The third in a series…
A Conversation with Sheilamary Boydell, Visiting Volunteer with HHPC
Sheilamary has been a visiting volunteer with HHPC since 2013. A retired French teacher, she grew up in Birmingham, England, and came to Canada in 1977, settling in the Almonte area in 1984. Sheilamary was one of our very first trained home visiting volunteers and has been a great support to her clients as well as the coordinator and other volunteers for the past five years. She has contributed countless home visiting hours and gone beyond the call of duty. We will all miss her kind heart, caring and commitment as she begins a new chapter of her life…moving to be closer to family. Sheilamary has plans to join a new hospice and to continue her good work in her new home. We miss her already!
What made you decide to become a volunteer?
A few years ago, I had a very good friend who was dying. She asked me if I would consider spending time with her to help make her last days more bearable. I agreed, with some trepidation. I was afraid it might me too much for me, but it wasn’t. When she died I wished that I could have helped her more and I thought about that there must be others who might not have someone to support them in their last days. So, when I learned about HHPC and saw that they were looking for volunteers and that they offered training, I decided to submit my name, and was accepted.
Can you tell us about your training?
It was very interesting. An experienced Palliative Care Volunteer Educator led the first HHPC training program. It was held once a week for 6 weeks (35 hours in total). As part of our continuing education there have been many additional courses and seminars that have helped us to help our clients.
Did you feel well prepared after you completed the initial training program?
Yes. The training was very comprehensive. I learned things far beyond the scope of what I expected, and the continuing education and monthly visiting volunteer meetings helps, I believe, to keep our skills fresh.
Is it difficult to do your work?
No, not really. I love it. It feels like such a privilege to be invited into somebody’s life under these circumstances.
What are the best and hardest parts of what you do?
You know, our clients invite you in as a friend. Because I am a trained listener they are able to talk to me about things they can perhaps not share with anyone else, even family. We are trained to leave our own beliefs or opinions at the door. As I have no history with the client, I don’t know about whatever they may have done in the past, so I can just accept them completely for who they are in this very moment. Sometimes you grow very fond of the clients, you know, and you miss them when they are gone.
And yes, of course some things are a bit hard. Sometimes it is hard to witness to some of the things that I see. Any observations or concerns I may have I share with Allison, the Coordinator. I try to help with the awkwardness some people feel when they are with someone living through the end of their life. I wish we as a society were better prepared to deal with death. It is very hard to witness the way many clients feel they have become a burden to their family; or that they are wasting the time of the visiting nurses or their doctors. It’s so sad. They sometimes feel that they are living too long…or more accurately, that they are dying too slowly.
I only hope that the visits from a trained HHPC volunteer can make some small difference to their quality of life.
What are some of the things that you do when you are visiting with your clients? And who (in a general sense) are your clients?
Of course I can’t tell you who my clients are by name or where they live —we are very, very careful about privacy, but I can tell you that they are within the adult age range. They each are living with a condition for which there is no known cure. Some I have worked with for about 3 years and some only a very short time.
For the most part, they share their stories with me. I had a client who liked it when I sang with her. Another loved to reminisce about his war experiences and talk about local history. One of my clients liked to pray the rosary together. One client, who had great difficulty using her hands wanted to write letters to leave for her family, so I wrote down what she dictated. Sometimes we take a little walk. Occasionally I help with eating. And we laugh often, too. A sense of humour is important.
Quite often, as well, the family needs support. They often will draw me to the side and ask questions or tell me things they need to talk about. I see the fatigue and sadness among family and friends. Some feel very alone and tired. I am in the home not only for the client but for the family as well. So I am there for them, too. Family members often take advantage of my visits to take some time for themselves.
Do you get support, especially after your client dies?
Yes. Allison (the volunteer coordinator for HHPC) is always available for us, as is another member of the Board. And the volunteers support each other. Sometimes with a quick hug when we run into each other at the grocery store, but more so at our monthly meetings when we have the opportunity to strongly support each other. Just a note though, on that. Even at these meetings we do not use our client’s name, in order to protect privacy.
Allison keeps an eye out to ensure that we are fulfilling our obligations, and also to make sure we are not becoming at risk for burnout.
What really helps, too, are the thanks you receive from the client’s family. I have had some wonderful expressions of appreciation. It is humbling.
What are you most proud of?
I am proud of the work we do as volunteers. We each have different gifts and different talents. Something I may not be able to do, another volunteer has in spades. Allison does a wonderful job of matching up the right volunteer to each client.
I feel that we are doing something that is worthwhile. As much as I would like to see a building for hospice in our community, I enjoy going to people’s home where they are surrounded by the things that are familiar to them. Sometimes their “home” is in a long-term care facility, where they also have items of their own around them. So often a photo, or a picture on the wall or a memento on a shelf triggers a lovely memory.
What do you have on your wish list for HHPC?
I wish that more people knew about us; that they recognized what a wonderful resource we are. Sometimes we aren’t called to help until it is almost too late; just a day or two before someone dies. We can’t develop a rapport then. So I would encourage anyone who has received a life-threatening diagnosis to reach out to HHPC. As I said earlier, Allison is very good at matching the appropriate volunteer to each client, taking into account age, interests, skills and so on. We can only help if we are invited to do so. It is our great honour.
About Hub Hospice Palliative Care
Hub Hospice Palliative Care (HHPC) is a not-for-profit registered Canadian charity funded through donations and targeted fundraising initiatives. We are a “Hospice without walls.” We provide in-home palliative care support for adult clients and their families (personal residences, long-term care homes, retirement homes or hospitals) in North Lanark.