Firestone couple celebrates 10 years of volunteering for hospice agency

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A married pair from Firestone who have spent a decade dedicated to giving back proves that couples who volunteer together can leave an impact on others together.

On Feb. 22, Don and Ruth Claeys of Firestone celebrated their 10th anniversary of volunteering for AccentCare Hospice of Loveland, a hospice agency serving Weld County, Larimer County and surrounding communities.

The Claeys heard about the opportunity to provide companionship to hospice patients 10 years ago and never looked back, impacting the lives of about 30 to 40 people over time. Don and Ruth Claeys of Firestone celebrated their 10th anniversary of volunteering for AccentCare Hospice of Loveland. (Staff/Morgan McKenzie)

 

On a weekly basis for the past 10 years, the couple has visited separately with a patient by keeping them company, learning about their backgrounds, providing support and, for Don, cracking a joke or two. The two, who have been married for 56 years, then regroup to talk, each sharing their unique but shared experiences with their patients.

“You get pleasure out of it,” Don said. “Sometimes they don’t have family. Other than the nurses and the doctors, you might be the only one seeing them.”

A visit can consist of small talk or doing a crossword puzzle, but Ruth personally enjoys hearing her patients’ fascinating stories from childhood to adulthood, even if she hears a story more than once. Don similarly has enjoys getting to know his patients, truly becoming companions.

One of Don’s former patients, who has since passed, was a 98-year-old vet who never failed to create a meaningful conversation where the two could talk about anything, something Don really loved about his time with him.

But Don, an Army veteran who typically spends his time with other veterans in hospice, confirms that not every patient’s abilities are the same.

Some hospice patients can only listen due to a lack of communication, some patients can be repetitive with their conversations, and some can have riveting discussions, the pair shared.

“There have been several patients throughout the years … some you enjoy being with and some, it’s just really hard,” Don said.

Nonetheless, for Ruth, a great reward as a volunteer happens when a patient recognizes her, even if it takes time to accomplish. It’s especially beneficial when they show excitement to see her, she said. A case manager added that many of her hospice patients have requested the company of the Claeys due to their ability to brighten a day.

The Claeys provide support to the same companion each week until that patient moves on from hospice. They then become assigned to another person in need of their company.

The pair’s volunteer capacities typically endure until their patients’ last minutes as part of being 11th Hour trained.

The 11th Hour, a protocol also known as NODA or “No One Dies Alone,” means the couple receives a call from AccentCare Hospice staff members when one of their patients is near death so they can make one last visit to say some very difficult goodbyes.

“No One Dies Alone” follows AccentCare Hospice’s mission to deliver support and a hand to hold while patients take their last breaths, according to Jamie Carlsen, executive director of AccentCare. Carlsen said the Claeyses’ presence to their dozens of patients over the years has created a purpose for them and the people they have impacted.

Hospice companion volunteers increase happiness and joy among patients at the end of their lives, and even prolong their lives, she said.

“I approach it from the fact that when you’re born, everybody welcomes you,” Ruth said. “And when you’re passing away, sometimes you’re all alone. So if we can provide a little bit of comfort for them, that’s good.”

The Claeys have made a huge impact on patients and their families by bringing consistency, happiness and joy wherever they go, according to Carlsen. The agency has a great need for patient companions in all the places they serve, but thanks to longtime volunteers such as Don and Ruth, many patients have experienced warmth, kindliness and plenty of humor at the end of their lives.

AccentCare Hospice plans to honor the couple at their volunteer appreciation dinner in April.

“We get more satisfaction back I think that they do,” Ruth said about her patients. “To me, that’s just worth a million bucks.”

Firestone couple celebrates 10 years of volunteering for hospice agency – Greeley Tribune[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]