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d Hospice volunteers find work rewarding

November 20, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

When Peggy Winters, Faye Metz and Trudy Fox first signed on as volunteers with Hospice of Washington County 20 years ago, they wanted to give to others.

They had no idea how much they would get in return.

"It has been the best thing that ever happened to me," Metz said of her experiences with patients and families dealing with life-threatening illness.

She returned to Washington County in 1972 and was working in a physician's office. "I read an article about hospice and was interested but then they only had daytime training. When they started an evening training class, I decided to go."

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In 1984, Metz and Winters were in the same class while Fox said she was in training with a group of nurses from Washington County Hospital. Volunteers train for 24 hours over a four-week period.

"The training is designed to make sure the volunteer can cope," said Mary Foor, volunteer services coordinator for Hospice of Washington County. "We do group work and exercises with a bereavement counselor leading us through."

Winters, the wife of a retired minister, said she learned quickly there are a lot of people out there who could use a kind word - and not just from a clergyman.

"This has been the answer to a prayer - so much more than I had hoped," Winters said. "I've found the greatest thing can be just to listen."

Winters said she has learned to cry with people and to laugh with them, too. "You're showing them you are human when you do that," she said.

All three volunteers said they can visualize their own families when they are with their clients. The training helps the volunteers focus on those clients and their families.

While sadness can become overwhelming, all three of the volunteers said many families in crisis have been able to hold onto a sense of humor. "It's like a shock absorber - it works for them and for me, too," Metz said.

The women have shared some interesting experiences over the years, including two different cases that converged rather unexpectedly.

"Peggy and I were working with a woman whose husband died and then I had a client whose wife had died," Metz said. Those two people met when they were in the same bereavement class, got married and invited both Metz and Winters to the wedding.

Metz said she often recommends to people that they take the free hospice training for their own life experiences, even if they have no intention of volunteering. There is no cost for the training.

Fox was dealing with the death of her older brother in 1983 when her daughter recommended she look into hospice. "I called and took the course," Fox said, making the decision to become a volunteer. "It has been a good fit."

Her faith has kept her involved the past 20 years. "I believe when we help others, we're doing God's work," Fox said.

Even after the client dies, volunteers customarily stay with the family for at least a year, sometimes longer. "A lot of people don't want us to leave but they need to become independent," Fox said.

Foor said hospice volunteers are needed in many areas, some of which call for a specific skill. "We need hairdressers and massage therapists, too," she said. So far in 2004, hospice has served more than 440 patients. Volunteers contributed more than 4,000 hours in 2003.

Anyone interested in volunteering on any level can call Hospice of Washington County at 301-791-6360.

"It's not about dying, it's about living," Winters said.

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