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In hospice work, Altizer found her true calling

July 23, 2005|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

For the past 23 years, Faye Altizer has cried tears, held hands, counseled countless adults, comforted grieving children with puppets and even served as a crisis counselor in schools, first as a volunteer and since 1987 as a staff member at Hospice of Washington County.

"We have a saying that hospice workers aren't hired, they're called," she said.

Altizer, 66, said she has had the privilege of helping many people through the healing process when a loved one dies. She is retiring Friday as the bereavement and spiritual care services coordinator.

"I had gone back to school when my two children grew up," Altizer said. "I knew I wanted to do counseling."

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First she earned her undergraduate degree in psychology from Wilson College. When she joined hospice as a volunteer, she had just completed her master's degree in counseling at Shippensburg University.

Altizer said she was asked if she would be interested in volunteer training and she was. At that time, hospice was at The Presbyterian Church of Hagerstown.

When the volunteer coordinator then asked Altizer if she would talk with families, she jumped at the chance. "It was a natural ... it fit right in," she said. "I then decided I wanted to be a patient care volunteer."

In that capacity, Altizer said she was with many families through the entire process, including more than a year after the patient dies. "We follow the family for 13 months," she said.

During these experiences, Altizer said she has witnessed some rather amazing incidents of how families get through the loss of a loved one. "I met a lady once who was trying to find a way to honor her mother so she would go to nursing homes on her mother's birthday - not the anniversary of her death - and visit people her mother knew," she said.

As the agency grew, Altizer was hired as the first part-time bereavement coordinator in 1987.

Through the years, hospice first moved into separate quarters and then to its present location on the third floor of the Western Maryland Hospital Center at 1500 Pennsylvania Ave.

All along, Altizer has been working her grief recovery groups and developing programs for youth in the schools which can often be very challenging.

"We try to find a way to walk the children through their grief," Altizer said. "Sometimes they are angry and they feel abandoned. We also work closely with the remaining parent."

Hospice offers many programs designed specifically by need. There is Healing Hearts for Adults, a support group for those who have had a loss; Healing Hearts for Parents for those who have lost a child; grief counseling groups, as well as memorial services twice a year.

"We also have a new program at Homewood called Tea and Talk for anyone in the retirement community who is going through changes," Altizer said.

Moving into Altizer's position will be Kathy Boyd-Mansfield, a social worker. Altizer is planning to do some traveling and spending time with her children and her three grandchildren.

Hospice services are supported by United Way designated funds, insurance, donations and memorials. For more information, call 301-791-6360.

Altizer said a 90-year-old woman once gave her a valuable piece of advice about the grieving process. "She told me you have to reinvent yourself," she said, noting that could mean rearranging furniture, moving or whatever it takes to get through a loss.

Another said she moved her late husband's favorite chair into a bay window after he died. "She sits there and knits and says she feels she is being hugged," Altizer said.

Leaving is hard but Altizer said she knows the good work will go on at hospice. "A lot of our clients come back and become volunteers and that's very rewarding," she said. "It completes the circle."

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