I ring up sales at the cash register in the HUB — Hospice Unique Boutique in Ashland. It's pleasant duty, my weekly volunteer stint in the bright, cheery shop on Ashland Street. The customers are delighted with the treasures they find — clothing, jewelry, furniture, books.
"It's just what I was looking for!" they might say, or "I just came in to browse, and look what I found!"
They're a cross section of the community — sometimes visitors from afar — and many of them are motivated by the mission of HUB: to provide funding for Rogue Valley organizations that provide hospice and end-of-life care. Often I hear, "My father died recently. I don't know what we would have done without hospice."
Caring for a family member who is dying is difficult at best. In the months leading up to her death, my mother grew increasingly agitated and disoriented, often by drugs that relieved the impact of other medications. Pain relievers might trigger anxiety. The pills that calmed her anxiety slurred her speech or caused diarrhea. In the last weeks, I alternated with my three sisters in a round-the-clock vigil at Mom's apartment, managing her meds, cooking, cleaning, feeding, providing company and care.
She would awaken at night moaning or squealing, struggling with phantoms or obsessed with escaping the confinement of walls. In the end, only my soft singing — "Amazing Grace," "A Closer Walk With Thee," "Whispering Hope," "Seein' Nellie Home" — would soothe her.
There were four of us siblings to manage her care, including a hospital nurse with extensive experience, and still the demands were oppressive. I can only imagine the physical and psychological burdens of husbands, wives or children who must cope alone with a loved one's dying. An elderly spouse, for example, might be truly overwhelmed with exhaustion, sleep deprivation, guilt, frustration.
And when it's all over, the pangs might continue. Did I do enough? Did I wish for death to relieve my own burden as well as my loved one's suffering? What do I have left for myself now?
Fortunately, for us there was hospice. Mom's care in those final months was facilitated by a competent and attentive hospice nurse who visited each week and was on call for consultation. She prepared us for what to expect at each stage of the process. It still was difficult, but it was manageable.
The end was peaceful, after all. Mom took her final breath after my sisters sent me out for sandwiches. I'm convinced she thought the girls were stronger and could handle it.
Southern Oregon is blessed with a volunteer spirit, in evidence at organizations such as Asante Hospice, WinterSpring Center and HUB, which operates five days a week with only one paid employee, the shop manager. Each day, four to six volunteers do the arranging, receiving of donations, sorting, pricing and customer service.
The shop will celebrate its third anniversary in June, and each year its proceeds benefitting end-of-life care organizations have doubled: $5,000 in year one, $10,000 in year two. The organizations detail their use of HUB-generated funds in a yearly report to Southern Oregon Friends of Hospice, the nonprofit group that operates HUB. Their reports are gratifying to HUB volunteers, many of whom are paying a debt of gratitude for the hospice services their own families enjoyed.
Lovejoy Hospice of Grants Pass used its $2,000 grant to provide literature and media for patients and families, along with assistance for heating, electricity and transportation. In addition, five overwhelmed family members of a dying patient were given the opportunity for respite from their caregiving duties, a day trip for self-care. And a harpist certified in "music thanatology" soothed a dying patient who was suffering severe agitation.
Providence Hospice used the funds to hire respite caregivers to provide immediate care in crisis situations, to provide medical equipment and supplies and transportation and, once again, the ministry of a hospice harpist.
Ashland Community Hospital Hospice used its grant to provide harpists' services, along with those of licensed massage therapists, and granted "the wish of a last trip to the Oregon coast for two of our patients."
Music thanatology also is the work of Southern Oregon's Threshold Choir, women who volunteer to sing in small groups at the bedsides of hospice patients. The organization has used grant funds to purchase materials and training.
WinterSpring Center in Medford used its grant for operating costs for eight bereavement-support groups. Asante Hospice provided in-service training and materials for its bereavement program.
My father and older brother are with Mom, waiting to greet me some day on the other side. All three had the blessing of hospice care.
Hospice organizations are sometimes discouraged by the tendency of families to wait too long to engage their services, which usually involve no cost to the families. It is hesitation that can unnecessarily intensify the suffering of both the patient and the family.
I celebrate hospice and the volunteers who support its important work.
Jack Seybold is a volunteer at Hospice Unique Boutique in Ashland.