The Hospice Foundation of Cortland County (HFCC), a nonprofit foundation that supports Hospicare, welcomed two new board members in 2020: Nancy Wainwright and Evelyn Sammons.
A resident of the Cortland
area for more than five decades, Evelyn Sammons is a past board member
for HFCC and for Hospicare. Now retired after a 30-year career with the Homer
School District, Evelyn enjoys reading, hiking and biking. She is a strong
advocate for hospice, believing that all patients and families in the Cortland
area can benefit from the full range of services available to them, including
Nancy Wainwright, a resident of Cortland County for 70 years, served
as secretary for the Marathon Elementary School for over two decades. Nancy
enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with family. She views her
volunteering as a way to “pay forward” her gratitude for the hospice services
her family members have received in the past. Nancy is also a strong
advocate for fundraising, understanding that philanthropy helps patients
receive exceptional care.
Hospicare thanks the entire
HFCC board for the ways in which they support Hospicare’s mission!
“Facing the end of life takes courage, perhaps especially for the family members of patients,” says Pamela Goddard, Hospicare volunteer. “Facing that approaching loss is a difficult thing. But, we don’t have to face it alone. This is the real gift of hospice services—support for both patients and their family members at every step of the way. And, with support, we can find comfort and even beauty in coming to terms with end-of-life and the process of grief.”
Pamela helps offer that support and comfort to others by her involvement with Hospicare. She sings with Hospicare’s monthly Women Singin’ group and with Schola Cantorum, a smaller group that sings at the bedsides of patients. She also takes part in vigils, sitting beside dying patients who do not have friends or family who can be with them in their final hours. On June 10, she will co-facilitate “Gathering the Pieces” with Elaine Mansfield, a workshop for grievers that focuses on ritual, simple mindfulness meditation techniques and shared experience. Pamela will be focused mainly on leading the meditation portion of the workshop, building on her experience as the co-facilitator of a community mindfulness meditation group that meets once a month at the Nina K. Miller Hospicare Center in Ithaca.
All of these activities express her gratitude for Hospicare, she says. “I’m grateful for the comfort and relief that Hospicare brings to friends and their families. I’m grateful for the home Hospicare has provided our meditation group. I’m grateful for the many ways that Hospicare serves our community, and for the many ways the community serves Hospicare. This mutual, vital interconnection is a really beautiful thing.”
Pamela has had friends who have been cared for by Hospicare, and her mother-in-law also received hospice services in New York City, so she has experienced first hand the value of hospice for those who are terminally ill. “I’m a strong believer in the value of respectful palliative care at the end of life,” she says. “I’ve seen how people dear to me have been able to transition with dignity, each in their own way. The ability to make personal choices about how to die, to have some control over this crucial time of life—for the individual and also for family—and to have caring, professional support is such a gift.”
Volunteering with Hospicare has been deeply moving and also fun, Pamela says. “It may seem odd to use the word ‘fun,’ when talking about working with the dying and their families” she admits, “but there’s often humor and lightness in what we do.” Music especially plays a powerful part in her volunteer experience. “It is a heart expanding honor to bring peace, beauty, and even moments of joy, at the end through the power of music,” she says.
Those of you who know me may have heard me talk about how important volunteers are to hospice. They provide crucial help to patients and their families, especially to family members who are in need of respite. Hospicare & Palliative Care Services, our hospice provider, offers patients and their families the chance to have trained volunteers visit them wherever they live, to offer companionship and a helping hand. Most often this means the visit happens in the patient’s own home, but it can also be in a nursing home or other care facility.
Recently I spoke with Pris Coulter about her experiences as a hospice volunteer in Cortland County. Pris has been a volunteer for ten years; she first started when Caring Community Hospice of Cortland was the county’s hospice provider, and she has continued volunteering with Hospicare. “I’ve visited patients in nursing homes and in their own homes and just chatted with them,” she says. “I’ve sat with patients who could not speak, and I’ve played cards with others.” Sometimes Pris’s visits to a patient coincide with their caregiver’s need to take a break. “I sat with a patient once while her husband went to the funeral home to make arrangements,” she says. “Then there was the patient who was able to be alone, but his wife needed me to take her to the grocery store because she couldn’t drive.”
In the last year, Pris has added a new dimension to her volunteering—helping with bereavement services. Once a month she goes to the Hospicare office in Ithaca to help with mailings to the families of deceased patients, and she reaches out to patient family members through quarterly phone calls for the first year after a death. “I check in with folks to see how they’re doing and to remind them of the bereavement services that are available, like one-on-one grief counseling with Hospicare counselors, or monthly bereavement meetings,” she says.
Pris is used to the surprised reactions when people find out she is a hospice volunteer. “The first thing out of their mouth is, “how can you do that?’” she says. “I explain that it’s truly rewarding to deal with folks who really have a need for your help. It’s an extremely good feeling to know you are wanted and you have a part in helping them through this difficult time. I’m providing something for them they can’t get anywhere else. That’s why I can do it.”
Pris is also quick to point out the benefits of utilizing Hospicare’s services as soon as a person is eligible for them. According to Medicare guidelines that is when a doctor has determined the patient has six months or less to live. The sooner a patient chooses hospice, the more they and their family members will be able to make use of all the services provided. “Hospicare makes things much more comfortable for the patient and family,” Pris says. “If you’re religious, they offer spiritual care services. If you need help with stress or emotional issues, they have counselors for that. They can provide help with logistical care problems. They have so much to tap into.”
Pris is aware that many people are afraid to be around the dying, but she says it’s not an issue for her. “I don’t know what people are afraid of,” she says. “Death is a part of life. It’s inevitable.”
Pat Hayes, MD, is a retired physician from Cortland County. He serves on the board of directors for the Hospice Foundation of Cortland County and was the board president in 2015. He currently writes a monthly column with Jackie Swift on hospice for the Cortland Standard. This article first appeared in the March 11, 2017, issue of the Cortland Standard.