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Being Present for Hospice Patients in their Final Moments

Hospice Volunteer Barbara GlassIt takes compassion to be a Samaritan volunteer – visiting patients in hospice is not for everyone. Luckily, Samaritan patients can rely on the strength of vigil volunteers like Barbara Glass.

“People don’t want to be alone at the end, but there are many caregivers who don’t want to face death,” Barbara, a retiree from Sewell who has volunteered with Samaritan since 2011, says. After one year of service, Samaritan volunteers may train to become vigil volunteers, where they will sit with patients during their final hours, providing a comforting presence to them and their loved ones.

(Left): Barbara Glass with Volunteer Coordinator Linda Brennan

Barbara knew she had what it takes to be a vigil volunteer – she had called Samaritan for help when her mother was dying, and she had even volunteered to take care of her neighbor as she was dying. “I’m just not afraid of death, I never have been,” Barbara says. “So why shouldn’t I be the one to bring calm to the person dying, or bring peace to the family by being there for them or for their loved one? I have felt called to do this.”

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As a volunteer, Barbara visits with two Samaritan patients once a week, and she spends two to four hours at a time with them. If she gets a call to attend a vigil or fill in for a one-time visit, she goes whenever she can.

Recently, a patient passed away in her presence. “I sat with her on a Friday evening, and she was not expected to make it through the weekend,” Barbara says. When visiting patients for vigils, the first thing Barbara does is look around her patient’s room to learn about them, gleaning insight about their faith or their family dynamic. She noticed that the patient wore a corded necklace from the Catholic church, so for her vigil, Barbara sat with the woman, occasionally reading Catholic religious devotionals or singing hymns softly. “When I left, she was still communicating a little; she said, ‘I hope to see you again soon,’ very distinctly and clearly. “When I returned Sunday morning she was awake, and later she passed very peacefully and calmly. She was the first hospice patient who died during one of my vigils.

“The sense of calm when it happens in your presence is awesomely surreal,” she continues. Barbara never felt nervous as the patient was dying – she knew her role was to provide a small sense of comfort to the woman. “And I would do it again, in a heartbeat,” she says.

Barbara has tried to form a connection with the patients she has spent time with over the years – like when she did a Bible study with a patient with ALS. Barbara and the patient became close enough that when the patient was baptized, Barbara was the one to sign the witness certificate.

And although she is the one volunteering her time, Barbara feels that patients have a lot to teach her too. “Hospice patients have a great awareness of the world around them and the world beyond this one – they see beauty in things that you would never think to acknowledge. They see something deeper at the end than we can ever know.”