Volunteering isn’t a chore, it’s a privilege

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- I originally started working for Southern Care Hospice Center in Terre Haute, Indiana, while in college. The first patient I was ever assigned to was Marjorie Burnell.

Marj, as she was commonly known, was 92 when I was first introduced. Her nurse initially told me, "She's only expected to live a few more weeks, so don't get too attached." I was there to comfort and speak with her during her last days.

The first day we met was frustrating because as I sat on the chair next to her bed, my words were never answered or acknowledges. It seemed as though I was only an annoyance. I didn't let that keep me from checking in on her and making it my job to offer support and comfort.

During the next few days, as I continued to have one-way conversations, I finally found the one subject that sparked her interest. I spoke about my recent travels and my goal of traveling the world when Marjorie turned to me and told me about how her and her husband had journeyed to several different countries.

That's when the friendship truly began and my constant visits turned into story time and laughter while sitting at the foot of her bed. It was no longer a volunteering job, but turned into a passion of caring for a friend.

In 2014, as a member of the 122nd Fighter Wing, Indiana Air National Guard, I was deployed and Marj was the first to write me. Once getting back, she insisted I tell her the highlights of the trip and describe the desert and mountainous countries.

Then on September 29, 2015, Marjorie passed away. Suspected to live only two weeks after I met her, Marj lived three additional years to the age of 95.

I didn't realize the impact I had on her life until I attended her funeral. I stood in the back of the room during the ceremony because I didn't know anyone in the room. After the preacher was done speaking, I noticed a line that began to form close by me.

The first elderly lady in line approached me with an extended hand and shook mine saying, ‘You must be Morgan.’

I was confused. How did she know me? Then the next person did the same only to say, "You were the reason she held on." And the next, ‘She called you her granddaughter.’ The entire room knew who I was.

That is the reason I volunteer for hospice. So many of our elderly live in nursing homes, rehab centers, or assisted living with no family around to support them. As youth, it should be our duty to take care of those that have come before us and aid in their comfortability before death.

I currently have two patients I visit on a weekly basis while here in Columbus, Mississippi. I get told every day that I visit, ‘I've been waiting to see you,’ or ‘why didn't you come visit on Sunday,’ or ‘will you be here next week?’ Any hospice patient thrives on having company and living their bedridden lives through your stories and descriptions of the outside world.

Many of the hospice patients are lonely and do not have anyone to talk to. You are given the opportunity to not only provide companionship for an elderly prior to death, but also become a friend and make a difference in their life. You may become the reason for a patient's will to live longer and enjoy life a little more.

Those interested in volunteering can either contact myself for questions and additional information from the Hospice Baptist volunteer coordinator, Katie Bostwick, at katie.bostwick@lhcgroup.com, or via work phone at 662-243-1173. You can volunteer any time that works best for you and your schedule and you can volunteer with as many patients as you wish as well.

When volunteering for Baptist Hospice, you can either choose to help within the office or work one-on-one with hospice patients at various nursing homes and assisted living centers throughout the local area. You are also given the opportunity to participate in community events with Baptist Hospice. Your options for volunteering are endless.

If you choose to work with hospice patients, then you will be matched with an elderly man or woman who is in most need of assistance or someone to talk to. You can assist in transportation or simply sit at a bedside and read a book. Ultimately, you are volunteering to become a friend and listener.