Comforting the Dying, A NODA Volunteer's Experience
“It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving when I got the call. I was going to be hosting my family for Thanksgiving and I had taken off of work to cook and prepare. My first thought was ‘I don’t have time for this’. But then I said to myself, ‘Yes you do Craig. Yes, you do have time to help this person’.”
The call came from Sharon S. Richardson Community Hospice. Craig is a No One Dies Alone (NODA) volunteer for the hospice. There was a hospice patient residing in a local nursing home who had no one to stay with him through the night. He was dying.
“I’m ashamed that I even hesitated. I had to remind myself that perfect potatoes were not what matters in life. I knew I could be there for this man, even though I didn’t know him. I couldn’t stand the thought of him dying alone. Since completing my NODA training at Sharon S. Richardson, I had already sat with two patients, but both of those were at the Hospice Center. This was my first time going out to a facility other than the hospice. I was a little nervous to be honest. When I’m at the hospice center, everyone knows me and they know why I’m there. They check in on me, ask if I need anything to drink and bring me blankets and ask how I’m doing. I have to remind them that I’m here to help them and the patient—they don’t need to take care of me!”
Sharon S. Richardson Community Hospice launched the NODA program in 2015. Select volunteers are trained to be a comforting presence in the last one to two days of a hospice patient’s life. One of the top five fears of the dying is dying alone. While the hospice staff continues to provide the highest level of professional care, staff cannot sit with a patient around the clock. The NODA volunteers fill that role. They stay by the bedside of patients wherever the patient lives, whether that is at the hospice center, at home, or in another facility.
“Going into the nursing home was different than going to the hospice center. No one greeted me. The halls were empty and the rooms were dark. All of those people were alone and it made me sad. I thought, ‘I’m so glad I can be here for Charles’. He was sleeping when I got there and he stayed asleep for most of the time I was with him. But at one point he opened his eyes, sat up and looked at me and said “Hi”, then went right back to sleep. Later I played some soft instrumental music and he didn’t open his eyes but he reached out for my hand. I took his hand and he clasped mine tightly and held on to me for an hour and a half. It was the best conversation in the world without saying word.”
Charles’ wife came in early that morning. She was surprised to find a man sitting with her husband and to learn Charles had not been alone, even while he slept. She hugged Craig and cried. She began to share stories with him as if they were old friends, telling him about her life with Charles. “It was the most meaningful time you could have,” says Craig. “I left there sky-high and floating! I learned that Charles died the next day, on Thanksgiving. He wasn’t alone.”
“I’ve done this three times now, trading shifts with other NODA volunteers or family members. No one has ever died while I was there. Usually the patient is sleeping and I just try to fill the room with positive energy and make sure they know they are not alone. It’s very rewarding for me. Recently I was having a bad day at work and my mother reminded me that I have a new guardian angel watching over me now. She’s right. I have three guardian angels now, and they’ve changed my life.”