Learning about hospice gives hospice volunteer perspective

Paradigm Health hospice volunteer Julia Pekarek found herself taking early retirement a couple of years ago to help care for her mother who had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. Her early retirement would allow time to attend doctor’s appointments with her mother and offer support that was most likely going to be needed in the future.  

“While my mother is still living independently now, my main goal was to be available for my mother should her memory disease progress,” shares Pekarek. “The early retirement also freed up time that I wanted to use to give back and becoming a hospice volunteer gave me the chance to not only give back but to gain education on the hospice care journey itself.” 

Pekarek was aware that there might come a time her mother needed local living resources for memory care, and she wanted to be educated on her options and how those options supported the patient. Her nephew had also been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and she wanted to be prepared to help should he need hospice care as well.  

“My nephew is currently in remission,” Pekarek says. “I knew that I wanted to have some knowledge of the hospice care journey should his parents need help, and that I was here to walk the walk alongside them.” 

That personal interest in learning more about hospice led Pekarek to a quick Google search for hospice volunteers and ultimately to Paradigm Health. Once she reached out to Paradigm Health’s volunteer coordinator the process to become a hospice volunteer went quickly and smoothly. 

“The volunteer coordinator Sheila got back with me right away and I completed the prerequisites and took some online educational classes prior to visiting with patients,” says Pekarek. “Sheila joined me on my first visit to see a hospice patient that I had matched up with and that made the initial visit comfortable and gave me some insight into what a visit might look like.” 

Her first patient had mentioned on one of her visits that she loved gardening.  Pekarek noticed that the women’s living space had no plants and not much of a view to nature. On Pekarek’s next visit, she brought with her a book featuring European gardens as a gift. A few visits later, she was pleased to see that her patient – while not remembering that Pekarek was the one who gave her the book – showed the book to her as a source of joy with many pages with scraps of paper marking her favorites. The gift brought joy to both patient and volunteer.  

 Like Pekarek’s mother, her current hospice care patient she is matched with has memory care issues and is in an assisted living facility with memory care.  

“Every visit is unique,” Pekarek shares. “A few weeks ago, I was on my weekly visit and my patient was playing chair volleyball in a group setting. Recently, I’ve had a visit where she wasn’t as coherent and not as active as she had been the week before. I adapt to wherever she is for that day and hope that my physical presence and support is felt.” 

Often, hospice volunteers are called to meet patients where they are in that moment, that day, that week and beyond. Pekarek says she makes a point of making sure she greets the patient, says goodbye and adjusts the volunteer visit based on the patient’s needs and wishes for that day.   

“I think it surprises people that the expectations they have about what hospice care is, isn’t always the case,” says Pekarek. “Most people think hospice is only for a short time and the patient is often heavily medicated. I’m learning that isn’t the case much of the time, which is why each visit hopefully enriches the patient’s day in some small way.” 

Consistency, shares Pekarek, along with being a good listener is important.   

“This volunteer experience to remember to be patient, kind and put things in perspective has helped frame how I support my own mother’s healthcare journey as well,” Pekarek says. “Offering compassion and grace has allowed me to adjust my own mindset and be a better support partner even for my own family.”  

Pekarek encourages those thinking of volunteering – especially becoming a hospice volunteer – to reach out to Paradigm Health and take that first step.  

“I’ve learned so much about the hospice care journey and through that process learned so much about myself along the way,” Pekarek shares. “Being present in the moment no matter what the visit looks like, hopefully brings some type of comfort and peace to the patient. I know it brings me joy to know that I’m making a difference in their day in some way or another.” 

To become a Paradigm Health hospice volunteer, visit our Volunteer page.