Hospice volunteers provide comfort in the final stages of life

Our weekly reminder that people aren't all bastards

For most of us, death is something to be avoided.

Hospice volunteer Megan Lem, however, deals with it two days a week - because she wants to.

"It's just a 'wow' moment - a really good way to stay grounded," says Lem, a 26-year-old KU grad student. "You have to walk in there knowing that they're going to die. Yes, you do get close. But you keep yourself distanced just enough. I'm sure when she passes on that I'm going to be sad for a while. But I know that it's worth it."

Lem is one of more than 30 active volunteers with Hospice Care in Douglas County, a non-profit agency that provides medical and emotional support during the final phase of a terminal illness. Volunteers devote a couple hours a week to provide companionship, help with meals and errands and/or bereavement care.

"We're more friends; we don't talk about her dying," Lem says. "I go in there, I rub her feet, I talk to her, I bring her flowers ... She really likes to be involved in things that I'm doing and give me advice. She likes to hear about all my tests and stuff like that."


Hospice volunteer Megan Lem

Lem first experience with hospice came when her Grandpa died of cancer. She recognized that it was a great source or support for her family and decided she would volunteer when she got the chance. That opportunity arose when she decided to go back to grad school to be a pharmacist.

"I was working in a bank, sittin' there, not talking to anybody all day long like, 'This isn't for me,'" says Lem, who majored in business finance during her undergrad years at K-State. "Now, since I'm in school, I'm not working and I thought it'd be a good time to volunteer."

HCDC volunteer coordinator Scott Criqui says that volunteers can be equally essential to the bereavement process. After a patient passes away, volunteers visit and make phone calls to the family to keep tabs on how they're doing and offer support.

"A lot of times, after a patient dies, hospice and everyone else leaves the family and they feel kind of isolated," Criqui says. "A volunteer can go out and make them feel like there's still someone out there who cares about them ... the grief process can take a long time for some people."

Persons interested in volunteering with Hospice Care in Douglas County should contact Scott Criqui at 843-3738. No previous experience is required, and volunteers are expected to commit 1-4 hours a week. More local volunteer opportunities available at rhvc.org.

Criqui says HCDC is looking to expand its volunteer roster, as the agency expects to grow in the next couple years and take on more patients.

Each volunteer is matched with one patient for the duration of their hospice care.

"That's how we feel that the patient and the volunteer get the most out of it," Criqui says. "That's probably the most challenging part for the volunteers - losing their first patient. But volunteers will also say that that's the most rewarding part, because they've seen their patient reach for heaven, or they feel more comfortable with death after knowing this person for a while."


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