Why I Volunteer By Jeannie Palermo, In-Home Volunteer and End-of-Life Doula

 I am moved by the gratitude of the caregivers for what seems to be so little for me to give.

Twelve years ago I took an early retirement from my government job so that I could accompany my husband on a three year, temporary job assignment, on the Big Island of Hawaii (pictured above). I planned to find some volunteer work while I was there and go back to full time employment when we returned. I serendipitously met the new Executive Director of the North Hawaii Hospice (NHH) at an unrelated event shortly after arriving and quickly found myself as a volunteer for the NNH, first in the office and later as an in-home volunteer. I found the experience so rewarding that five years later when we moved back to the mainland, and then again to Morro Bay, I knew I wanted to find another hospice to volunteer with. I didn't think I would ever find a hospice I connected to as I did to NHH.

I saw a flyer for the volunteer training in a storefront window in Cambria and found my way to Hospice SLO County. I didn't know at the time that it was going to be the beginning of a whole new chapter of my life. I enjoy being an in-home volunteer, getting to know clients and their families and am truly grateful for the people I have met. I have met people from so many interesting walks of life and with so many wonderful stories to share as we lunch together, take a drive to the beach, work on their physical therapy exercises or just sit and visit. I am moved by the gratitude of the caregivers for what seems to be so little for me to give. Those few hours of respite gives them time to take care of themselves, run errands, and attend to their own medical needs or the other many little necessities of life that suddenly become so difficult when you are the primary caregiver of someone with a terminal illness. I have learned that there are so many families in the SLO County who are desperate for just a little help.

I was an in-home volunteer here for about a year when the first End of Life (EOL) Doula training at Hospice SLO County was offered in 2015. Until then, I hadn't heard the term Doula used in the death context. Prior to the EOL Doula training I had been at bedside vigils and was aware that this was a part of the service that called to me, but after becoming a Doula I felt so much better prepared to help clients and their families - especially in those last days and hours. I am grateful to be alongside someone, knowing if I was not there, they would transition to the next life alone. Even more rewarding is when the client has family with them and I can be there to help them be calm and less afraid to take that journey with a loved one. I can offer family members the ability to sleep for a bit, knowing that someone is with their loved one - and wake them when the time comes if that is what they want, or just help them to be less anxious about watching the dying process. When we are lucky enough to have a family that comes into hospice sooner rather than later I have had the opportunity to help dying people make plans for the end of life that bring them comfort. Whether this is writing letters to loved ones; making post- death arrangements; "putting things in order;" or making provisions for how they want to be remembered in countless other ways. 

I have been a hospice volunteer for five different hospices over the past twelve years and I am amazed at the breadth of service Hospice SLO County has to offer. As a volunteer hospice, they work as a beautiful complement of services to the local medical hospices and are able to assist families who, for a variety of reasons, do not yet qualify for a medical hospice. Being a part of this organization has given me new purpose in life and I know that my little contribution has made a worthwhile impact on many people and families. I feel very fortunate to be part of the Hospice SLO County team.