Phyllis Osterman, a hospice volunteer with Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County, believes in giving back to her community.
Her father died at home in 1998 surrounded by his family with the support of hospice care, and she was moved to want to help others in the same way.
"I am a strong believer in the blessing of being able to die at home with friends and loved ones by your side," Osterman said.
In the year-and-a-half that she has served as a hospice volunteer, Osterman has cared for many patients.
"It is truly an honor to help people at the most vulnerable time of their lives," she said. "As a hospice volunteer, I visit patients in their homes. Often these individuals feel isolated by their illness, and I offer comfort and companionship to ease their loneliness. I also provide respite to family members who may be overwhelmed and exhausted by caring for their loved one at home.
"In spending time with patients at home, invariably a sacred intimacy develops between us. Patients look forward to my visits and are eager to share stories about their lives. Sometimes patients tell me things that they are reluctant to discuss with their families so as not to pain or burden them. They are free to tell me anything -- I am there to listen with an open heart."
Sometimes she helps patients sort through old photo albums and helps them reminisce.
"Many have shared poignant experiences. Sometimes I help patients organize personal possessions in an effort to prepare their families for what is to come. Other times, there is nothing to do but just be there with the patient, and I've come to realize that that is enough. There is a profound and powerful spiritual connection that develops between the patient and the volunteer, and there are times when the patient just needs to be reassured that he or she is not alone."
Osterman believes that "the gift of hospice is to be present with a dying person and to care for them and to say goodbye. I want to help patients leave this life in comfort, with companionship and love. I feel privileged to serve in this role and see myself as a midwife to the dying.
"Initially, I wasn't sure I would be able to be an effective volunteer. I thought I might be too shy. But I soon realized that this work is not about being outgoing. We each bring our own unique and individual selves to the relationship, and the result is meaningful and rewarding.
"People often ask me how I can do this work. They ask me if it is sad. Yes, it is sad, but it is not just sad. As a hospice volunteer, I see so much resilience and love. I have had the opportunity to make a difference in people's lives.
"This work is an affirmation of all that is good and important in life, and I am honored to be with people at the end of their lives."
For information, visit www.visitingnurse.net.