Recently, I have found myself with some extra time and I have always wanted to give back to the community. I believe it is important to help others and that the way we look after our most vulnerable is a reflection of our current society. I feel it gives a good example to my children who will hopefully do the same when they are older. I have been blessed with health, mobility and skills that can assist and I enjoy sharing these with others. Volunteering is a very meaningful part of my life and it make me feel good.
I did my volunteer training in 2001. I’ve always had an interest in working with individuals and families and Palliative Care volunteering was a wonderful merge with my paid work as a social worker. Palliative Care is a passion for me. It is an environment that is filled with hope. I find it incredibly life affirming and am still in awe listening to the stories and being a small ripple in the lives of patients and families we meet. It is an honour and a privilege to work in Palliative Care.
I have been a Home Support Volunteer with EPC for 12 months. This experience has given me the opportunity to work with a range of clients, suffering from different illnesses, from very different backgrounds and across varying age groups. As a home support volunteer my role is very broad and I provide my clients with companionship, support in dealing with daily chores or provide respite care to the carers. I get to spend quality time with these clients at a difficult time in their lives. I get to learn so much about their life and their challenges which in turn makes me grateful and compassionate.
Having been a nurse all my life I volunteer now because I enjoy the contact with clients and their families without the responsibility of being their primary care provider.
I enjoy the opportunity to identify and respond to a client’s non-medical needs and to be an impartial ‘listener’ when needed.
I always loved working with palliative patients and am grateful to be able to continue to be involved in this small way.
It feels like a valuable contribution to my community and sets a good example to my family and friends.
Many friends say to me “I don’t know how you do it, volunteering at Peter Mac must be so sad”. In fact, mostly the opposite is true. I volunteer with my therapy dog, Olive. I have the privilege of seeing people’s faces light up when they talk about their animals, showing me photos on their phone and that connection can completely transform the feeling in the room. This often extends to family, friends and staff. The satisfaction of brightening someone’s day, even for a minute, is what I love most about volunteering.
The beginning of my volunteer journey with EPC started when my father was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer over 20 years ago.
As a home support volunteer, I had experienced both fond and sad moments with various clients and their families. Their show of total trust, the willingness to open their home and share their sufferings with a stranger (volunteer) always touched my heart deeply.
Being part of this growing and widely recognized organisation, I feel privileged and proud to be able to contribute a tiny drop of assistance into this humanity pot.
“I first became aware of the volunteer program at EPC through my daughter in law. She is one of the wonderful caring nurses who is on staff, and she encouraged me to apply.
As I now had more spare time after retiring after many years of working with children, I decided to give it a go. This was really turning full circle, from working with the very young to spending time with people at the end of their lives.
My own mother is about to turn 102 years old and lives in an aged care facility in NSW. This was her choice. She always declared she did not want to be a burden on her children. We would consider it a privilege to care for her. Often when I visit my client, I think of my dear Mum and wish I could be there sitting with her. I chat with my client the same way that I hope someone is chatting with my mother. I hope any visit to a client has brought them some joy.
I have also made some wonderful friends along the way I know that they will support me also when it is time to say goodbye to my lovely Mum.”
Why I love volunteering in the Palliative Care Section.
Being with a person at this stage of their life is so humbling. Such a tough road they have come and are still to come. You feel so privileged, they have shown you part of their hearts by the stories they share with you. For even a couple of hours a week, to be able to take a person’s mind off their illness is so rewarding. To be able to give comfort, compassion, dignity, and value their lives, how blessed am I.
I’ve been a volunteer with Eastern Palliative Care for the past 12 months.
My family and I initially became involved with the organisation in 2013 when my husband was told that the treatment for his pancreatic cancer had not been successful and that he didn’t have too long to live. He had been in and out of hospital for a number of months and he wished to die at home, a decision our family fully supported.
If it hadn’t been for the support and care provided by Eastern Palliative Care, we could not have fulfilled his last wish. As soon as he was discharged from hospital they rallied around us, providing a holistic approach to his final days. I remember saying to one of the nurses that I didn’t know how she could do such a job and she simply replied that “I see it as a privilege to help a family in the final stages of a loved one’s death.” I never forgot those words and knowing how we were so fortunate to have the support of EPC at such an awful time in our lives, when I learned to live with my grief I really wanted to give back to the organisation that helped us so much, and to help in my small way, other families whose loved ones have a terminal illness.
How fortunate I am to be a volunteer and not to be in the seat of the recipient. How fortunate am I to be fit and healthy and still be able to enjoy everything life has to offer.
How fortunate am I to be able to stand up and walk away. I am a volunteer, otherwise I might not have appreciated just how fortunate I am.
So why do I volunteer?
Volunteering for biography is very special. It’s quite unique. People, strangers who you have never met before, share their life experiences, their ups and downs and their memories. You listen, chat and explore these with them. And as a volunteer you learn a little more about yourself every time, from every story.
You volunteer with an amazing organisation that values both their clients and their volunteers. There is enormous support with staff and other volunteers, training, in-service with lots of learning.
There is no such thing as an ordinary person. There is a plethora of special people with unique stories.
I have been volunteering with the Bendigo Health Palliative Care Hospice team for nearly ten years. It is a position that I am really happy with as I can be of some comfort to others. I enjoy meeting people and through these same people I learn so much. Quite often it is our country that they have built and are so proud of.
I help palliative care patients write their biographies. I absolutely love it. After several years and eleven biographies, I am enjoying it more than ever.
Sometimes I wonder if my volunteering is as much about what I gain from the experience as it is about what I gift to my clients and their families.
Listening to people telling their life stories with humor, patience and grace always humbles and amazes me. It is a privilege being entrusted with the important task of helping these courageous people record their stories for the ones they love (and will be leaving soon).
Volunteering with EPC is uplifting and deeply rewarding.
Why I volunteer:
I have been a volunteer with EPC for the last four years.
Volunteering provides me the opportunity to work with and support those in our society who need and deserve additional care, empathy, friendship and companionship, and kindness.
Volunteering connects me with people in my community that I wouldn’t otherwise know and meet. Therefore it broadens my understandings and views of the community and society I live in.
Volunteering enriches my life. I feel that I gain as much pleasure from working with people from so many interesting backgrounds, as hopefully, I bring to the same people.
The 10 joys of a therapy dog
- He doesn’t know about discrimination. He will visit people from all walks of life regardless of their circumstance.
- Silence is golden. He finds the way to communicate by touch (and the odd bark for a treat). He isn’t going to ask any tough questions, or deliver any terrible news.
- He brings a piece of home/ humanity into a sterile hospital environment.
- He is a distraction! Even hospital staff forget who they are for a couple of moments and enjoy his presence.
- Calmness: Lots of people ask if he’s tired. He is just so relaxed walking around that he brings a sense of calm to others.
- Reset button: a catch up with him allows staff to re-boot, ready to deal with the stresses of work.
- Escapism: He provides the opportunity for patients, families and staff to talk about dogs. Sometimes patients tell him stories about dogs at home, and even dogs that they had when they were growing up. Just a little bit of time out from some tough treatments.
- Comfort: the touch, smell, and feel of a soft fluffy coat is such a comfort for so many people. Worth the wash that he has each week
- Naughtiness: He knows where to go to get treats and will seek out his favourite staff to get them. None of us are perfect.
- Pride: He consistently surprises us with his beautiful interactions with some people who really need his visit. As the person attached to the lead, I get to watch this magic every week. I’m proud to be part of such a great partnership of Lort Smith pet therapy program and Peter MacCallum volunteer service.
It means a lot to people to know that you are volunteering for them. It has a different impact than if you’re being paid. People know that you don’t have to be there to pay the bills – you want to be there, helping them. Life is so busy and time is so precious, and yet you are willing to take time out of your schedule to give to others. For me, it’s a great way to engage with different people who I wouldn’t normally meet and learn from them. I think it helps build a sense of community.
Evelyn affectionately known as ‘Frankie’ has been a St Vincent’s volunteer for almost 20 years. Prior to that, she worked as St Vincent’s as our first hospital interpreter and then proceeded to make a wonderful meaningful impact on the lives of our CALD patients. Speaking 5 languages herself, and a naturally gifted communicator, Frankie’s caring and nurturing nature, lead her to volunteer in palliative care. For many years, Frankie has enjoyed volunteering at Caritas Christi Hospice as well as St George’s Health Service.
When asked what Frankie loves about volunteering she replied:
“I thoroughly enjoy meeting new and interesting people. I love conversing and playing scrabble with the patients. The craft activities and celebrating birthdays are always a highlight.”
I was exposed to helping out in the community when I was younger, as my parents were always heavily involved in giving of their time to others in need.
Now I see the value in what they did. Volunteering has become a part of my life and is built into my weekly schedule.
Each time I feel I am not doing anything that makes a difference a comment will come my way for example ”How lovely to receive some cheer in an otherwise difficult situation”. It makes you realise no matter how small the act, it can make the day of someone else.
Volunteering makes you aware of a world outside of your own and it can give more meaning to your life.
After spending 12 years as a massage therapist, I wished to continue giving some time to helping others, but as a volunteer.
I chose EPC after talking to a friend who was a volunteer, and now 8 years and 27 clients later, I feel I may have made a difference to some people’s lives. I know they have made a difference to mine.
I consider I receive more from my clients than I give. They allow me into their homes to be part of their current stress and sadness. To be allowed to listen to their stories – some amazing, some sad, some happy, and to witness how they are coping with the inevitable, of when and how they are going to leave this life.
All 27 clients have left me humbled and thankful for the life I am able to enjoy. One client stands out – he had a terribly sad life from an early age, enduring loneliness, illness, disfigurement and estrangement from family, but he could still smile, share a joke and show happiness to all he met. One of our last outings was in a wheelchair to a food court – coffee, popcorn chicken and chips – he said to me ‘You know Bill, this day has been the best day of my life’.
Volunteering provides me with a sense of sharing unconditional love with my brothers and sisters. There is great satisfaction that I am able to share my gifts, knowledge and expertise; and to witness the profound benefits. I have a sense of purpose, a belonging in the wider community, a greater understanding, awareness and appreciation of life.
Volunteering to me is about giving and receiving. There is always balance. As a volunteer, I am the honorary visitor, privileged to hold a safe space for the patients without judgement. The gratification I receive with my giving are beyond words. There are no words. There need not be any words. Bless
My initial contact with EPC was while my husband was terminally ill. After he passed I had occasion to call to update my details. I was put on hold and a recorded message played, informing me of how to become a bereavement volunteer, this really resonated with me and I knew this was something I wanted to go ahead with. After my own personal experience it gave me an insight into the depth and breathe of that kind of pain. No one should need to go through the loss of a loved one without some form of support. Through volunteering I was given the opportunity and privilege to stand alongside others and provide them with a safe, nurturing and non-judgemental space to express their grief and perhaps give some hope whilst on their own unique journey.
Why do I volunteer for Eastern Palliative Care?
I really enjoy volunteering for EPC because I feel valued and cared for by this terrific organisation. I have also learned a lot from their forums and the people that we care for. I became a volunteer as I wanted to contribute to the community. My parents also gave of their time and energy to their local community in the UK and I saw the benefits for them and the people they helped. I personally am fortunate to be fit and well and with the experiences in my own life I felt I could empathise and contribute some time to this organisation and their clients. I love talking to people and hearing their stories and try in whichever way I can to make life just that little bit easier and know that we care.