Jim Reid learned about hospice in 1994, when he went to Baltimore, Maryland, to be with his mother who lived alone and had cancer. He met with a social worker who explained the hospice program. He was impressed.
“I was just blown away by how happy they seemed to be,” he said. “These people are surrounded by death every day, but they are joyful and enjoying their job. The rooms looked like what your bedroom might look like. I couldn’t tell who worked there and who didn’t work there. It was just like home.”
Reid’s mother passed away in about a week, he said. When he returned home, he started volunteering at Visiting Nurse Association, Community Hospice of the Fox Cities, which later was purchased by ThedaCare. He visited people in their homes.
Today, Reid volunteers at ThedaCare At Home Hospice for a few hours on Saturday mornings, primarily at Cherry Meadows.
“The medical professionals who work in hospice are very compassionate and love what they do and really care about the families and the patients,” he said. “I’ve been at it for 23 years now.”
Reid is among five members of the Retired & Senior Volunteer 55+ Program who served 276 hours last year with hospice agencies in the Fox Cities.
His role is to make patients as comfortable as possible. He typically serves made-to-order breakfast to patients. Sometimes he gets water or snacks for them. Sometimes he holds their hand. Sometimes he simply sits with them in silence.
“I rarely talk, he said. “I mostly listen. Listening is something most people don’t do well … It’s a discipline. They’ll talk to you about the troubles and challenges they face with their health that they don’t talk to their loved ones about. We are not trying to save their lives.”
The goal of hospice is to die comfortably at home, but people may not have a family or their family cannot care for them.
“Bringing them to a place like Cherry Meadows, there is a nurse on staff 24 hours a day,” he said. “They are able to manage meds. Some people are there for months. Some people are there for days.”
Jane Shea, hospice volunteer coordinator, said Reid looks for ways to be supportive.
“He serves breakfast and he also fills bird feeders every week,” she said. “If someone wants to come to shadow, he provides wonderful training and gives feedback. Jim always looks for ways to improve our program.”
Reid said his hospice volunteer experience has provided him with insight into the dementia of Carol, his wife of 50 years.
“I’ve seen the symptoms – all the things my wife is going through,” he said. “Caring for a loved one is very different from volunteering.”
At this point in his life, he wants to give back and at Cherry Meadows, he’s doing just that.
“I just think it’s such a privilege,” he said. “If you can make five minutes of their end of life peaceful for them, pain-free, it’s well worth it.”