Hospice Houses and Old Grandads

I am a hospice volunteer.

Hospice of Warren County is amazing. Last year I did a series of articles on the volunteers that make the organization work and it’s just breathtaking the amount of good they do in our community.

They were there for my grandmother when she died of lung cancer in 2000. I was too young to really appreciate the impact they had on my family during that time. After interviewing a dozen volunteers, and seeing the residence for myself, I took the training to become a volunteer.

I don’t feel called to much in this life, but there are a handful of things that I just know, with the same certainty I have that the sky is blue or the sun is yellow, that I am meant to be doing.

Hospice is one of those things.

Free grief counseling. Free grief camps for kiddos. Grief support groups. And that’s just for the families. For patients facing end-of-life transitions they do so much more in an entirely altruistic effort to preserve what every human being clings most desperately to: dignity.

It can be a hard thing to maintain in such an undignified circumstance as terminal illness and the end of one’s life. For the patient, there are too many services provided by Hospice of Warren County to list.

Veteran recognition.

Legacy books.

Reike and massage, for patients and caregivers.

Haircuts.

Basic support so that caregivers can get an hour or two of time to recover.

It’s just so much. And it’s such a need met.

Hospice of Warren County is also, and this means more than you can know, one of the only service providers that cared only about the agency and it’s services when I talked to them. That was their only agenda. Just make sure people know the agency for what it does, not for who makes up its staff.

There is no ego and no agenda with these people. Only to be able to preserve dignity at end-of-life.

Not one volunteer, each of which I interviewed individually and without staff present, had a bad thing to say. They all literally glowed when they talked about HOWC. Almost all of them had been so profoundly touched by HOWC’s presence in their lives during the death of a loved one that they reached out on their own to ask to be a volunteer out of their organic passion for the work.

That is not something one sees, like…ever.

And in Warren we have a most amazing hospice residence, where patients and families can get top of the line care and support in a beautiful, peaceful setting.

Yes, it’s a house where a lot of people have passed away. But when you walk in, the spirit is uplifting, comforting, and fulfilling. I feel like I’m getting a hug every time I walk in the door.

And I feel bad to be getting anything in return for giving time there, but I do.

I got a call from the volunteer coordinator yesterday asking if I could cover the 4 to 7 volunteer shift and I was so excited to be able to say yes.

I’m a sub, and it’s rare that there’s a need when I’m available to fill it. But I was able tonight, and there was a need.

It made me so happy to be able to spend a couple of hours just being there, being helpful. Doing dishes. Running errands. Having a conversation with the patient.

Volunteering for hospice patients feeds me on a soul level.

As the patient ate a big dinner that his nurse and I made him, I felt myself being nourished with every bite he took.

I left feeling filled.

It was so great.

I ran back to the office afterward because I wanted to make sure that Jon had everything he needed. One of the reporters had a vacation day today so that meant just me to carry the morning and afternoon until the night reporter got there. It’s a lot, on solo days, but I enjoy them and don’t tend to have any trouble finding content to put in the editorial queue. But I did want to just check in afterward.

So of course I wound up doing a bit of touch up on the column when I got there for my two minute check-in and closure appearance. Which meant I had some time. The night reporter showed up after going to check on a fire that turned out to be not a fire with Taco Bell and I admit, the smell is a trigger. I was going to come home and make good choices. I decided instead to splurge on an order of Old Granddad chicken lips from The Cornerstone.

The Cornerstone is one of those old timey hometown bars where you’re likely to see the same people and the food is as delicious as it is heinous for your body.

I called them in, finished my column, and headed across town to pick up the lips.

For those of you who haven’t had the joy of experiencing a chicken lip, it’s basically a boneless chicken wing. And I have zero class, so I love me a damn bowl of hot wings.

The Old Granddad flavor is a Cornerstone original. It’s a mild buffalo wing double friend (fried once, covered in buffalo sauce, and fried again) and then dusted with lemon pepper seasoning.

They’re so deliciously terrible for you.

While I was waiting at the bar I ran across Jeff Scott.

Jeff lived next to my parents’ house in Lander (the woods of northwestern Pennsylvania) and he had the most adorable pitbull the world has ever known.

Kinzua. Named after the perfidious lake of the same moniker.

The first pitbull I’d ever encountered, I thought the day that I met Kinzua – as he came bounding across my parents’ lawn, all square jaw and glittering black eyes set in a tawny buckskin and cream coat stretched taut over a trembling body of pure muscle and sinew – I truly believed that here was how my life would end.

The second Kinzua reached me he flopped onto his back, exposing his vulnerable belly in a blatant sign of ultimate love and perfect trust, for a dog who’s never seen you a day in its life, and whimpered that high-pitched, pleading whine of the canine in furious need of belly rubs, until I bent down to stroke him.

It was so great to see Jeff. He was tanned and ruddy from a recent trip to Florida, and he was already pretty well into the nights drinks so his booming, thunderous voice was as bright and unabashed as ever.

It was so great to catch up with him.

Kinzua (Zooey) went to dog heaven since last we spoke, but he had a good run. Fifteen years of terrifying sweetness.

I’m never not surprised when social interaction becomes easy for a day. Jeff, the patient, and the hospice house nurse we’re all easy to be around. The conversation was enjoyable, and effortless. Perhaps more telling is the fact that the awkward silences were anything but awkward.

I know it’s because of the rapport I have under my belt with Jeff, and I find that hospice people tend to be comfortable and comforting. But regardless of why, I’ll take a good, essentially anxiety-free day whenvever I can get my hands on one.

No doubt.

It was a good day.

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