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Volunteer Stories

Horizon Volunteers Share Their Experiences

Rewarded from giving back

“Horizon Hospice is a great place to volunteer. My desire was to find a place where I could give back without receiving anything in return. I realized immediately that at Horizon, there is a reward, and it is greater than I could ever have imagined. The staff is wonderful, helpful, cheery, and patient. They make their volunteers feel so special, so we in turn can make the patients and their families feel special. I wouldn’t trade my time volunteering at Horizon for anything!”

– Hospice Companion, Marla McGatli

My mission….

"I visited Yvonne with the intention of reading to her, but we struggled with it because her hearing isn't very good and she was having trouble following the story. Instead we talked for a little while -- mostly her telling me about her life these days. She seems very sad and said she doesn't know what she's still here for. We spent some time talking about things we could do together if reading doesn't always work, like cooking and baking or maybe trying to watch some TV, although that's difficult for her because she can't see or hear the screen well. I found Yvonne to be an absolutely lovely woman, and left the visit feeling sad, but determined to find a way to make her smile. I plan to go back soon and bring my record player and some records and see if we can enjoy listening to some music together. I also want to engage in some life review with her, because I'm sure she has some amazing stories to tell. My mission is to remind her that she's important."

Words aren’t always enough

"I went to see Grace on Sunday, and when I arrived I found her daughter, Pat, already there. Pat had come to help Grace with lunch, since she hasn't been eating very well. Grace is very sleepy and didn't have a lot of energy to interact, so Pat and I each held one of Grace's hands and chatted with each other a bit. Pat is wonderful and so welcoming.

Even though Grace is lethargic and seems to be rather uncomfortable, she is still a sweetheart through and through. When an aide came by to swab Grace's mouth, Grace was very polite and said thank you. And when I left, I said, 'I love you, Grace.' And she said, 'Thank you. I love you too.'"

Deep conversations

"Last night I visited Barb Zillmer for the first ‘official’ time (I’ve been visiting her for a couple of years since she is a family friend).  We kept the fact that a familiar person was to be her volunteer, and she was pleased to see it was me.  She said she wondered what she would have to talk about for 2 hours with a new person.

We talked about what it might be like in heaven, her sister’s recent death, how she misses her parents and friends who have already passed, but the conversation was not negative.  She is very realistic about her health situation and is trying to be prepared as possible.  Yesterday she discussed funeral arrangements with her daughter, Claire. 

Barb is an avid reader (a book a day) so we discussed some of what she was reading, and she shared some photos and stories of friends and family.  Conversation continued until 8pm when we watched one of her favorite televangelists.  She said I must meet the Horizon Chaplain, as she liked him very much – and was very pleased with all the Horizon staff she had met.

Barb did express concern she is feeling that caregivers Denise and husband Tom are becoming tired of taking care of her, so I was a sad she felt she is ‘draining’ on them.  However, I am aware that seven or so years of home care has begun to affect the couple.    Denise also expressed she felt her Mother may not be serious enough for hospice much longer, as her condition seems to be improving.  She, of course, will be working with the nurse on that. 

I encouraged Denise to call on me as needed or think about whether she would prefer a specific night each week.  That is to be determined, so I am not sure when my next visit is to be.  I arrived at 6:30 and was home by 8:45pm.

Thank you for this WONDERFUL opportunity.  I am so grateful the family chose Horizon Hospice and that I am able to be of some help for this loving family."

The next week…

"I visited with Barb Zillmer and her family last night.  With such a sudden turn in Barb’s health on Sunday, everyone was quite stunned that their goodbye process has sped up.  Barb’s two daughters and one son (with his wife) were all present, and the family had brought grandchildren and great-grandchildren to visit earlier on Monday.  Even through the morphine, Barb was able to open her eyes long enough to greet them.

I offered to be of any kind of services to the family – errands, meals, or just to sit with Barb so the others could step out of the room for a break, which is what Denise (Dee) felt would help her this night.  As it turned out, Dee and I sat together in Barb’s room.  Since I am a family friend, I made myself aware that I needed to be more of a listener than a talker.  I could sense that is what Dee needed, too, a listener.  Being Barb’s main caregiver for 8+ years, she is clearly exhausted and stressed.  My goal was to somehow bring calm.  I praised her for her exemplary work and sacrifice to provide exceptional comfort, care and dignity to her mother’s final years.  What an enormous and selfless gift!   Dee is very grateful for the love and support of her husband, Tom, and help from other family members, but she is clearly very tired.

We talked about conversations we’ve had with Barb and we decided to play some ‘angel’ music that was very soothing and appropriate.  We browsed through some photos and came across some incredible poems that Barb had written.  Even though some had been written years ago, they contained curiosities about death and angels and dancing and children.  These treasures expressed the things that were important to her: great love for her family, looking forward to seeing the face of God and those of loved ones who precede her. 

The family is hoping that the Horizon chaplain (Fritz?) may be able to officiate at Barb’s memorial service.  I do not know if that request has been extended yet, so thought I would mention it here.  He made quite an impression on her. 

I arrived on Monday at 7pm and was home by 10:30.  Total time with travel: 3.5 hrs.  I was told that the hospice nurse indicated Barb may just have a few days remaining, so I am on stand-by for the family.  At this point, my plan is to arrive at the home again at 7pm tonight unless I hear otherwise.

I am SO grateful for this opportunity – thank you!"

Final moments

"I visited with Father Bob on 1/1/14 from 1p-3:30p, plus .5 hrs for travel time. When I arrived, friends were present. I met Brother John, who was super nice, as well as Jauque from Washington DC. We spoke of their support for the LGBT community.  I was there during his passing, and I'm glad I haven't lost all of my nursing skills! I watched as his face changed, he stopped breathing, took one last breath, and then swallowed for the last time before he passed. I helped Brother John pack clothes for the funeral out East. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to be with Father Bob as he passed."

- Cheryl Lingle


"My mother was in town, so I took her to visit Grace with me. Grace was awake and alert, which was a pleasure to see, although she seems weaker than ever and seems to be having some occasional body tremors.

We took Grace over to the piano and I had my mom play for her so I could sit and watch Grace. Every once in a while she would look over at me and smile; she just loves music. I asked her at one point if she wanted to stay and keep listening, and she said loudly and clearly, 'Oh yes, I love it!' My mom did a double-take at that; Grace isn't very conversant and mumbles a lot, so hearing her speak so adamantly surprised my mom.

After 45 minutes or so at the piano, we wheeled Grace back to the TV room and said goodbye. I asked her if I could give her a hug and she said, 'Oh yes! It makes me happy.'"

I feel lucky to know Grace. She makes me happy.


Validate her feelings

"Elizabeth was sitting up in her wheelchair when I arrived at Sunrise Care Center.  We started out by talking about the weather, and that led to a conversation about what the winters were like on her family's farm when she was young.  We talked about all of the required chores and the success of the farm because everyone in the family did their part.  Elizabeth said that her childhood was just the beginning of taking care of things around her.  I asked if she was thankful to have more free time at this stage in her life. She said that it is nice to have some peace and quiet and a chance to relax, but stated, 'If I could still take care of myself, I'd live someplace nicer.'  I provided active listening and validated her feelings.  Soon after, she changed the subject and began to talk about the past again.  Elizabeth told me about her family's first radio and first car, and laughed about how much times have changed.  At the end of our visit, she thanked me for listening to her and I said I would look forward to our visit next week."


"I arrived to the facilities at 12:55PM. Unfortunately, I went to the main building and was told that Mr. Ehlert was in the rehabilitation building located in another part of the campus. I finally arrived to Mr. Ehlert room at 1:05PM and was immediately greeted by Mr. Ehlert daughter Susie and their cousin. I introduced myself when Kimberly (Horizon CNA) came back to the room to give me an update on the patient’s status. I was informed that the patient had a fever and 3 ice packs were placed under both legs and his right shoulder. I was also informed that an attempt was made to swab the patient’s mouth but the patient refused the swabbing.  I noticed that Mr. Ehlert breathing was heavy and seemed to be labored.

Susie, their cousin and I spoke for approximately 20 minutes. They thanked me for coming to spend time with Mr. Ehlert, then the cousin left.  I noticed that Susie looked tired and I informed her that if she wanted to take a break or if she had errands to run I would be there until 3:00PM or longer if more time was needed. I told her that I normally read aloud to the patient and presented the book I would be reading from (Small Miracles for Women). She told me that she knew her father would enjoy the stories.  Susie seemed to be agitated so I moved the bed table and offered her the recliner. She immediately started talking and I sat there and listen to her reminisce about her childhood, marriage, family history and how she cherished being able to renew their daughter father relationship over the last 5 five years.   She was worried if her father knew she was there and if he was able to hear her because he did not have in his hearing aids. I assured her that her father knew she was there and by her rubbing his face and kissing his lips he could sense her.  That seemed to give her some solace.  We sat there and conversed more realizing that we knew some of the same people, lived in the same neighborhood, and sat on some of the same community boards. She thanked me over and over again for coming to visit with her father. She realized that it was 3:15PM and it was time for me to leave. I offered to stay longer if she wanted. I told her what a pleasure it was to meet and talk with her and she gave me a huge hug that seemed to last for 10 minutes. She continued to thank me and walked me to the elevator."

She hugged me good-bye and I informed her I would see them tomorrow.

Made my day

"At 2:00PM John (Alexian CNA) came in to check the patient and introduce himself. At 2:50PM Susie asked the John (Alexian CNA) for more ice packs. At 3:00PM Prada (RN Alexian Village) came in to check the patient temperature  (109 degrees). 

I left feeling fulfilled with my visit. I felt that I gave Susie just what she needed today-a pair of ears to listen, a hug and reassurance. Wow, I wonder if she knew that she actually made my day."

Ebbie Cole