Friday, November 1, 2013

Why I'm a Hospice Volunteer

"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." -Mahatma Gandhi

When I tell people that I'm a hospice volunteer, the most common response is, "I admire what you do, but I could never do it."

So, I'd like to take this opportunity to explain why I'm a hospice volunteer:

  • I have always admired those who do hospice work. Nurses, doctors, social workers and spiritual care coordinators. In my view, they are as close to angels as I am likely to encounter in this earthly realm.
  • I felt drawn to hospice work because I saw it was a way I could apply understandings and skills I had spent a life-time developing - to listen deeply and to trust people to find their own best way, a belief that people can learn important things until the very end of life.
  • I thought it was likely that hospice patients and their families would teach me important lessons that could support me in navigating that passage when my time came to do so.
Five years ago when I first considered becoming a volunteer, I talked with a long-time Canadian professional colleague who has volunteered for many years at a southwestern Ontario hospice.

"As a volunteer, I provide a safe place for clients to share their emotions, which they sometimes were unable to do with their own families who are struggling with the imminent loss of a loved one," she told me. "I learned to focus less on the illness and more on the things I could bring to their lives."

She also described personal benefits. Hospice volunteering, she said, "helped me realize what's important and to prioritize my life on a daily basis. And I've been able to use what I've learned to support friends and family who are not part of hospice when they have gone through illnesses and losses in their own lives."

My responsibilities at Arbor Hospice include:
  • Helping patients of all ages and their families preserve family stories and other important memories on video.
  • Co-leading bereavement groups for individuals who have experienced the loss of a loved one.
Through these experiences, I have had the privilege of learning a great deal about end-of-life issues, lessons I will share with you in coming weeks about facing the prospect of death and about grieving those we have lost.

This blog entry was written by Dennis Sparks, Arbor Hospice Volunteer. You can contact Dennis by commenting below or emailing him at


  1. Hi, Dennis, The comments people give me are similar, along the lines of "It takes someone special to do hospice; I could never do what you do." As we know, we're not special. We just love people and can be present in their deepest moments. It's a privilege where we get even more than we give.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Lorri. It is truly an honor and privilege to accompany patients and families during what is an often profound experience.

  3. I appreciate your blog, Dennis. I have had several family members in Arbor Hospice. When I retired I knew I wanted to volunteer and give back. Having been on the other side, I know how important it is to the caregivers to have this service. I feel I am getting way more than I am giving. It is awesome to have that heartwarming feeling when the caregiver hugs me and says thank you. I have thanked them many times for the privilege of serving them.

  4. That is really true, Sharon – we get back a lot more than we give. Thank you for sharing your experiences as both a family member and a volunteer.