Howard Greenberg recalls lying awake one night, alone and afraid, during a health crisis a few years ago. “It’s 2 a.m., 3 a.m., 4 a.m… You think you’re going to die, and there’s no one in the room.”
Today, the Cherry Hill man is there for others, so they won’t have to face death by themselves. As a trained Samaritan “vigil volunteer,” Howard sits with patients during their final hours, providing a comforting presence to them and their loved ones, and offering a beautiful final gift of peace and solace.
Although patients usually appear unconscious as their body shuts down (and medication eases any discomfort), they may still have some awareness, he explains.
“We’re asked to make sure the patient knows someone is in the room,” says the retired businessman. “I’ll say hi. I’ll say ‘I’m going to touch your wrist.’ Sometimes their hand moves” in response.
Howard finds being a hospice volunteer “very rewarding” — especially when he’s able to meet and support the person’s immediate family. Oftentimes, simply listening to them talk about their loved one is the greatest gift. “It’s so much less stressful for them because you’re here,” says the 76-year-old, who speaks fondly of the many “wonderful” children and spouses he’s met.
These profound encounters have helped Howard, too.
“I know what to expect,” says the energetic grandfather, who sits vigil several times a month, up to three hours at a time. “I know what to tell my wife or children about what I want” at the end of life. (Howard urges everyone to complete the “Five Wishes” living will to document their preferences. For details, click here.)
“I’m really glad I started doing this,” adds Howard, who has volunteered for Samaritan in other capacities, as well. “You know you’re making an impact. Samaritan is an amazing organization… I wanted to be part of it.”
Vigil volunteering is just one way you can volunteer at Samaritan Hospice. Samaritan offers diverse opportunities for individuals to share their time and talents, whether that’s in patients’ homes, in the office or out in the community. Whether it is running an errand for a hospice patient, reading to them, or simply sitting with them and listening, there are many different important activities you can perform as a hospice volunteer.
You do not have to be a healthcare professional to volunteer with Samaritan. We welcome you to use the talents you already have, or if you’d like, broaden your horizons and learn new skills. We do ask that all volunteers bring the following qualities to their work at Samaritan: