Hospice Volunteers at Cedar Community Provide Emotional Support During End-of-Life Jouneys

KC Laycock meets with her friend, Juanita.

By Carrie Sturn, Cedar Community’s marketing director. Reprinted with permission from the Spring 2022 Live More magazine of Cedar Community.

Hospice is not a place. Hospice is the care and compassion a specialized team offers to support patients and families during their final journey. At Cedar Community, based in West Bend, Wis., the hospice team supports patients and families before, during, and after the end-of-life journey. An important part of that team are the hospice volunteers who serve as “new friends,” providing emotional support and comfort for not only the patient, but the extended family. Bereavement volunteers call family or loved ones bi-monthly to check in after a loss and clerical volunteers send out monthly grief support booklets.

Bonnie Amerling is Cedar Community’s volunteer coordinator. One of her important roles is to match volunteers with hospice patients — comparing interests and spiritual preferences, and if the volunteer has a connection to the patient through a previous interaction or friendship. Becoming a hospice volunteer is a commitment. It involves a number of steps — including an interview with the volunteer coordinator, a background check, a two-step TB test, COVID-19 vaccination and booster(s), and 8 to 10 hours of training — followed by a completion test. Continuing education is also required twice a year.

Volunteers usually have one to two patients at a time and spend at least one hour visiting an average of one time per week. There is no set time required and schedules are worked out with the volunteer, the patient, and the team members. “End of life can be a difficult but beautiful process,” says Amerling. “Our volunteers make those moments even more enriching — sharing stories, learning about one another, freely giving compassion, and making the patient’s last days more comfortable and enjoyable. Their presence means everything — even if it’s just sitting and holding someone’s hand.”

KC Laycock, hospice volunteer and Cedar Community independent living resident, has been a hospice volunteer since 2000, when she lived in Milwaukee. “My father died alone in another nursing home in the middle of the night and I did not receive a phone call from the staff until the next morning,” Laycock says. It really hit me hard that he was that close to death and no one ever told me,” Since then, she’s been honoring her dad’s memory as a hospice volunteer. “I don’t want anyone to die alone,” she adds.

The Laycocks moved to Cedar Community in 2005, and in 2008, Cedar Community’s Home Health and Hospice came to fruition. KC was the first volunteer to step up and say, “I want to help.”

When visiting with patients and loved ones, Laycock introduces herself as a special friend. “When I moved to Cedar Community,” she says, “I came here to find a family and I have. I want others to feel that way, too.”

Laycock has shared special friendships with some neighbors she has known a long time. Two friends in particular she had known for 17 years, and they enjoyed reminiscing about the old days and happy memories of an earlier time. “These two women welcomed me when I moved in, and now I have the opportunity to be their special friend at the end. How wonderful and fulfilling that is for me and hopefully for them,” Laycock says. Some of her greatest moments have also been time spent with families.

A hospice volunteer creates a special bond with both the patient and the family. What makes being a volunteer special is not that how long the volunteer has known the patient; rather, it’s about being able to be together, visit, and learn about their life and their cherished memories. It’s also an opportunity to connect with the family and help bring peace in their lives.

Being a hospice volunteer provides Laycock the opportunity to be there for someone in what could be their greatest time of need. She says, “I help each patient celebrate their lives as they were. It’s talking about life and celebrating the good times, not about dying.”

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