Care Dimensions hospice volunteer Bill Brisk chats with patient Wayne Boucher.
For more than four decades, attorney William (Bill) Brisk of Newton has been helping older people and their families navigate the difficult and often changing path of elder law in Massachusetts. Now that he no longer operates his own law firm, he has found another way to put his passion and expertise to good use: as a Care Dimensions hospice volunteer.
Few people in Greater Boston could claim to know as much as Bill does about elder law. He wrote a book about it (“Massachusetts Elder Law”), which was first published in 1998 and has been updated numerous times. He taught elder law at three law schools, introduced a course on End of Life and has written extensively on the subject for various legal publications.
“Soon after I sold my practice and chose to work for a long-time friend and fellow elder law attorney, I considered ways that I could volunteer,” said Bill. “I wanted to find good use of my time and I saw hospice volunteering as a continuation of my work to help people live out their lives as they wanted.”
Every hospice patient is different
Since completing the training to become a Care Dimensions hospice volunteer in 2018, Bill has seen five patients, all in long-term care facilities. But their hospice status and type of residence is where the similarities end.
“No two of my patients have had the same background, medical condition, personality, life history, attitude, or ambitions, but each has taught me about courage facing inevitable challenges.
“Each patient requires a different kind of attention,” Bill continued. “Each person requires a lot of thought – what’s going to rock them? How can I make this hour with this person a good time? I try not to project myself on them, but to understand them first. In my work as a lawyer, I try to solve problems. These (patients) are not problems. I’m just trying to accept people as they are and give back to them.”
He recalled one of his patients was a non-verbal nun. Bill accompanied her to a performance by a young guitarist at the facility and noticed she had no reaction to the music. “I knew that she had taught Irish dancing, so I asked the guitarist to play an Irish song,” Bill recalled. “I saw Sister mouth words to the song and she started ‘dancing’ in her wheelchair. That was wonderful. It made my week!”
One of his current patients is a 73-year-old bedridden Navy veteran named Wayne who enjoys sharing his interpretations of Bible passages. “We have good discussions, and his wife, Jeanne, often participates,” said Bill. “Jeanne is extraordinarily devoted to Wayne and spends hours each day with him. They communicate beautifully, both verbally and spiritually. Their strong religious beliefs have strengthened their commitment to each other and provide an optimistic backdrop to what he is experiencing. I judge each visit as an opportunity to raise his spirit and, at the same time, silently convey my respect to Jeanne for her unbounded devotion.
“My experience as a hospice volunteer has strengthened my respect for the patients I see and the grace they show in confronting reality,” Bill added. “I hope some of the courage, patience, and especially the grace will visit me sometime in the future.”
“Bill has a great relationship with his patients and meets them where they’re at,” said Jane Corrigan, Care Dimensions senior volunteer coordinator. “We’re very proud of the growth he’s had as a volunteer and what he brings to the patients on every level.”
Gaining life lessons as a hospice volunteer
After nearly two years as a Care Dimensions hospice volunteer, Bill said he is still learning with each new patient and finds the work satisfying and rewarding.
“Whatever I have done for the patients, they have done far more for me by welcoming me and helping me find positives where others might be immersed in negativity. We are all going to face death. I gain a little peace of mind by seeing people through this stage. Maybe I’ll learn a little more that I can use when it’s my turn.”
Learn how you, too, can make a difference as a Care Dimensions hospice volunteer.
About the author
Lisa Conti is Senior Marketing Communications Specialist for Care Dimensions and manages its Voices of Care blog.