“You have a whole team in there when you are born, but when you are dying, not everyone is as lucky to have family or friends around them, said Haven Hospice Vigil Volunteer Hazel Hazlett.
Hazel describes being a vigil volunteer as a privilege and her friend, Martha, feels the same way. “I think that is one of the common reasons that Hazel and I are vigil volunteers,” said Haven Hospice Vigil Volunteer Martha Harrell. “I want the patient to know that I am here for them. I want the families to know that if they want to step out of the room, get a cup of coffee or call a relative that I will not leave their loved one alone.”
Martha and Hazel volunteer to sit in vigil by the bedside when a Haven Hospice patient is actively dying. More often than not, patients in their final hours are non-responsive, so vigil volunteers help create a peaceful and calm presence. At times, vigil volunteers provide soft music and inspirational readings while at other times they give relief to caregivers or family members, perhaps sharing stories about their loved one or helping them say goodbye. As all volunteering positions at Haven Hospice, vigil volunteering does require special training and development.
“I don’t think everyone can do it. It is a unique experience to sit with someone who is actively dying,” said Hazel. “One time, I was sitting with this woman at the Haven Hospice E.T. York Care Center. She was a single mother with an adult son, but he didn’t want to experience those final moments with his mother alone. I sat with them until she passed and then I walked with him out to the parking lot where he just sobbed. I was glad that I was able to be in that man’s life at that moment.”
Volunteers are a vital member of the Haven Hospice Care Team. They provide companionship, support and assistance to patients residing at home, in assisted living facilities, nursing homes, hospitals and any of Haven’s five, free-standing care centers in North Florida. They also reach out to grieving families, help staff the Attic Resale stores and serve on special event committees. Haven is proud to have more than 800 community members serving among its dedicated volunteer ranks in the 18 counties it serves.
“Vigil Volunteering is probably one of the most intense and meaningful ways to volunteer at Haven,” said Haven Hospice Director of Volunteer Services Courtney Quirie. “Our volunteer’s presence makes a huge difference in the end-of-life experience for our patients, their families and the staff in facilities we support. It truly is an honor to provide this service to our patients and their loved ones.”
It was through their volunteer training and experiences that Hazel and Martha became friends. “One of the core beliefs at Haven is that, every day is a gift,” said Hazel. “You want that day you are with them to be the best day it can be. Even if you sit with them for a little while, you do become a part of their lives.”
I often laugh with patients,” said Martha who enjoys hearing stories the patient or patient’s family might tell about their lives. “When the time comes, I want to be at Haven Hospice. Being a vigil volunteer was one of the best decisions I have ever made.”
“As volunteers, we are part of that gathering up of their memories,” said Hazel “I sat with this woman and sang to her, kept her covered up and then made up little songs with her name in it. She liked that. I remember another patient who needed to stay in bed because he was a fall risk. While I sat with him, I cross-stitched 15 little birds and later, I framed them. They hang over my desk now, and they remind me of him and the humbleness of this work.”