Gifts given and received

June 16-22, 2005
VOL 124 NO. 23
Gifts given and received
By Deacon Tom Picciano/ SUN contributing writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Lourdes Hospital Hospice program celebrates its silver anniversary

Binghamton — For the last five years, porcelain angel ornaments have been a popular fundraising item for Lourdes Hospice. And for five times in that many years, a group of people who might be called angels too, have helped patients and their families facing terminal illnesses. The staff includes employees and volunteers who are trained to give patients options in the last weeks of their lives.

In 1980, Lourdes Hospital became one of just a few Hospice programs in the state. More than 8,000 patients later, they are now assisting people in Broome, Tioga and several nearby counties in N.Y. and Pa.

Events to mark the 25th anniversary started in January with a breakfast. In March, a fundraiser was held with the Tioga County Hospice Friends. Later this month, there will be bubbles, face-painting and information about Hospice at Owego’s annual Strawberry Festival. In July, the Hospice administrative offices will move from Lourdes Hospital to a site in Vestal.

In September, there’s a reunion dinner-dance planned for all staff and volunteers who have been involved in the Hospice program since its inception. An open house will be held during that month as well.

In November, during Hospice Awareness month, the latest version of the porcelain angel ornament will be sold. Although they’ve ordered 1,500, the angels should sell out quickly. A bereavement service will be held as well, at which two doves will be released. A tree-lighting concludes the anniversary celebration.

June Wooton, who is a nurse by profession, joined the ranks of volunteers at Hospice back in 1980. “I worked with dying kids and so when I heard Hospice was opening, I thought, ‘wow, it was made for me.’” Wooton said.

“ I know a lot and I could teach them a lot and, of course, I learned so much more in my first year in working with Hospice as a volunteer than I could have I learned,” she said. “I do everything but windows.”

Currently more than 130 volunteers, aged 18 and older, help out when needed around patient’s homes, relieving caregivers, or sometimes just spending time with a patient.

“A lot of times we relieve the primary careperson to just go out for a walk or maybe take a nap upstairs,” Wooton said. “It’s really important for us to be there. But more often, it’s to be in the house so they can leave and leave without any feelings of guilt and knowing that their loved one is well taken care of.”

Besides the volunteers who have direct contact with the patients, there are others who help without the training. A group at St. Louise Manor comes together twice a month to make blankets for Baskets of Love. Other groups collect items for Hospice without seeing patients or their families.

Although there have been some changes over the last quarter-century at Lourdes Hospice, Wooton added that some things haven’t changed.

“The one thing that remains constant is the passion that the staff has for their patients and families. It’s a wonderful group of people to work with. I’ve been so in awe of all the staff gives without taking very much. And sure they get a thank you everyday from their patients and their families,” said Wooton.

“If the patient is dying, they have the support and help. That allows that patient to stay at home surrounded by their loved ones surrounded by things they love in a familiar setting,” said Hospice volunteer coordinator Mary Kaminsky. “It takes away the fear of the unknown from the family, because they are very well educated on what’s happening and what to expect. And assures them that nothing terrible is going to happen. It’s a very natural, very peaceful process.”

Hospice can take place in the home, a nursing home or the hospital. Wherever the patient is, the team offers medical, emotional and spiritual help.

Kaminisky recalled how Hospice arranged for a dying father to attend his daughter’s wedding. When the father was too ill to leave his hospital room, they arranged for the wedding to be at the hospital.

Wooton, a non-Catholic who attended parochial school, found her knowledge of the rosary important on a visit to one patient. The patient had been mumbling something that sounded very familiar.

“I asked if he wanted me to pray with him. He said ‘yes’ and I did the whole rosary.” But Wooton learned more after speaking with the man’s nurse. “He seemed peaceful. He was going to be moved to a nursing home. He didn’t want to go. He died that night. He died after I said the rosary with him. What kind of a gift, how can you beat that as a gift?”

“You are allowed into the home at such a privileged, private time.” added Kaminsky. “With each death, you’re given a gift of just having known that person and it’s worth whatever emotion you feel, because every person you come into contact with leaves you with something. It may be with a memory, a learning experience. They leave you with a treasure, they are all little treasures.”

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