Care Dimensions hospice volunteer Laura O'Connor
Laura O’Connor knows it’s never too late to learn and not all lessons happen in a classroom.
A former stay-at-home mom who is pursuing a master’s degree in spirituality, Laura says she has learned a lot about interacting with people as a Care Dimensions hospice volunteer and about the rewards it brings her.
Introduction to hospice, volunteering
Laura became aware of Care Dimensions a few years ago when she sang with a choir at a Care Dimensions service of remembrance. Many fellow members of her LaSalette Faith Community volunteered for various community organizations and had personal experience volunteering with and using Care Dimensions at end of life.
“I learned about the array of services Care Dimensions provides for those with serious illness and it made me realize a close family member could have benefited from that kind of care before she died but we were too late in setting it up. It made me want to investigate Care Dimensions further and I signed up to become a volunteer.”
Laura began hospice volunteer training in person just before the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to move online. After completing the training virtually, she was assigned her first patient – a woman in her 90s who lived near Laura’s North Shore community and wanted companionship.
“It was wonderful,” recalls Laura. “I got to meet her during the pandemic as we both wore masks and kept a safe distance. We’d have tea. She’d talk for a while then we watched a lot of YouTube videos about rescue animals. My visits gave her daughter a break, a chance to get out of the house. I only saw her a few times, but I loved spending time with her.”
Volunteering shifted to phone calls
When the pandemic put in-person volunteer visits on hold, Laura took virtual training on how to make bereavement calls to people whose loved ones had died three months earlier. “It’s been a blessing to make those calls,” Laura says. “I didn’t realize I’d enjoy connecting with people over the phone and listening to what they’re going through. I had some uplifting calls and deep conversations with people.”
“A lot of people are touched that someone is calling,” Laura continues. “Some would tell me, ‘I’m so glad you called today. I needed to talk to someone,’ and that made me feel so glad that I was able to help, even just by listening. It’s not why I signed up for hospice volunteering, but it has been incredibly rewarding and so important during these times when everyone’s been so isolated.”
Laura also delivered gift bags to bereaved family members of Care Dimensions patients who died last year. (Each bag contained a note, votive candle, picture frame, and river stone.) One delivery stands out in her memory.
“I was dropping off a bag at an elderly man’s house. He came out of his home and wanted to visit, so we talked for a while. We had a chat and a few laughs. I think he was lonely because his spouse was gone. Just to have a friendly face dropping off that bag brought a smile to his face. He needed it, and I’m glad we talked.”
Return to in-person volunteering
After Laura became fully vaccinated against COVID-19, she was eager to resume in-person volunteer visits and in March was assigned an 84-year-old female patient who lives alone and uses a wheelchair.
“From the moment we met, she and I hit it off,” recalls Laura. “She’s more on the quiet, reserved side, so I did most of the chatting, but we quickly learned that we had similar experiences and interests. As soon as I found out she’s a big hockey fan, we had a lot to talk about.”
Laura’s boyfriend was a collegiate hockey player and is a longtime Boston Bruins fan. He’s also friends with a retired National Hockey League player who lives in the area.
“I saw Bruins paraphernalia when I first walked into my patient’s home,” says Laura. “She’s a lifelong hockey fan and incredibly knowledgeable. I was able to bring her a signed photo and arrange a visit with one of our friends, who she was a fan of. We had such a great time. She was so excited, and it was a highlight of my time with her.”
When not discussing hockey, Laura and her patient find plenty of other things to do during Laura’s weekly visits. When the weather is nice, Laura pushes her patient in the wheelchair around the neighborhood and they get ice cream. Other times, they sit and enjoy the surroundings, which include a river, marsh, and lots of wildlife. They both have a love of nature. This summer, they saw a bald eagle fly overhead.
“It was extraordinary,” says Laura. “Volunteering in person with a patient creates moments that you just can’t get virtually. It also allows me to see how she’s doing. For example, during a recent heat wave, her house was hot. I set up fans and checked in on her. I was able to give her care team an idea of how she was feeling.”
Laura has brought plants and containers so her patient can maintain her own little garden. She also has brought toys for her patient’s cat. Her patient is a huge animal lover.
Now that they’ve gotten to know each other, Laura does more listening than talking.
“We’ve gone through her family photographs and I listen to the stories she has about her siblings, who were all older and have since passed,” says Laura. “We’ve been able to look up old articles and yearbooks online and read about some things that she didn’t know about her siblings. It has been very meaningful to her.”
Rewards of being a hospice volunteer
Laura and her patient look forward to their weekly visits.
“She feels like family,” Laura says. “We’ve grown close. She encouraged me to pursue my master’s in spirituality so that I eventually can become a hospice chaplain. Spending time with her is fun and I feel privileged to hear her stories. She is very funny and wise. I always end up hearing something that I needed to hear.
“Every time I call to tell her I’m coming, she’s excited,” Laura adds. “It’s great to know that I’ve been able to help in a way that makes a difference and I’m always glad that I spent time with her. Each visit is a gift to both of us.”
Learn about volunteering with Care Dimensions.
About the author
Lisa Conti is Senior Marketing Communications Specialist for Care Dimensions and manages its Voices of Care blog.