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Helping make journey “as good as it can be”

Family support volunteer Val Harrison says she feels privileged to work closely with patients on their end-of-life journeys.

Val, who lives in Marsden Valley, has been volunteering at Hospice since 2012. She’s no stranger to caring roles, as she has done paid work as a caregiver for intellectually-disabled people for more than 30 years.

She started out at Hospice helping at a Tuesday morning session called “Have You Ever” – a group for hospice patients in the community to get together and try different things. That group would do activities such as going to the beach, playing housie, making collages, making Cup Day hats for the races, and going on outings to McCashin’s Brewery.

Val says it helped attendees feel less isolated by seeing others on the same journey.

More recently, Val focuses on providing one-to-one help as a family support volunteer. She is matched to a person on Hospice service and supports them and their family in whatever way they require.

She has been involved with families from as little as two weeks to as long as a year.

“I tell them I’m privileged to be there, that it’s their home and that I respect that.

“I’m a stranger in their space but also in their very personal private journey.”

Val has done things as varied as taking a patient op shopping, keeping another person company watching Netflix, hand-washing delicate laundry items, and taking a patient into her garden to help dead-head the roses.

She sees the role as providing time out for the person’s main carer(s) and supporting the family in whatever way they need.

Val says volunteers need to have flexibility “both in their schedules and their outlook”, patience and a positive outlook. She herself decided to volunteer for hospice years ago when a close family member died in hospice care.

“I saw how valuable it was from her perspective, and I felt supported as well after the fact. At the time I thought I would help when I could.

“I just think if I can give the best to make the journey as good as it can be then I can walk away feeling like I’ve done the best I can.”

Volunteers find writing work a privilege

Hospice patients sometimes tell life story writers Edna and David McKegg their lives have been boring, but Edna and David say that is never the case.

How did you get involved in life story writing for hospice? 

Edna: I applied to replace a friend who was leaving town in 2008. I was attracted to it as a worthwhile way to help and to some degree comfort people and their loved ones during a very stressful period for them all.

I used to be a counsellor and it’s made me more aware when there’s something deeper or darker that people want to say.

David: I was a lawyer, prosecutor and judge and finished full time work at the end of 2013 but still wanted to contribute to the community in some practical way. As a judge you get to know human nature, of course, but we’re not judging – we’re just recording.

What is it exactly that you do? 

Edna: Nurses normally let the volunteer coordinator know of someone who would like to compile their story. We meet them and the recording of the story can take many months, usually meeting for about an hour a week.

I take shorthand. David uses a recorder and I transcribe it for him in return for him making dinner.

The patients usually say: ‘My life has been so boring’ but I’ve never found once that they are boring.

David: I engage with people by being friendly, just a friendly presence. I have to be careful not to be a cross-examiner.

What do you find rewarding about this work?

Edna: There’s definitely a sense of satisfaction when a story lies completed on the desk but that’s secondary to seeing the satisfaction the patients and their families get from the work.

Being allowed into the lives of people is a real privilege for us.

What is something the public don’t know about the work you do at Hospice?

The time it takes to complete a story – six to nine months wouldn’t be out of the way. Also, there are aspects of counselling involved, although we don’t undertake that lightly or with any great involvement.

What is special about Nelson Tasman Hospice? 

It provides expert care to those so desperately in need of it and it’s staffed by the most wonderful people who are the largely unsung heroes of any hospice story.

*We thank the Nelson Mail for allowing us to reprint this article which ran in the newspaper and online. 

Couple give back volunteering in shops

Together, Nelson couple Ray and Marg Webster spend their time volunteering at the Nelson Tasman Hospice shop.

Both nurses, Ray and Marg were looking for something they could do to give back to the community once they retired.

“We were casting around for something to give our time to,” Ray said.

“We’d both seen from a professional point of view the benefits of hospice work,” Marg said.

For the last two and a half years, Marg has worked in the hospice shop in Nelson and Ray has been appliance testing at the hospice’s four shops across the region.

The couple are two of the region’s many volunteers who are being celebrated as part of Volunteer Week.

“It’s nice to work in an environment where you can see the generosity of the people who give, the things that are donated are amazing,” Ray said.

“There is a good humoured atmosphere in the place and I think we are all working voluntarily towards a common cause,” Marg said.

The couple also work together to list the rarer items donated to hospice on Trade Me. They recently sold a Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP from 1967 for $201.

Other rare items they had listed included quirky old paintings and collectable cast aluminium FunHo toys.

Both had previously spent time volunteering, Ray trapping in the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary and Marg on the local Taoist Tai Chi committee.

The couple are two of the 400-odd people that volunteer with the Nelson Tasman Hospice. They both said they would recommend it to others.

“It gives people like us a bit of purpose in our later years,” Ray said. “It’s a great cause.”

“I think it gives us a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction and a feeling of worth,” Marg said

Each year New Zealand celebrates National Volunteer Week between June 18 and 24 to recognise and celebrate the vital contribution of New Zealand’s approximately 1.2 million volunteers.

We would like to acknowledge and thank the Nelson Mail for permission to repost this article.

Would You Like to Volunteer?

Contact Volunteer Service to see how you can help Nelson Tasman Hospice.

03 546 3912

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