BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - When someone enters hospice care, they are choosing to live their life to the fullest, as they prepare to die.
Having a support system is vital during this time, not just for the patient, but for those they will soon leave behind.
November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month
Volunteers don't provide medical or personal care to hospice patients, but they are a vital lifeline for those near the end of their life.
Joy Hollowell with part two of her special report on Hospice Helpers.
Each week, Wilnette Reid, Johneen Eckardt, and Peggy Ford get together to play dice. They are often joined by a third player, Mary.
"We call it 10,000," explains Reid. "You roll the dice, and the numbers add up until you get to 10,000."
Wilnette, or Willie as she's called, keeps score.
AT 93, she is the epitome of longevity. Hard to believe that four years ago, Willie's cardiologist recommended she enter hospice.
"What I knew from a long time ago, it seemed like anyone entering hospice was near death," says Reid. "And at this point, I'm still near death. But I am enjoying the time as I get there."
Johneen, Peggy and Mary are all hospice volunteers.
"I've found people, and Willie is a perfect example of that, to really grasp the positives of life," says Eckardt. "To acknowledge the realities, but to always look for the best of this day and the promise of tomorrow. That's pretty life affirming."
Ford starting volunteering for hospice 10 years ago. At first, she worried about growing close to patients so close to death.
"Scared the pants off of me, to tell you the truth," says Ford. "But you know, I used to be afraid of dying. Since I've been on hospice, it's just another part of life."
"You'll hurt, you'll weep, you will grieve. But you will always be happy that you invested the time in yourself in that relationship," says Wayne Melanson, volunteer coordinator for Northern Light Home Care and Hospice.
"Sometimes it's just being there," he adds. "Because if a patient is at the end stage of life, then the real gift is just presence. Knowing that somebody is there with them."
"When someone comes in to hospice, we like to say they're taking control back of their life.," says Dr. Jim VanKirk. physician for Northern Light Home Care and Hospice. "They're deciding to focus on quality of life. And interestingly, studies have shown that people who get into hospice sooner, live longer and have better lives."
Dr. VanKirk says hospice in the United States was actually started by volunteers. "The medical side grew out of volunteer programs," he explains. "So really, it is the core of what hospice is all about"
Now, the push is on to recruit more volunteers, particularly in rural areas of Maine. Just three students make up the fall training class for Northern Light Hospice. There are no other sessions currently scheduled.
Eckardt is entering her 15th year as a hospice volunteer. She calls her experience life changing.
"The value that we hope we bring and the honor that's bestowed on us by these families, these individuals who are at end of life gives me so much strength," she says. "It has enabled me to get up every morning and have a profound gratitude for the day. I'm not really sure I got that prior to becoming involved in hospice care."
Community based hospice volunteers are needed all over Maine.
If you're interested, links to that information can be found here-