Care Dimensions volunteer Michael Person of Wakefield may know better than most people about the power of kindness.
He has faced many challenges, including raising a non-verbal special needs daughter, who was born 26 years ago, just six months before his wife, Nicole, was diagnosed with cancer. Nicole died on hospice in 2007.
The kindness of others—including total strangers—has helped Person endure tough times.
“In 2001, a stranger paid for my family and a nurse to go to Disney World for 10 days,” Person recalls. “I was active in my community, even though my wife was battling cancer. People in the community knew us. We didn’t let our challenges stop us from living.”
In 2005, the Person family was one of three final contestants for the reality television show, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” Although they didn’t win, community donations paid for a new addition to their house. When Nicole died two years later, a stranger paid for her funeral. “I still don’t know who it was,” Person says.
As one of 12 children who were taught to give back to their community, Person believes strongly in kindness and helping people. He has volunteered through his church, local food pantry, and other organizations. For the past two years, he has been a Care Dimensions volunteer who visits hospice patients struggling with dementia or other complex conditions.
Person helped care for his wife while she had hospice at home and has been his daughter’s full-time caregiver for nearly 26 years. “I’ve been exposed to a lot of things that the average person hasn’t,” he says. “I naturally feel comfortable around people who are sick.”
Wanting to give back to the hospice that cared for his wife, Person volunteered there for two years. He enjoyed the face-to-face interaction with hospice patients, but in-person visits ended during the COVID-19 pandemic. In late 2021, he took Care Dimensions’ volunteer training, and he has been visiting hospice patients in group homes and long-term care facilities ever since then.
Person often sees patients who are non-verbal but finds a way to communicate with them. “I go where they are,” he says. “I connect with them, engage, and stimulate them. I don’t try to bring them to me.”
His first Care Dimensions patient was a woman who lived in a group home and loved to play cribbage. “I got a cribbage board and looked up how to play it,” Person recalls. “I took her out to the courtyard to play it. Neither of us were very good, but she absolutely loved it.”
One of his current patients, who is living with dementia, enjoys playing with her doll. “I asked my family if anyone had a doll I could use when visiting this patient,” Michael says. “Now she plays with her doll and my doll. She gets all excited when she recognizes me coming across the room. One day, her doll was missing, which upset her. I retrieved it and she was so ecstatic. That’s what comforts her.
“I’ve found that if I can go where my patients are, they recognize that and are so excited and thankful,” Person continues. “Sometimes that means getting down on my knees so I can interact with them face-to-face. I’m a firm believer in quality of life, so I’ll do what I can to help my patients with that. It’s so rewarding when they acknowledge my visit.”
“Michael has a real gift for connecting with his patients,” observes Lorinda Marshall, Care Dimensions senior volunteer coordinator. “He can determine what each patient likes or what they will respond to and is able to form a wonderful bond.”
“I’ve been on the receiving end of people’s generosity for 26 years,” Michael adds. “Life is not a one-way street. You roll with it or lose. I roll with it and try to bring comfort to other people.”
About the author
Lisa Conti is Senior Marketing Communications Specialist for Care Dimensions and manages its Voices of Care blog.
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Since 1978, Care Dimensions, formerly Hospice of the North Shore, has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in over 100 communities in Massachusetts.