Hospice volunteer Betsy Swaim is certified in Reiki and compassionate touch.
In 2015, Concord resident Betsy Swaim retired from working with a variety of nonprofit organizations in Greater Boston. In addition to her professional work, she has many hobbies and interests, including being an avid gardener, and a deacon and choir member at her church. She is also certified in Reiki and compassionate touch.
Post-retirement, Betsy knew she wanted a volunteer opportunity to which she could bring her professional skills and interests and her personal experience as a family caregiver for loved ones with a terminal illness, including her parents, a sister and her late husband, who had died of ALS.
“I was so appreciative of the care and concern that they had received,” says Betsy. “I was aware that being a caregiver is demanding and exhausting.”
Some friends suggested that she inquire about becoming a hospice volunteer. Betsy contacted Care Dimensions and signed up for the required 21-hour volunteer training which, luckily, started just after the end of gardening season.
“I found that training excellent,” Betsy says. “As someone who had facilitated many trainings myself, I was totally impressed.”
Since completing her training, Betsy has signed up for many additional, specialized volunteer trainings, including caring for dementia patients, veterans, LGBTQ patients, and doing bereavement support calls to families who have lost a loved one.
Soon into her volunteer role, as she visited patients in their homes, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, Betsy discovered that there is no such thing as a “typical” patient encounter. Sometimes she brings a bouquet of freshly cut flowers from her garden, or she offers Reiki and compassionate touch.
For all visits, she draws upon her own experiences as a caregiver and remembers how end-of-life care can bring a daily roster of clinical and non-clinical visitors to the house.
“I remember how that felt, so I always explain to the family exactly who I am and my role as a volunteer,” says Betsy.
When she is assigned a new patient, Betsy takes her cues from household items such as bedside photographs or mementoes—which help her to find ways to begin to engage with a patient. For example, she recalls one woman who was mostly non-verbal and who enjoyed playing cribbage. So during their time together, Betsy and her patient played two-hour cribbage games.
She also recalls a male patient at a long-term care facility who, although his family visited regularly, he did not remember those encounters. Betsy helped him to go through his family photo albums, which helped him to overcome his loneliness.
Soon into her tenure as a Care Dimensions hospice volunteer, Betsy decided to add another service to her patient-care toolbox. She signed up and took the specialized training to do bedside vigils.
“Often, the family of the dying patient wants to be present 24/7, but I know from my own experience that it’s not always possible,” she says. “It makes a great difference to the family to know that someone is there.”
For vigil visits, she generally brings along some soft, soothing music and finds gentle ways to let the patient know that they are not alone.
“I want to be present as much as possible,” Betsy says. “As a hospice volunteer you get as much as you give and sometimes more.”
Find out about our next hospice volunteer training opportunities in greater Boston, the North Shore and the Merrimack Valley. Or complete our online volunter application.