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Hospice Volunteering – Not Always What You Expect

This is a story I wrote about my experience volunteering for Housecall Providers, a non-profit organization in Portland, Oregon that provides both primary care visits and hospice in the patient’s home.  The story was published this week in the quarterly newsletter that goes out to all of their donors.

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My phone chimes and the pop-up notice displays simply… Jean, reminding me that it’s time to get on the road. I hardly need the prodding, for Wednesday has quickly become my favorite day of the week. When I enter Adella’s Adult Foster Home, the women she cares for are sitting around the dining table in the cozy, warm common area, finishing up their breakfast. I am always struck by how perfectly kept this home is, how comfortable all its residents appear, and how welcoming Adella is to me. All of my preconceived notions about care facilities were quickly forgotten when I began visiting Jean. “Miss Jean, Chris is here!” Adella says with an enthusiastic smile and then quickly gets Jean settled back in her room for our visit.

From her recliner near the window, my hostess directs me. “Get the folding chair from behind the door and put it right here close to me so I can hear you”. Once we are knee to knee, the conversation just flows. I learn something new about Jean every week. From her memories of childhood spent in the tiny parish of Shipdham in Norfolk county England, where she and her 11 siblings watched soldiers march through the streets during WWII; to the 10 day journey by ship and train that brought her to America and the Pacific NW at the age of 26; to meeting her husband George at church, marrying him on New Year’s Eve not long after, raising their three boys, and laying him to rest after 39 years of marriage. These are just a few of the stories she has shared and our hour together always flies by.

There are some days though when reminiscing isn’t as important and other things fill our time. Smoothing out the sweater that has become bunched up uncomfortably between her back and chair, holding her calendar while she circles the current date in order to “get caught up”, being her scribe as she dictates letters to friends and family, adjusting the photos of grandchildren that adorn her walls, Googling the latest news about the Royal Family, teaching me about the proper balance of carrots and peas for the perfect cottage pie, and searching for her knitting that’s gone missing. These are the things she needs from me on those days.

Recently, Jean learned that she would be moving off of hospice and back to primary care. “Will you still be allowed to visit me?” she asked. “As a volunteer, I get to visit you no matter what” I assured her. “Good. I look forward to Wednesdays”. I smiled and said “So do I Jean. It’s my favorite day.”

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