Amanda B. started volunteering at JSSA in 2017. In her own words, she discusses her experience visiting hospice patients, plus the skills and lessons she has learned as a JSSA hospice volunteer.
One of my first patients was Farsi speaking like I am. I’d visit her at her home every Saturday. Her daughter (and primary caretaker) told me on several occasions that her mother wasn’t feeling very talkative, and during my first visit, she did remain relatively quiet.
But at all subsequent visits she would smile, tell me she remembered me, and have long conversations with me in Farsi. Although a lot of what she said wasn’t understandable, it was amazing to see the transformation in her demeanor and how much joy she received just by having company sit with her and listen to what she had to say.
The biggest challenge (although this is basically inevitable) is making a strong connection and friendship with a patient and then learning of their passing. However, the benefits that come with being a JSSA volunteer outweigh this particular challenge. Visiting patients and learning their stories, making them smile, and spending time with them makes me feel like I am contributing to their life in a meaningful way. It is definitely a very rewarding experience.
One thing I appreciate about JSSA is the openness in communication and support. The volunteer coordinators always make themselves available to talk and are always receptive to answering questions or offering helpful suggestions. There are also always new training sessions being offered, which is definitely helpful.
I feel like I have grown a lot through my experiences volunteering. Since a few of my patients are nonverbal, I have learned ways to effectively communicate with them and how to pick up on nonverbal cues. I spend part of my visits with them listening to music. It’s always nice to see how much they enjoy it by noticing a smile or watching them move their hands to the beat of the song.
I have also learned big-picture lessons on loss. Although it is inevitable, it’s important to remember that hospice patients in (or anyone nearing end of life) are people who just desire to feel cared for and listened to. My ability to empathize has significantly grown, as well.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. JSSA’s hospice care services are available in Montgomery County, MD.