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Photo by Derrick Knutson

Wende Dahlgren and her dog, Trina, visit with a hospice care patient at Fairview Hospice.

When people think about their relatives who are no longer living, oftentimes they recollect simply sitting with those individuals — grandparents, aunts, uncles or even parents — and talking about life.

They remember reminiscing about family vacations, favorite pets, holiday gatherings, and other significant times. Perhaps through these conversations, the younger people were instilled with valuable knowledge or perspectives that changed them in positive ways.

Imagine being able to make these sorts of connections with people outside of one’s family. This is the opportunity available through Fairview Hospice. Currently, Fairview Hospice is seeking volunteers to come and meet with hospice care patients. This is a very flexible volunteer opportunity; patients and volunteers figure out times to meet that work for both of them. Volunteers do not need medical backgrounds, and training is provided.

“It’s finding people who like to read, visit or just sit and listen to those stories of life — provide that gift of presence,” said Janell Tibodeau, volunteer specialist at Fairview Home Care and Hospice-Chisago branch. “I think that’s such a huge thing, being able to sit with someone in the quietness of the day and just be there, be that presence, be that support.”

Tibodeau noted that some people might become apprehensive when they hear the term “hospice,” but she said the volunteers who take part in the program note that it’s been an uplifting experience for them, and they cherish the connections they’ve made with the patients.

“You’d be surprised how friendly and outgoing a lot of these patients are, and they’re so happy to see you,” said Rick Ekstrand, who has been volunteering with Fairview Hospice for about eight years. “They ask you when you’re going to come back. It’s good to be there with them and be a part of their lives at the end.”

Ekstrand, a U.S. Army veteran who served from 1965 to 1968 and spent a tour of duty in Vietnam, often visits with other veterans who are in hospice care. Sometimes they chat about their military days; other times they might simply watch a baseball game together or play card games. Ekstrand has also been a part of many pinning ceremonies, where veterans are formally recognized for their service to our country.

“It’s very moving for some of them, and probably more moving for the families,” he said. “It’s really a nice ceremony.

Wende Dahlgren, who has been volunteering with the program since July with her dog, Trina, said she enjoys visiting hospice care patients and watching them interact with her 10-year-old Brittany spaniel.

“It was my main goal to visit the people with Trina who no longer have pets,” Dahlgren said. “When they start talking about their dogs or their cats, you can just see them smile, and they reminisce about the days when they had animals. Just to have them be able to remember those days is really special. It makes you smile.”

Dahlgren had a similar sentiment to Ekstrand when it comes to volunteering in this capacity; she said people shouldn’t be taken aback by the hospice care environment.

“Don’t let the word ‘hospice’ scare you,” she said. “It’s so important to meet with these people at the end of their lives. I have a couple of patients who are 89 years old. Trina and I have developed really nice relationships with them ... the things they’ve done, the animals they’ve had, it’s so interesting. Everybody we’ve met is so different. It’s nice to hear their stories.”

People interested in volunteering with Fairview Hospice can visit www.fairview.org and search “hospice volunteering Fairview” or contact Janell Tibodeau at jtibode1@fairview.org or 612-728-4042.

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