Hospice-trained volunteers prepare for what’s left


Write down the names of the four people closest to you, your four most important roles in life, your four favorite activities and your four most cherished possessions.

Crumple up and throw out one from each category.

Do the same with four more items.

Have someone take away four at random.


And three more.

What are you left with? A sibling? A childhood toy, perhaps? Maybe your role as a parent? Any way you look at it, you’re left with just one thing.

Now, throw that away.

This exercise, provided for volunteers at the Jewish Social Service Agency’s hospice training program last week, was meant to show volunteers what it’s like for hospice patients as they near the end of their lives, particularly when suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Naomi Long, who took part in the training, said the exercise “hit very close to home for me because that [dementia] is what happened to my mom.”

She found that “association with other people who’ve gone through similar experiences was very comforting.”

Many of the attendees of the training, Long included, have seen parents, spouses, siblings and friends go through hospice. Long’s parents were both cared for by the JSSA hospice.

“So much of what we’re talking about [in hospice training] is going to make [the volunteers] deal with their own losses, as well as their own mortality,” said Amy Goott, program leader and JSSA manager of volunteer services for hospice and transitions.

Trainees at the three-day program participated in role-playing exercises, heard from a religious official and a hospice nurse, and participated in discussions.

Goott said that while it’s important for volunteers to form connections with hospice patients, those connections are not traditional reciprocal friendships.

“You are there completely for them [the patients],” Goott said she has to remind the volunteers. “It’s all about them.”

Volunteers are trained in visitation with, not medical care of, hospice patients.

Barry Starr of Silver Spring has been volunteering with the hospice since he did the JSSA training about a year ago.

“It’s rewarding,” he said. “I speak with people [in assisted living facilities]. Sometimes it’s a little hard because they have dementia or Alzheimer’s, but sometimes you can get a smile on their face.”

Starr recalled how grateful he was for how well his mother was cared for near the end of her life, and felt he wanted to give back.

Marion Felsen, also of Silver Spring, has been involved with end-of-life care for 27 years – dating back to the early days of Medicare’s involvement in hospice.

Hospice care first began receiving benefits from Medicare in 1982, and those benefits were made permanent four years later, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

Felsen said she participated in one of the first JSSA hospice trainings. She gets great satisfaction from helping those who need such care.

“You don’t do it for a reward,” Felsen said, “but you get a really good feeling from the family members.”

Recently, Felsen has been bringing her dog, who is a certified therapy dog, with her on visits to assisted living facilities to cheer up residents. Some residents develop a friendship with her dog. Others who have degenerative memory conditions are greeted with a new friend each time, she said.

“For those who don’t remember,” Felsen said, “it’s like a first visit.”

JSSA offers training four times a year, and volunteers are asked to commit to at least two hours a week for one year following the training — though, according to Goott, many volunteers do much more than that. Following last week’s program, JSSA’s volunteer corps is 145 strong.

The volunteers “go from ‘I think I want to do this work’ to being ready and comfortable” through the training, said Goott. “It’s my favorite part of my job.”

Hospice volunteer work “is not for everybody,” she added, “but the ones who do it find it really rewarding.”

Long said she was not sad or depressed by the training or the prospect of volunteering.

“I think it will be very uplifting and rewarding,” she said.

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  1. Nomi, congratulations! Good job. Sounds like they love you there. I knew you would do well at it!
    ML :)


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