- Associated Press - Sunday, March 16, 2014

ASHLAND, Ky. (AP) - Dying alone is not a concept to ponder in a person’s everyday life, but something volunteers like Linda Buchanan face with each patient visit.

Buchanan, a volunteer at Community Hospice, realized after being with her late aunt, mother and sister in hospice care she wanted to help others going through the same trying times.

“It just meant so much to the family when volunteers would come by,” she said. “It made me feel grateful and made us feel like someone cared even though they had never met us before.”

Now, Buchanan is bringing the same humility to local families and patients as she sits with them as they wait to die.

She said some are unable to talk, others are confused. Some are aged and like to talk about their families and others are in their 20s accepting death as a relief from failed treatment.

Each patient is different, and for each person she sees, Buchanan reads the personality to know what every person needs or wants from her.

Sometimes, she said she reads or lets them tell her stories about their past. Other times, she said, it is better to just hold a hand.

She said the most she can do is just be there for the person during the last days of life. The caregivers or patients can agree to have the volunteers as part of a comprehensive-care plan.

Buchanan said it is normal for some patients to be confused and not know who she is or remember her previous visits, but each time they greet her with a smile.

“When you see the big smiles, when someone’s glad to see you, it makes it all worthwhile,” she said.

By being with patients at an emotional time in their lives, Buchanan said it is inevitable friendships are formed between her and the patients and their families.

Buchanan recalled forming a close bond with a woman in hospice care who died a few months ago.

“She found out that I was a friend of her sister’s. I went to church with the patient’s sister and we were actually pretty close, so that broke the ice, so to speak, and from then on I was treated by her and her family like one of them,” she said.

Meeting the patient’s brothers, grandchildren, nurses and aides helped her feel connected to the woman in a unique way.

“I was able to share stories back and forth about her sister. I think that really helped her and her family feel close to me, too - like they could trust me,” she said.

After the woman died, Buchanan said it was hard on her, but she took comfort knowing the woman was in God’s hands.

Buchanan had been around death long before she joined Community Hospice volunteers. She recently retired from a nursing career that helped her be able to approach hospice care in a different way than those first seeing death as volunteers.

She said new volunteers often shadow her during visits to learn what hospice care is about, and she does not discourage them from forming relationships.

“Making friends is what it’s about. You can’t be against it or you can’t get close to your patients, so I don’t tell them not to have relationships,” she said.

Buchanan is also part of a smaller volunteer group at Community Hospice called the 11th Hour program. These volunteers are basically part of an “on-call” list to visit patients who unexpectedly receive hospice care or are critically close to dying.

Beth Taylor, spokeswoman for Community Hospice, said these patients are usually estranged from their families or their families cannot get to them quickly enough.

“We never want anyone to die alone,” she said, laying the idea as the foundation for the program.

Volunteers at Community Hospice can make both residential or nursing home visits. They are not involved in the medical care of the patient.

Taylor said sometimes the volunteers can help serve as an extra set of eyes on the patients, alerting nurses and aides to problems.

Community Hospice is looking to add to its volunteer program. Those wishing to become volunteers must undergo training and courses provided by the organization.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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