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Why I Volunteer for Hospice

Hilde van GijsselBy Hilde van Gijssel, Hospice of the Red River Valley volunteer

I believe in living life to its fullest, to make every day worth living. At the same time, I believe there is only one sure thing in life and that is I will die someday. I hope that day will not come for a long time. I am not afraid of dying. If I die tomorrow, I know I have lived my life well. My funeral should be a celebration, where I hope many people will have pleasant memories to share and stories to tell.

I am afraid of one thing though, dying in a hospital hooked up to machines totally outside of my control. I believe in dying with dignity. I believe we have the right to make choices about the last part of our lives. These are bold statements, and may make people uncomfortable. I apologize for that, but at the same time, this point of view is an essential part of who I am as a person and of my spirituality. This point of view influenced my decision to be a volunteer with Hospice of the Red River Valley. I believe Hospice does things the right way concerning end-of-life. Hospice puts people in control of the last phase of their lives. When my time comes, I want to be cared for by Hospice.

For me it is an honor to be involved with Hospice and a truly spiritual experience. It is an honor to be accepted into people’s lives during a very emotional and difficult time. It is an honor to be part of a team making the wishes of the patient and family come true. To provide valuable care to the patients and their families is always rewarding. Interestingly, it is not the very complicated or difficult tasks I do that are most rewarding. Most of the time, doing something simple, like sitting with a person so his or her loved one can run an errand, makes my day. Or maybe grocery shopping, cleaning out the refrigerator or taking a patient’s dog out for a walk. Anything that makes the life of the patient more comfortable, or less stressful, is worth it.

I started volunteering with Hospice as a patient volunteer, then soon participated as a pathway volunteer. Recently, I had the opportunity to be a public relations volunteer and also truly enjoyed it; it must be the teacher in me! I really enjoy educating people about Hospice and the opportunities it provides for loved ones. I hear many misconceptions about what hospice care is, so I see it as my personal mission to educate people about the true mission of Hospice. It is rewarding to see people change their minds and have a positive experience. I believe in the mission of Hospice and that is why I volunteer and hope to do so for a very long time.

If you are interested in volunteering with Hospice of the Red River Valley, or would like more information regarding volunteer opportunites, visit the website or call (800) 237-4629.

Hilde van Gijssel has been a volunteer with Hospice of the Red River Valley for more than 5 years. Hilde is an associate professor of science at Valley City State University.

Pathway Volunteers Provide Additional Support for Patients and Families

By Deb Kluck

“I’m not afraid of dying, it’s getting there that worries me.”


One of the biggest fears people have is that they will die alone. While Hospice of the Red River Valley cannot guarantee patients will not die alone, we have developed a volunteer program to address this need.

The Pathway Volunteer Program was created to offer additional emotional support to patients and families during the active dying process. Pathway volunteers are available on an on-call basis to sit at the bedside of nursing home and hospital patients who are within two to three days of dying. They can hold a hand, read, play music, give a hand massage or just “be there” when no one else can. They do not take the place of continuous care, as volunteers can not feed patients, administer medications or provide personal cares.

Pathway volunteers receive additional training on providing care at the end of life and recognizing the changes that occur in a patient’s body as a disease progresses. They are comfortable being at the bedside of patients who are within days of dying.

 The Pathway program has received many positive responses from families who have used the program, stating what a comfort it was to have the extra support. The following are some specific scenarios in which a Pathway volunteer can be arranged.

  • A family is tired and needs to get some sleep but does not want the patient to be alone.
  • A family member is trying to get home before the death of a loved one and  would like someone to be at the bedside until they get here.
  • A patient has no family and patient is fearful of dying alone.
  • A family member would be more comfortable having someone with them at the patient bedside.

Pathway volunteers feel that it is a privilege to participate at the end of a patient’s life. One volunteer shared that the patient gripped her hand until the death. Another described how the patient became more relaxed when given a hand massage or when soothing music was being played.

The Pathway Volunteer Program provides additional support to patients, families, facilities staff and Hospice of the Red River Valley staff alike.

If you would like more information about the program, or other volunteer opportunities available at Hospice of the Red River Valley, please visit our website http://www.hrrv.org/volunteer.php or call 1-800-237-4629.

Deb Kluck is the manager of volunteer services at Hospice of the Red River Valley. What she enjoys most about her position is meeting so many wonderful, caring people. 

Making Unexpected Connections by Volunteering for Hospice

By Cheryl Melbye

Hospice of the Red River Valley has had a special place in my heart for years, as I’ve listened to countless stories of lives that have been touched through the care and comfort of this special organization. And as a person who became acquainted with grief at a young age, with the death of my oldest brother, I have been impressed with the spiritual care and bereavement support that Hospice provides to grieving families.

As my long-anticipated final semester before completion of my degree in human development and family science arrived, I did not hesitate to seek an internship experience at Hospice of the Red River Valley. Now, as a volunteer and intern, I am gaining the desired experience of providing needed support to patients and their families along with a stronger general knowledge of hospice care.

After completing the volunteer training session in December, I was grateful for the opportunity to immediately be given the name of Clarice “Patsy” Jones at the Villa Maria Care Center in Fargo as the patient I would be matched with. After introducing myself to Patsy at our first visit, we had a nice chat and made plans to play Scrabble together weekly. After a few visits, I came to discover that Patsy had previously lived in my hometown of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.

As we began to share in her memories of those years, we were delighted to realize that she had played cards with my grandmother, Eva, for several years during the late 1970s. I learned that they had several mutual friends who gathered on a weekly basis to play cards or celebrate a birthday.

“It was a competition,” says Patsy, “a friendly competition, to really see who had the best new recipe.” It has been a blessing to have this connection with Patsy and quickly become friends. Just as my dear Grandma Eva was, she’s sharp when it comes to playing games, and is usually three words ahead of me in Scrabble.  While our friendship is new, and indefinite, I am thankful to Hospice that my life has been unforgettably enriched by my time spent being with Patsy.

Cheryl Melbye is a soon-to-be graduate from NDSU with a bachelor’s degree in human development and family science. In addition to spending her time as a volunteer and intern serving Hospice, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and family.


The Gift of Presence: Tips for Visiting a Terminally Ill Family Member or Friend

If you’ve ever visited a friend or loved one who is terminally ill, and not very responsive, you may wonder whether your visits are making a difference.

Some of the questions we hear include: “I don’t feel like I am doing anything” … ”The person is asleep, or falls asleep, during my visit. Should I wake them? Should I stay?” … “What should I be doing? Am I helping?” or  ”What should I say to the person?”

I want to assure you—your presence does make a difference. It can be difficult to be with someone who is terminally ill; it isn’t always clear what to do, or say. Therefore, I would like to offer some suggestions on how to prepare for a visit, as well as ideas to guide you during that time.

First, remember—intention is everything. If your intention is to rush in, make small talk and get out fast, it will show. If, however, your intention is to make the person feel encouraged, cared about, or put a smile on his or her face, the person will sense that too.

It is so important to make sure you are in a place of peace before the visit. If you don’t feel calm, peaceful and centered, take fifteen minutes to quiet yourself before entering the person’s home or room.

Once prepared, here are practical suggestions for a successful visit:

• Always approach the person slowly and quietly so as not to startle them.

• Introduce yourself with a quiet voice. “Hi, it’s your niece, Jane. I would like to sit with you for a while.”

• If you want, hold the person’s hand. Start by telling the person what you are doing. “Mary, I am going to hold your hand now.” Another option is to put the person’s hand on top of yours. That way if the person does not like touch, they can pull away.

• If the person has a book or newspaper by their bed, read it softly.

• If the person appears to be in and out of sleep, that is okay. They will know they are not alone.

Although it’s natural to be concerned about what you’re going to say, don’t worry so much about the words. The main thing is that your message comes from the heart. It’s also important to remember to stop talking at times and simply listen to the person. Here are a couple of tips to help you keep it real:

Do say – “It’s good to see you.” Let them know you have been thinking of them.

At a loss for words – It’s okay to say, “Mary, I don’t know what to say or do, but I am here and I care about you.”

Listen – If the person talks about being anxious, listen quietly. Don’t try to change the subject or silence the person. When he or she is finished sharing concerns, encourage him or her by asking, “What do you want to achieve now?” Then you can gently shift the focus of the discussion to that goal rather than the prognosis or condition. For instance, if a person says she wants to live to see her grandbaby born, ask her how they will celebrate when the baby arrives. Try to keep the conversation positive.

Chatter is overrated – Be present without saying a word. You do not have to fill every moment of your visit with conversation. Just make sure you are focused on the person and not thinking about your next appointment or task on the “to-do” list.

Being there, really being there, for someone yields life lessons you can’t get any other way.

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Volunteering for Hospice: In Giving, You Receive Immeasurably

 By Deb Kluck

As the manager of volunteer services at Hospice of the Red River Valley (HRRV), I get to see first hand the impact our volunteers have on patients and their families. I realized recently that my 10 year anniversary as an employee for HRRV is coming up. This got me thinking back on how I first became involved with Hospice.

My dream in 1993 was to become a patient care volunteer for Hospice of the Red River Valley. I was excited to begin, and I will always remember my first patient. His name was John*. I was asked to provide respite support for him so his caregivers could take a break.

During my first visit, we began to play Uno right away and hit it off wonderfully! After a few games, he began to get sleepy and wanted to nap. I sat in the living room so he was able to rest. When he jiggled the bed rails, that was the sign that he was ready to play Uno again. I came to enjoy this routine on each visit.

Then one day I received the call—John had died.

I was sad, of course, but feeling very rewarded by the whole experience; I wanted to be matched with another patient right away.

This time, I was matched with a gentleman who wanted to watch game shows while his daughter was away at a meeting. This patient could not talk, but I could tell we were connecting when we made eye contact. I will never forget his big brown eyes. My visits to Don* were quiet, but the smiles on our faces made up for the lack of noise.

One day I received the call—Don had passed away.

Through theses experiences, I could not help but think about how the most rewarding things in life were also the most simple; sitting in silence with someone who is very ill, holding someone’s hand and just being with someone when there are no words to speak. This work was comfortable and helped me feel peaceful.

I continued making regular visits to various patients.

In 1998, five years after I began volunteering, I received another type of call. This time, it was from my father’s doctor. My father’s cancer had come back, and all treatment methods had been tried—there was nothing more the medical professionals could do. So I admitted Dad to Hospice. Having had the HRRV volunteer training, I was familiar with what this meant. During the last months of my Dad’s life, I spent my days with him and was grateful for the support of hospice professionals.

In 2001, I learned of an intriguing position at HRRV—volunteer services manager. I am fortunate to say I have been in this position since that time, and have enjoyed every minute.

Stepping out of my comfort zone to be a hospice volunteer has led me along a rewarding path, where I still find the most simple things in a person’s life are the most gratifying. I see this daily as I work with the many wonderful volunteers here at hospice.

Volunteers have such an immeasurable impact on our patients, but I know from personal experience that the volunteer receives much from the patient in return.

We work around your schedule, making volunteering a possibility for nearly everyone, from retirees to full-time workers. If you’ve never thought about volunteering for Hospice, I encourage you to read more stories from our patient care volunteers here. If you have considered volunteering, I hope you’ll take the next step and contact one of our volunteer coordinators to learn more. Or, you can contact me directly at (701) 701-356-1514 or dkluck@hrrv.org.

As a hospice volunteer, you can leave a lasting impact on patients and their families. I can’t tell you how much I’ve gained from the experience, and I hope you will, too.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy

Deb Kluck is the manager of volunteer services at Hospice of the Red River Valley. What she enjoys most about her position is meeting so many wonderful, caring people.