Volunteers Kim Kelly left and Marybeth Wilson sing to a client as part of hospice bedside singing. Volunteers are needed for all of the hospice programs at Haliburton Highlands Health Services. /Submitted by Brigitte Gebauer

Hospice volunteers provide care and compassion

By Darren Lum

Sometimes it’s as simple as making someone a cup of tea says hospice volunteer Tina Koskelo.

Koskelo is one of more than 50 dedicated volunteers who are the backbone of the hospice services in Haliburton County. A resident of the Highlands since 2015 she encourages other people to join her in the fulfilling experience of providing care for those facing a life-threatening or serious illness focusing on quality of life and providing emotional and practical support.

Koskelo said it’s rewarding working with people.

“The reward of just being with the people. Time spent is very real dear and has left an impact. I remember them all” she wrote in an email.

After 13 years of volunteering she is passionate about hospice care and what it does for clients and their caregivers.

“I’m just left with the great privilege of what it is to do this. To be able to do this. To be invited into people’s homes and to witness the love [that] is in their lives or the messiness that is in their lives. That is our human experience. So what may have started as a curiosity has certainly evolved into the great privilege of the work itself” she said.

Although in some instances her time spent is just that time with a client and doesn’t have to be anything more than just making a pot of tea for someone and being willing to listen.

The hospice program is a partnership between Community Support Services and the Central East Local Health Integration Network which delivers programs offering compassionate care and support for people facing a life-limiting illness.

Stephanie MacLaren vice-president community programs for Haliburton Highlands Health Services of which Community Support Services is a part said a strong hospice program provides community members with a holistic approach to care at a time when they need it most.

“Our hospice program is a vital component of our overall hospice palliative care program that provides support and improves the quality of life of our community members and their families facing life-limiting illness. In addition to palliative care supports provided by our health-care providers the volunteer visiting hospice program provides psychological social spiritual support to clients and their families at all stages of illness grief and bereavement” she wrote in an email.

“In a rural community such as ours where isolation often accompanies periods of illness the ability to connect to a supportive volunteer is of heightened importance. It is also a tremendously meaningful way for volunteers to contribute to overall health and well-being of their community. In addition to [one-to-one] and group support provided by our volunteers the presence of a strong hospice program in our community expands the conversation around death and dying in a manner that de-stigmatizes an uncomfortable topic for many.”

A longtime cottager Koskelo is now retired. She had worked in business for 10 years followed by being a parent and then most recently a yoga instructor.

She’s been a hospice volunteer on and off since 2007 while living in Toronto and said she started because she was curious about dying and death.

Death was something she thought of because of her many years of meditative inquiry and yoga.
“Looking at death sort of comes as a natural extension of that” she said. “For me at that time I was just very curious and wanted to explore that. Hospice was a way to do that and I became a volunteer with hospice Toronto.”

She’s not quite certain about where her interest in hospice came from other than reading an article or learning about a person with an end of life scenario.

“People come [to volunteer with hospice] for many different reasons. My reason and my experiences is just one experience. Many people come for different reasons. It can be they experienced a death and want to know more or they had a good experience or they had a bad experience. Sometimes they’ve experienced hospice volunteers in their home and want to turn around and offer that same thing” she said.

Much of her volunteering is in the area of home hospice which means she visits clients in their home.
She’s learned everyone needs help. This includes care giving for clients at the end of their life and for the caregivers who need a break. Helping doesn’t require any expertise she said. It’s all about being present and embracing the life of another person.

“Just being with life in a very intimate way really but it’s also very ordinary. The stuff of hospice is very ordinary in many ways. It can be very practical. Very simple. So it’s very … it’s a very rewarding thing. Anybody who volunteers at anything gets something back or they wouldn’t do [it] right? And what you get from hospice is extraordinary and rich and I think the payback is very high. I hope to ease somebody’s way a little bit by showing up. But what comes back is very rewarding” she said.

Hospice clients and their loved ones have access to support including the cancer support group palliative care community team educational information inter-agency referrals and family supports.

To become a volunteer people must go through a screening process complete reference and police checks and receive extensive training. Clients and volunteers are carefully matched. The in-house visits are scheduled with regular visits based on the needs of the clients. Volunteers are not alone. There is support.

Hospice has a number of volunteer opportunities for people: visiting in the home long-term care acute care in the hospital bedside singers and bereavement support.

Asked about what hospice can offer not readily known by the public MacLaren said “I think that the community would benefit from knowing that there is grief and bereavement support provided through our hospice program – both in terms of individual and group support. Support can be provided to family members struggling with the illness of a family member at any point of the journey – whether it be learning and supporting their role as caregivers or coming to terms with [the] imminent passing of a loved one. Hospice volunteers are here to support.”

MacLaren said volunteers such as Koskelo make the hospice service what it is.

“We are so very grateful for the commitment of our stellar group of hospice volunteers. Beyond the extensive training they commit to the value of the role they play in the lives of our community members cannot be fully expressed in words.”

For more information about hospice services and other HHHS resources contact HHHS at 705-457-2941 extension 2932 or visit www.hhhs.ca.