Laura Ann Waters went through a very difficult time in her life several years ago. Her 16-year-old cat had to be put to sleep. Her father-in-law passed away, followed by her own mother’s death. Then her husband passed away.
Having had no children, the 71-year-old had to do something to occupy her time. She remembered how hospice volunteers helped her and her husband toward the end of his life and decided that’s what she wanted to do, too.
She is one of about 70 3HC (Home Health and Hospice Care) in-home hospice volunteers, who give of their time to help families of patients, and the patients themselves when the end draws near.
Cyndi Shimer, 3HC volunteer coordinator, said hospice is more about quality of life.
“We’re not about dying,” she said.
The purpose of an in-home hospice volunteer is to give the caregiver a break.
“The caregiver is typically in there 24/7, and just knowing they (caregivers) have that window of opportunity, they may want to take a nap, work in the yard or run errands,” Shimer said. “It gives them a couple hours once a week that they know somebody is going to be there and be a loving companion to their loved one.”
Not only does it help the caregiver, but it also helps the patient. Shimer said the volunteers bond with their patients. They get very connected and even come to love their patients. Volunteers are companions for the patients. They may listen to music together, watch TV together or just sit and talk about their childhood.
And an in-home volunteer also helps the patient by giving them another outlet with somebody outside the family.
“Usually, when a patient is in hospice, the whole family is going through emotions because they are so close to the situation,” Shimer said. “When a hospice volunteer comes in, they’re just meeting that patient where they are right then. And they are able to develop that relationship based on where they are right then.”
After her husband died in 2014, Waters decided to become a hospice volunteer. She started out doing menial tasks at Kitty Askins, then one day was asked to become an in-home hospice volunteer.
“I had no clue what an in-home hospice volunteer did,” Waters said. “But I sat with this lady in Mount Olive, and we became very good friends. I was with her about a year before she passed away. We’d just sit there and talk and talk and talk. If she was not up to talking, I would read something to her.”
Waters was asked to take another patient after that. And that’s when she became a sister in Christ with 72-year-old Joy Beth Whitfield.
“God sent me to this house,” Waters said. “I love that woman. She is a special person.”
When Waters first began visiting Whitfield, she would use sign language to say “I love you” and Whitfield learned to sign it back. Then Waters found a ceramic hand signing “I love you” and gave it to Whitfield, where it sits on a tiny shelf in her living room.
Waters currently has three in-home hospice patients she visits with anywhere from a couple to a few hours every Thursday.
“If I can do something that makes someone feel better, that’s what it’s all about,” she said. “I’ve been blessed. I felt like people were so good to me that I had to give back.”
When one of her patients dies, Waters grieves, too.
Don Nobers is into his 21st year of being an in-home hospice volunteer. Because there are so few men who volunteer, he takes only male patients, especially military veterans. It’s perfect for the 82-year-old, who was in the United States Navy in the psychiatric unit.
“I’m using my talents to share with people who are in the final stages of their life,” he said. “I know how to listen very well. I build relationships with them.”
One of his patients fought throughout Europe in World War II, survived, came home and put it all behind him.
“He told me he’d been through hell once being in the war and that his cancer was a second hell,” Nobers said. “He did die in peace, though.
“I sat with another gentleman about five years. He served in the occupation forces in Japan and had no realization that he’d been exposed to the bombs in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. When he came home, he had a brain tumor. It was removed. He had a lung that had to be removed. But he was a fighter. He lasted to age 82 in spite of all the medical problems.”
Nobers likes to think he’s making a difference in his patients’ lives, like with a retired Air Force veteran who was in bad shape.
“I asked him what was keeping him around,” Nobers said. “He said he hadn’t talked to his mother in seven years or his brother in 10 years. I told him to get on the telephone and call his mother and brother. He did, and two days later, he passed.
“The real thing with veterans in particular is you have to build a relationship and they begin to trust you, and they will tell you things that are weighing heavily on their mind, and they want to go out in peace.”
Nobers has seen a lot of death during his years as a hospice volunteer, but he knows it’s just a part of life and that it’s going to happen to everyone.
Shimer said 3HC needs more in-home hospice volunteers all over Wayne County.
“The only requirements is that you have to be living, breathing and really have a heart for people and a desire to help people,” she said. “They fill out an application and we do a background check then provide training.”
Volunteers usually go into a home once a week for two hours.
Shimer said all the 3HC in-home hospice volunteers also get a lot out of the experience.
“We had a 1-year-old who needed an in-home hospice volunteer because the baby needed eyes on 24/7,” she said. “You can imagine what that did to the parents. The volunteer went in and just sat and loved on that baby.
“Volunteers focus on the positive, not the negative. We’re more about quality of life. We’re not about dying.”