For more than 30 years, Carol-Ann has volunteered at Victoria Hospice in a wide range of capacities.
“Each time I volunteer I witness the goodness of this program,” she says. Carol-Ann believes that by being here, she has grown to be a more compassionate caregiver and listener.
The early deaths of her mother and brother made a strong impact on Carol-Ann. The family was given very little visitation and information. “I knew then,” she says, “that I would search out a much more humane way of caring for our dying patients and their families. When I heard about Victoria Hospice, I knew I had to contribute in some small way.”
In April 2016, Carol-Ann received the Sovereign's Medal for Volunteers from Governor General David Johnston in Ottawa. Formerly known as the Caring Canadian Award, it recognizes individuals who volunteer their time to help others and to build a smarter and more caring nation.
Congratulations, Carol-Ann. Your boundless energy, enthusiasm and caring is an inspiration to us all.
Suellen has been a Bedside Singer for 9 years. “I am very proud to be part of the first Bedside Singing program in a Canadian Hospice,” she says. “As a volunteer here, I have received more than I have given.”
She loves offering the gift of music to patients and families. “The songs can be comforting or uplifting, and may bring back wonderful memories,” she says. “They can ease the long vigil for some families who may sing along or talk about singing together as a family in happier times. Music is a language that speaks when words fail.”
Through volunteering at Victoria Hospice, Suellen has learned how important it is to give the patient choice, since their choices have become so limited by their condition. “I often sing to patients younger than me and it’s a sharp reminder to live in the present, knowing the future is unknown.”
“Being present with patients in the final stages of their lives is an incredible privilege,” she says. “People often assume it is depressing, but I have found it is often uplifting. I have experienced a lot of gratitude from patients who appreciate all the support they are being offered. Not every shift is memorable, but some experiences are unforgettable.”
Peggy joined the Spiritual Health team in September 2010 following six years as a volunteer in the community and on the In-Patient Unit.
In 2000, Peggy’s father died of pancreatic cancer, six months after diagnosis. He wanted to die in his beautiful new home with views of downtown, the ocean, and the sun setting at Sooke Hills. With the help of Victoria Hospice Palliative Response Team (PRT), her father’s wishes were fulfilled.
“Helping care for my dying father was one of the hardest things I have ever done and it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Victoria Hospice," she says. After my father’s death, she wanted to give something back to Victoria Hospice. “It took many years until I was ready to volunteer, and I was extremely nervous. But here I am many years later!"
Peggy continues to volunteer here because of how it makes her feel. "I feel honoured and humbled when someone allows me into their room. Just being present in the moment, sitting quietly with someone is so rewarding. I relish meeting new people and hearing about their life experiences.”
She says the most important lesson learned “is to live in the moment. Don’t put things off, hug your loved ones, and be kind to everyone."
Peggy’s contribution as a volunteer was recognized at the 2015 Victoria Hospice Annual General Meeting when she was given an Honorary Life Membership.
George began volunteering on the In-Patient Unit of Victoria Hospice in 2004.
He says two things keep him volunteering here: "the appreciation of patients for the smallest service rendered and the friendship of fellow volunteers and nurses.”
"As a volunteer I have learned that one can die comfortably in professional care, and with family and friends gathered around – a good death, with dignity.” George notes that it is "continually endearing and edifying to observe nurses giving such loving care and words of affection to patients near death."
His hospice shift partner of 9 years says "George is dedicated to this role and performs to exceptionally high ethical standards in all of his interactions. By his nature, he is an extremely caring and generously giving person. His truly caring attitude extends towards all of the family members, for whom he is such a wonderful emotional support in their time of enormous needs. George is an inspiration to all of us on the Unit."
At the September 2015 Victoria Hospice Annual General Meeting, George was recognized with an Honorary Life Membership.
Mariana has been a volunteer Bedside Singer at Victoria Hospice since 2008.
She was singing in a choir and working as an oncology nurse when she learned about the Bedside Singers Program. She had to learn to transition from ‘nurse’ to ‘singer’ and from ‘choir’ to ‘a cappella’ but says it is a privilege to connect with people on their journey. “I was interested in using my voice to give the gift of song to patients and their families,” she says. “Music touches the soul.”
Mariana says that over the years she has become more confident in her role as a Bedside Singer, allowing the patient to guide what is needed at the present time and being present during visits. As well, “my fellow Bedside Singers feel like family to me.” she says. “Hospice is a caring, supportive and welcoming place to work.”
“As a volunteer here, every day you touch a life and a life touches you,” says Mariana. “This is a very rewarding experience.”
Harry has volunteered at Victoria Hospice for two years and shares his time across three program areas: the In-Patient Unit, Life Stories and Spiritual Health.
During his working life, Harry often considered volunteering at Hospice. When he visited Ireland for his father’s death, he says: “I found that experience both moving and reassuring. Now that I’m retired, I have the time and interest to pursue hospice volunteer work.”
Harry considers it a privilege to work with people and families at Victoria Hospice. “It’s an authentic experience when life is counting down. There are wonderful rewards that come from working at hospice,” says Harry.
“If you’re considering volunteering here, you will be challenged, but will learn more about yourself as a result, and those challenges are small compared to those facing the patients on the unit. Contrary to popular perception, it’s not a gloomy place, but often filled with laughter and joy as families gather in support of their loved ones. Be prepared to share hugs, and shed some tears too.”
Margaret has volunteered with Victoria Hospice Bereavement Services for almost eight years supporting bereaved people with outreach telephone calls. She first volunteered with a hospice in South Africa in 1988 and when she moved to Canada she was so happy to continue this important community work.
“I don’t consider what I do at hospice as ‘work’,” she says. “It is such a pleasure to help people. Allowing them to talk about their grief is very rewarding.” She says that through her volunteering “I have learned to accept people where they are. I have also learned how to handle my own grief.”
Margaret points out that in our culture we don’t talk about death, dying, and grieving. She says “it is wonderful to have Victoria Hospice and all the caring staff and volunteers who can support people when necessary.”
Chantal has volunteered for Victoria Hospice since November 2011 in the Community Program, Life Stories and In-Patient Unit. She says she was drawn to the organization for “its extraordinary reputation for a compassionate philosophy towards death and dying.”
Despite a busy home life Chantal makes time for Victoria Hospice. “The people who volunteer with hospice are some of the most interesting, diverse and – believe it or not – joyful people I have ever had the pleasure to call my peers,” she says. “And then there are the hospice clients and their families. It is amazing how open and honest and loving people can be during such challenging times. Through volunteering here I have gained so much insight into, and compassion for, our shared human condition.”
Chantal says volunteering at Victoria Hospice has been one of the most incredibly rewarding experiences of her life. “It has shed light on how strong and resilient people are in the face of the hardest of circumstances when they are given the support they need,” she says. “My experiences at Hospice have given me faith that I have this strength as well. “
“People have a preconception that hospice is depressing,” Chantal observes. “I hear that all the time, oh it must be so depressing. But that is just so far from the reality. I am not saying there is not sadness. There is. The ending of days is so very hard. But deep living, joy, humour and happiness are just as strong a presence.”
Maryl has volunteered at Victoria Hospice for more than twelve years on the In-Patient unit, offering Reiki and companionship in our community program, and in a variety of other areas. She happily pitches in where needed but most of all likes to “sing to patients, read to them, and listen to their concerns.”
Maryl has given Victoria Hospice an incredible 2000 hours of her time. “I continue to volunteer here because of the wonderful nurses and patients,” she says. “I learn something new from the patients each week. They have given me as much as I have given them.”
Staff and volunteers who work with Maryl say she “has the ability to make people feel very comfortable and special. Her presence emanates compassion and kindness.” Maryl says that volunteering here has “changed my priorities and increased my understanding of life. Hospice is very well-respected in the community and it is a great honor to be part of it.”
After a career with the RCMP followed by work in Hospital Security, Morris was volunteering at the Cancer Agency when a fellow volunteer encouraged him to join the hospice team. Morris took the training and seven years later, he reports “I have enjoyed working at Victoria Hospice ever since.”
As a unit volunteer Morris works alongside our clinical team supporting patients and their families. “My appreciation of life and death has been enhanced,” he says. “At the end of a shift, I go home feeling that I have contributed to the wellbeing of others. It makes me a better and wiser person.”
Morris isn’t afraid to help when and where he is needed and the hospice team appreciates his quiet humour, reliability and can-do attitude.
Bill has been volunteering on the In-Patient Unit since 2006. He was drawn to hospice work after meeting a Victoria Hospice volunteer, and later being touched by the end-of-life care his mother received.
“This has been an amazing learning experience in compassion, and practicing listening skills,” says Bill. “I cannot change or fix the patient, but I can listen, respect, and try to assist in their care."
Bill continues: “I have more patience and a deeper level of gratitude in supporting the patients’ and nurses’ needs. It is wonderful knowing we are helping others by giving of ourselves. It is a good lesson in generosity.”
Mary’s personal journey of loss was very much aided by participating in one of Victoria Hospice’s Bereavement Groups. From there she appreciated the importance of Victoria Hospice in our community and how it quietly gives so much to so many. In 2001, she became a volunteer and currently volunteers with Spiritual Health and with Life Stories in the community.
“I appreciate the many different volunteering opportunities possible,” says Mary. “Over the years I have been involved in many other aspects including Special Events and Public Relations.” Mary says the incredible people she has met – the staff, volunteers and others who reinforce the sense of community within the organization – are the reasons she stays at Hospice.
“My understanding of end-of-life care has been greatly enhanced by the different training sessions I have attended and the many ‘in the moment’ events I have been privileged to witness,” says Mary. “Being open to change, to living in the moments and learning compassionate communication, are some of the ways I have grown in my time with Victoria Hospice.”
Rosemary has volunteered with Victoria Hospice since 2004 on the Unit, in Bereavement, in the Community and with the Life Stories program – her passion.
“I love the interaction with the patients,” she says of Life Stories. “When patients tell their stories they are comforted knowing that they will not be forgotten. It also helps them to put their life into perspective and to say things to loved ones that all of us should be saying all the time anyway I have learned how to really listen and to 'walk alongside' a patient without judgement.”
Rosemary says that she feels valued as a volunteer at Hospice and staff, patients and families certainly appreciate her can-do attitude and humour. She helps make every day a good day.
The first time Lori came to Victoria Hospice was when her mother was a patient here. “From the beginning of her stay, I was aware of the quiet reassurance this special place brought so many people,” Lori recalls. “I was constantly in awe of the dedication, compassion, and respectfulness of everyone we came in contact with.”
A few years later Lori knew she wanted to be part of Victoria Hospice and she has been a volunteer here for more than three years. “I have a sense of belonging here,” she tells us. “The patients are constant reminders of grace and courage. The nurses and staff treat volunteers as equal team members; some of them have become friends for life.”
Lori says that by volunteering at Hospice she is growing as a person, challenging herself more often and learning to connect with people on a different level. “It is a very rewarding part of my week, coming here,” she says. “My Mom would be proud of the progress I’m making on the path she inadvertently started me on years ago!”
When asked what advice she would give to someone thinking of volunteering with Victoria Hospice, she said: “Go into it with an open heart and mind and be prepared for a life enriching experience!”
Chris has been a volunteer with Bereavement Services for 18 years providing one-on-one telephone bereavement support and extra duties such as assisting at a weekly bereavement drop-in group.
Chris chose to volunteer with Victoria Hospice because he recognized the valuable services it provides to the community. “It's under-funded and could always use more resources,” he says. “Volunteering is one way of helping out. Connecting with others from the heart is a loving, caring and joyous way to live.”
Through volunteer training at Victoria Hospice, Chris says he has learned valuable skills. “While volunteering, I have discovered the resourceful, creative and loving nature of each human spirit,” he says. “I have also come to understand and heal some of my own grief and loss.”
Staff members who work with Chris say he is everything one could hope for in a bereavement support group volunteer – keen, caring, open-hearted and completely non-judgmental. “Volunteering at Hospice is a unique, meaningful, satisfying, practical and spiritual way to share and be of service to others,” says Chris. “It is a great way to meet and work with so many talented, caring, and interesting people.”
Inspired by her employment in palliative care in Saskatchewan, Mary began volunteering at Victoria Hospice shortly after moving to Victoria. She has been a volunteer on the Unit and in Spiritual Health since 2010.
“It is a tremendous privilege to be invited into people’s lives at this moment in their journey,” she says. “Hospice gives me a deeper appreciation for life and makes me a better person. I love being part of a team – be it helping with patient care, sitting with family members or bringing that important glass of water or cup of tea. I do feel that in some small way I have made a difference by being here.”
Mary says she learns something new during every shift. “I am amazed by the strength of the human spirit,” she says. “Often it is hard to make sense out of bad situation. The miracle, for me, is to see and experience the many hands that hold and uphold people as they go through a difficult time. I’ve seen this happen time and again through working at Victoria Hospice.”
Mary says working at Victoria Hospice gives her a deep appreciation for family, friends, health and the beauty around us. “What I have found is that by immersing myself in helping people who are dying, it takes the fear out of it. Yes, there are moments that are very sad but the support is there and there is also lots of laughter and joy…all part of our life journey.”
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