Most of my time as a Montgomery Hospice volunteer has been spent visiting elderly patients in nursing homes. Even though the employees may be warm and friendly, a nursing home can be an isolating and impersonal place to those in residence. These people live according to a schedule and have few personal options. With so many patients to attend to, the employees have little time to spend socializing with the residents. Unfortunately, the ladies and gentlemen I visit through hospice have few or no family and friends who are able to visit them. Imagine, then, how happy these individuals are to receive a visit from a volunteer, someone who brings the “outside’’ world to them.
I visited a really sweet patient last year, who was 101 years old. This lovely lady had a wonderful sense of humor. One day when I was visiting, the staff wanted her to exercise while she sat in her wheelchair. When they showed her what they wanted her to do, however, she said to them, “You look good; keep on exercising!” She was happy to be an observer, cheering everyone else on.
Soon after I met this woman, I observed that she interacted with only a few people because she didn’t hear well. Knowing how critical communication is to human interaction, I began using a notepad to write what I wanted to say to her. After spending such a long time without “hearing” another voice, she was delighted to be conversing with someone. During our chats, I learned a lot about her early life growing up in rural Alabama. She was also quite impressed when I brought in my laptop computer and showed her some pictures I had taken. I looked forward to seeing her every week. It made my heart swell when she said, "I know it is Wednesday when I see you."
It takes so little to put a smile on a nursing home patient's face. During my visits with these lovely people, we sometimes watch TV together or we talk; at other times, we sit in companionable silence.
I decided to be a Montgomery Hospice volunteer because my mother's life ended while she was in hospice care, supported by the wonderful staff. As I visit with patients in nursing homes, I want to share with them the same reassurance, compassion and respect that “gentled” my mother’s journey.